Wide Awake: The Hunting Ground
Why we have to keep watching

Many years ago, I took a hotline call from a girl in her 20s who had just been raped by her brother’s friend. I was a volunteer, and the call lasted about 30 minutes. She told me there was no way she could tell anyone, because her family adored this boy – he was treated like part of the family. She didn’t want to be the reason her family turned against someone they had loved for years. Nothing I said changed her mind.

This call, and many others I handled, came flooding back in my mind while I sat watching “The Hunting Ground,” a documentary about sexual assault on college campuses. I was invited by Samost Jewish Family and Children’s Service to a private screening at a Voorhees movie theater. The screening was sold out.

About halfway through the movie I had this overwhelming feeling that I wanted to stop watching. Here’s the thing about documentaries covering a topic you’re familiar with: you know the ending. I knew as I watched that these heart-wrenching stories wouldn’t have positive outcomes. It was painful, and I really wanted to leave the theater – but I didn’t. It’s not OK to walk away from something important just because it’s disturbing. I can’t pretend I live in a bubble where sexual assault never happens, especially since two of my daughters live on college campuses. Another goes next year.

So I watched. And while the statistics of sexual assaults on campuses are shocking (1 in 5 women, according to The Dept. of Justice), what really stunned me was the poor response from college administrators. Students told story after story about reporting the crime to campus police or a school dean only to be told they should forget it happened. Young women also described the trauma of sitting in class with their rapist, because he was never held accountable or had received a minor punishment, like a three-day suspension.

About a week later, a press release came across my desk and blew me away. It was from the American Association of University Women, and it said that 91 percent of colleges reported zero incidents of sexual assaults on their campus in 2014. Zero.

The Dept. of Justice says 1 in 5 female students are sexually assaulted on college campuses, yet almost all colleges say they have no sexual assaults on campus.

I’m not sure what to do with such contradicting information. One thing I can do is talk to my daughters about different scenarios they may encounter in school and after graduation. I can talk to them about how to get out of a troublesome spot, even though I know some situations develop so quickly, you may not even realize what’s happening until it’s too late. I know this is true, because I’ve talked with women who have experienced it. In my volunteer work so many years ago, I would meet women in the ER after their attack. I saw their stunned, broken faces, and I heard their sad stories.

Another step I can take is to publish information in the magazine to shed some additional light on the subject and also tell you what New Jersey is doing to combat sexual assault on campus. You can read about that on page 60.

And last, I can encourage you to watch “The Hunting Ground.” You can rent it on iTunes for $5. (We also have the movie trailer at sjmagazine.net.) It won’t be a fun night watching a movie; you may be like me and want to shut it off. But try to watch it all. Maybe if enough people watch, we can figure out what to do. I guess for now, the first step is to at least understand the seriousness of the problem. I hope you’ll watch the movie.

January 2016
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