This article contains mention of sexual assault.
A screening of The Hunting Ground (2015) was held on campus on January 30th, a documentary by film maker Kirby Dick (watch Roarâ€™s interview in 2015 with him here) about the persistent trend of sexual assault and rape on United States college campuses. The screening was a part of It Stops Here Week at Kingâ€™s. Listen on BBC iPlayer (at the 1:44:25 mark) to King’s lecturer Alice Evans discuss sexual abuse here.Â
“The school cultures are different in some ways: fraternities aren’t present in the UK in the same way and likewise the athletic programs are a lot more dominant in the US. But a lot of the sexual assaults happen when issues of entitlement come into play and that’s the same in both countries. I know the numbers are very similar here, I think there are a lot of similarities.” – Kirby Dick, speaking to Roar in 2015.
It Stops Here Week held a screening of The Hunting Ground in conjunction with KCL Film Society. Ambassador for the campaign Leah Rustomjee organised, with help from Gabe Whitehead of Film Society.
The event began with the head of Diversity and Inclusion at Kingâ€™s, Sarah Guerra, speaking about the point of the campaign; that this week was intended to provide survivors of rape and victims of other sex crimes (assault, harassment) with the knowledge that they arenâ€™t alone; that they can report; that they will be helped. The campaign is a collaborative effort between the university and KCLSU and its websiteÂ “aims to provide information, guidance and resources for anyone who at King’s who has been affected by sexual violence, bullying and harassment; and ways for members of the King’s community to get involved in the campaign and take the pledge.”
Radio 4 spoke with our editor and have made a visit to King’s to interview young men about the campaign and the #metoo topic. If you are interested in speaking you canÂ contact the campaign here.
Going to University
The movie opens with a scene every single student at university is familiar with: admission. Boys and girls come of age in videos taken by their parents wherein they first, usually wracked with nerves, check their emails then cry out in sheer ecstasy because their dream had just come true.
It evoked a strong memory of when I checked my college site and saw that Iâ€™d just about met the entry requirements for my degree at Kingâ€™s; a feeling that stays with you for life. Even if university doesnâ€™t end up being all it is chalked up to be.
Young men and women are interviewed about what that first week was like. Signs of â€œWelcome to your new homeâ€ are seen on dormitory notice boards; parents hugging their kids goodbye; boxes and boxes that comprise these young peoplesâ€™ lives are unpacked. A sign stating â€œThank You For Your Daughtersâ€ is ominously displayed. Then theyâ€™re asked about what that first night out was like, their Fresherâ€™s Week equivalent.
â€˜Two of us were sexually assaulted before classes even began. I was out dancing when some guy banged my head against a wall outside, began to rape me, I fought him off and ran home, looked at myself in the toilet mirror and asked myselfÂ ‘What just happened?â€â€™ said Annie Clark, one of two UNC alumni who went on to begin a network of survivors at campuses around the country.
Who wouldÂ commit this crime?
â€˜Itâ€™s really the people you do know that you should be worried about.â€™ Men and women appear on screen and share stories of how someone they knew amicably for a year or two took advantage or became violent with them in generally party situations. A myriad of girls share stories that share the same format. They begin the night with their friends, go to a bar, fraternity, club.
There, theyâ€™re either lulled into isolation by a guy who seems charming at first despite his literally plucking them from their friends, or maybe he just catches them in a moment on their own, or perhaps as with one girl he and his friends create a story about a party theyâ€™re going to that never materialises. The guys friends leave when the girl is in his dorm room, or the guy tells a girl she can rest of her drunkenness in his room, or he suggests they go outside/to the basement/to be alone. Then it happens.
The most damning statistic of all is that less than 8% of men commit more than 90% of sexual assaults. On average a repeat offender will commit 6 offences. The problem can be largely isolated to this tiny minority of individuals, why then arenâ€™t they expelled from these campuses, held in prisons or rehabilitation institutions. Why are they getting away with it?
Statistics float reports of a few hundred sexual assaults at colleges since around the turn of the millennium. Yet each and every college cited had expulsions for sexual assault in the same period ranging from less than ten to none at all. In the same period, the number of expulsions for cheating or other offences ranged in the hundreds.
Several studies state that more than 16% of women are sexually assaulted at college. Yet, 88% of women who are sexually assaulted at college donâ€™t report it, and the rate of reports from men is estimated to be infinitesimal compared to the actual number of male rape incidents. It is thought that, due to the culture of masculinity all over the world, men tend to be more deeply affected and less able to garner help; preferring to stay silent, internalising their suffering.
Girls and boys who tried reporting at their college generally got actions taken against them as a result. They were lectured about their behaviour; asked about how much they drank; or what they were wearing at the time; or why they didnâ€™t try to fight off their attacker; or why they allowed themselves to be alone with them; or were simply ignored, swept under an invisible carpet. One girl presented a confession from her abuser that he had raped her when reporting it to her institution, and was told â€œheâ€™s probably in love with youâ€ for willing to confess to a crime heâ€™d committed.
â€˜Rape and sexual assault is a general college problem, however in order to tackle it some colleges have to step up. The fears for them are that when they do, theyâ€™ll be less attractive to prospective students and parents. Who would send their kid to a school that has a drive-by problem, where the â€œinteresting thingâ€ is that the shooters are largely students?â€™
Another motivation for colleges to remain silent or suppress rape reports is largely to do with who such reports will incite. In other words: vested interests. In 2013, it was reported that around 60% of all alumni donations came from one-time â€œfrat boys,â€ numbering in the 100s of millions. These boysâ€™ clubs band together fiercely often voicing denials in advocacy of their fellows.
In addition, college athletics, particularly football, in the US is a behemoth generating revenue that eclipses most countries national spending on sports. â€œPresidents whose main function at a college is to fund raise, will hire Athletics Directors, who in turn hire coaches, who get paid more than the presidents.â€
Colleges bleat on that they take such offences seriously, however, with ‘punishments’ including one day suspension, expulsion upon graduation, a $75 fine and, perhaps most shockingly, being made to create a poster with ’10 ways they like to approach women’, the sanctions may not be serious at all.
â€œIn my opinion, a conspiracy is comprised of not just the rapist but the friends who help convince the victim that the rapist is taking her to a party before leaving her to him.â€ said an ex security office, who resigned in protest. â€œThey prefer to have the crime stats low as possible. Donâ€™t want to detract from applicants to universities.â€
Survivors who speak are also persistently “trolled” online, sent threatening texts or intimidated in person, by a plethora of people who weren’t even the accused. One survivor who accused a local and national football star ended up dropping out of college after becoming a reviled figure in her state for speaking out against the golden boy.
As with any crime, itâ€™s impossible to know for sure what happened if you werenâ€™t there. However, as with a piece of clay, if itâ€™s been moulded into something, then distorted by another hand, you donâ€™t have to see the other hand in action to observe its imprint. Clumsy metaphor aside, rape and sexual assaults also have, according to the best research, a false report rate of between 2-8%, which is about the same as with any other crime.
The survivors, male and female, interviewed for the film are all deeply imprinted with their victimhood. Some so affected as to have become completely different people; others resilient and reaffirmed but undeniably shaken forever. The father of one girl describes how his daughter, whose smile lit rooms, was extinguished when her college didn’t support her after she reported that she had been assaulted, and days later she took her own life.
â€œI trust people, I trusted him.â€ â€œI didnâ€™t sleep, couldnâ€™t go to class, my nights and days were mixed up, I just completely changed as a person.â€ â€œWhen you experience a traumatic event like this your nervous system has erratic reactions. Depression will keep you in bed and suicidal thoughts will haunt you. The campus will get smaller and smaller.â€ It is hearing this quote particularly that illuminates the importance of safe spaces to me. â€œMy parents still donâ€™t know. I canâ€™t bear how I imagine theyâ€™ll look at me differently; theyâ€™ll look at me forever as a rape victim.â€
Two of the women central to the documentary took action by educating themselves on the legality surrounding colleges and sexual assaults. They found out about Title IX which states colleges must ensure a hospitable environment for their students; they argued in court that their college and others had failed in that regard by refusing to expel rapists. Their college accused them of lying.
The movie ended with a quote from a study, â€œIf nothing changes, more than 100,000 students will be sexually assaulted in the following year.â€
Following the screening a student in attendance spoke up about their own experience, at King’s, in which they were abused and their complaints fell on deafÂ ears. The shock in the room at how close to home the issue was in this instance was palpable.
Following last years Harvey Weinstein scandal, the #MeToo campaign became viral with women first coming out in the film industry with experiences directly related to Weinstein and others, then women and men in all walks of life, all manner of institution, sharing that they too had been abused. Time ended up making some of the women at the forefront of the campaign their Person of the Year. Alice Evans, a lecturer at King’s spoke on the issue at the BBC today.
Organisations sweep abuse under the carpet, to preserve their reputations.
This perpetuates abuse, and deters reporting.
â€” Alice Evans (@_alice_evans) February 13, 2018
If you are a student or staff member at King’s College London or KCLSU, and you’ve felt this article or the movie describes an experience you’ve had that you’ve not found you’ve been able to share, please feel at ease with contacting the It Stops Here campaign. Roar would also welcome any survivors willing to share their story, as the combination of willing survivors and accurate reporting has in the last months helped some of these victims achieve some form of closure, and put some of the accused in the spotlight for their actions.