A Defense of The Hunting Ground and Other Non-Legal Advocacy

The Hunting Ground is a documentary. Documentaries, like other mediums of advocacy journalism, give those who have been silenced in other forums a chance to speak. The creators of The Hunting Ground gave survivors a chance to tell their story, which is a different task from courtroom advocacy, though no less noble. Documentary filmmakers must tell their subjects’ stories in a way that honors their trust, as it takes bravery and trust to share one’s story on camera. And, unlike courts, documentaries are free to explore evidence in more depth and detail. They do not include presumptions of guilt or innocence, and both filmmakers and audiences are free to make credibility determinations.

To some of our professors, it seems, sharing one’s story in a documentary, speaking outside of the legal arena, causes discomfort. But they don’t want her to tell her story publicly; at least not without all the facts they think need to be included, and certainly not after they’ve decided she was lying. Targeting the forum in which a survivor speaks is another way of silencing the survivor.

Yesterday, 19 professors published a press release attacking The Hunting Ground and defending one of the students described in the HLS-related segment beginning at minute 14. The respondent’s name was in their press release but not the film. The 19 argue that The Hunting Ground gives a “seriously false picture” of the sexual assault “phenomenon” at universities. Yet, they rest their assertion on the fact that “There was never any evidence that [the respondent] used force, nor were there even any charges that he used force.” Not only are the professors misrepresenting the outcome of this case—HLS faculty did first expel the respondent (the expulsion was later overturned), and the respondent was indeed convicted of the crime of misdemeanor nonsexual touching—but their fixation on a force requirement for rape betrays their misunderstanding of the problem of sexual assaults on campuses. Force is not involved in many sexual assaults, especially on campuses where alcohol allows perpetrators easy access to victims and a way to excuse their own behavior. With their press release, those 19 told victims that—unless you have the bruises and broken bones to prove otherwise—we would not believe you.

As students, we know too well the truth behind the numbers—the faces and stories of our friends and classmates. And as law professors, they should know the difficulties that exist in prosecuting sexual violence in the criminal justice system, where only a fraction of perpetrators will ever be prosecuted. It is the inadequacy of the criminal justice system that makes the campus adjudication process so crucial. The 19 professors seem to demand that the standards of the criminal justice system infiltrate not only campus adjudicatory procedures but also other forms of advocacy like documentary filmmaking.  Ultimately, they are vying to bar the many remedies for survivors that exist outside of the criminal justice system, which, given the realities of that system, would mean no recourse at all.

HALT stands with survivors. We respect their right to tell their stories, which are too often discounted.

–  The Harassment/Assault Legal Team (HALT)

The Harassment/Assault Legal Team (HALT) is a law student-run organization that advocates for victims of campus sexual harassment and assault.