Wednesday marks four years since "The Hunting Ground" was released, a documentary that shed light on how UNC and universities across the nation handled specific sexual assault cases, while underscoring the broader difficulties in enforcing Title IX regulations.
The film examined how many universities, including UNC, inappropriately and inadequately reported sexual assault crimes in order to avoid public records showing the extent of the problem at each university. "The Hunting Ground" alleged many of the colleges featured in the film often discouraged students who had been sexually assaulted from going to the police and gave minimal punishments to student offenders, who are involved in several cases.
“While we are unable to comment on specific claims, Carolina has worked steadfastly over the past two years to increase awareness about resources and reporting options, so students know where to receive help when they need it and how to report violations,” said Felicia Washington, vice chancellor for Workforce Strategy, Equity, and Engagement, in March 2015.
“We’ve implemented mandatory prevention and awareness training for all of our students, faculty, and staff, as well as bystander intervention trainings. Our comprehensively revised policy that covers sexual violence now more clearly defines consent and outlines new investigation and hearing procedures. While much has been accomplished, we will continue to evaluate our progress and move forward.”
"The Hunting Ground" focused on UNC activists and graduates Andrea Pino and Annie Clark, who filed a Title IX complaint against the University in 2013. In its aftermath, UNC was found in violation of the Title IX anti-discrimination law after a five-year federal investigation and has since made several changes in how the University handles sexual assault on campus.
Pino has dedicated her 20s to this work. Now the digital strategy and communications manager at the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Pino co-authored “We Believe You: Survivors of Campus Sexual Assault Speak Out” with Clark and is looking at applying to Ph.D. programs.
As a UNC student studying political science, Pino anonymously reported her sexual assault case. She became an activist as a resident adviser, when many residents came forward to her with their experiences of sexual assaults. Pino said no one she knew at the time felt they had received any type of justice after reporting their sexual assaults to University administration.
"I loved being an RA,” Pino said. “I loved working for the University. I was very proud to go to UNC. I’m still proud to have gone to UNC. What for me was most difficult, was that I loved my school so much and it wasn’t going to change unless we did something big and unless we did something publicly."
"The Hunting Ground" was the "something public" that Pino became involved with when directors and producers of the film came to screen "The Invisible War" at UNC and heard about Pino and Clark’s work on campus.
CNN aired "The Hunting Ground" to audiences in 2015, and the White House hosted its own screening with the activists involved. "The Hunting Ground" is also available on Netflix to stream.
In 2014, a year before the documentary premiered, the University comprehensively reviewed and updated its policy and process for addressing reports of Title IX, including sexual misconduct cases, said Director of Title IX Compliance Adrienne Allison. Also around that time, Allison said UNC began offering prevention and awareness training for all students, faculty and staff as well as bystander intervention trainings.
Since 2014, the University has required annual training for employees designated as responsible employees and campus security authorities on how to share reports of sexual assault and discrimination to the Equal Opportunity and Compliance Office.
“Sexual violence and sexual misconduct is a difficult reality at colleges and universities across the country, including Carolina,” Allison said. “Documentaries like 'The Hunting Ground' help raise awareness about this very complex topic.”
Pino acknowledged the many improvements UNC has made, including increased positions to support students and address campus sexual violence and harassment. Still, she said there is more work to be done.
Pino said many colleges focus on adjudication, even though many survivors do not wish to report their perpetrators. Pino said there should be an emphasis on retention because sexual assault and mental health issues often intersect.
“The issue is grossly underreported, and that’s because there is still more at stake for coming forward than there is for not," Pino said. "Because we live in a society that does not take sexual violence seriously, as we’ve seen from the Brock Turner case, as we’ve seen from a plethora of sexual violence cases in the headlines. Most cases do not end in justice for the survivors. That is just how sexual violence is."
UNC’s participation in the Association of American Universities 2019 Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct is a current initiative by the University to better understand how their prevention and response efforts can equip students, Allison said.
University policy change is one part of a cultural shift that is the result of many survivors speaking out, such as Pino and Clark.
"When I was touring schools in '09, nobody talked about sexual assault," Pino said. "I mean, 10 years later, this is 10 years since I was applying to schools, it is now a critical conversation for most college applicants, and I’m very proud of that legacy and I’m proud to have worked with incredible people who have made that a reality.”
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