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Filmmakers who exposed military sexual assaults turn camera to colleges

A new film called "The Hunting Ground" offers a disturbing look at sexual assault at colleges around the country. Producer Amy Ziering and director Kirby Dick previously examined the widespread crisis of sexual assault in the U.S. military in their film "The Invisible War." Ziering and Dick talk to Jeffrey Brown about what they see as an epidemic of rape on campus.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Next tonight: A new documentary film about rape on college campuses opens in theaters this weekend.

    Jeffrey Brown has our look.

  • WOMAN:

    The first few weeks, I made some of my best friends. But two of us were sexually assaulted before classes had even started.

  • WOMAN:

    I went to the dean of students' office. And she said, I just want to make sure that you don't talk to anyone about this.

  • WOMAN:

    They protect perpetrators because they have a financial incentive to do so.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    The film is called "The Hunting Ground," and it's a disturbing look at what it presents as an epidemic of sexual assaults at colleges around the country, including the Ivy Leagues and large state universities.

  • WOMAN:

    This is a national problem.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    From fraternities to athletics, a wide swathe of campus culture comes under scrutiny, as producer Amy Ziering and director Kirby Dick interviewed victims at dozens of schools over the past year-and-a-half.

    Two years ago, they produced "The Invisible War," about rape in the U.S. armed forces.

  • WOMAN:

    Sixteen thousand, one hundred and fifty service members were assaulted in 2009.

  • WOMAN:

    About a half-million women have now been sexually assaulted in the U.S. military.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    That film, nominated for an Academy Award for best documentary, eventually led to changes in the way the U.S. military handled sexual assault cases.

    I spoke to Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering at this year's Sundance Film Festival.

    KIRBY DICK, Director, "The Hunting Ground": There's been quite a few studies that show that the rate of sexual assault, it's between 16 and 20 percent of undergraduate women are sexually assaulted in college. So, this has been a problem that the universities and colleges haven't addressed. And this is one of the reasons we felt we had to make this film.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Do you conclude that it is new or that it is more prevalent now, or that we know about it more?

  • KIRBY DICK:

    Both. It's true that over the last year or so, this has become a much more — a topic that is much more covered.

    And I think part of the reason for that is a couple of the women that we cover in our film who were assaulted at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill then became activists and started a movement. And that has brought this whole issue to attention.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Well, Amy Ziering, you did manage to talk to a remarkable number of women. How hard was it to locate them?

    AMY ZIERING, Producer, "The Hunting Ground": Because of the frequency that these crimes are committed on our campuses, it actually wasn't hard to find people.

    But it was hard to find people who were willing to come forward and speak publicly on camera about it, because, as we know, it's a very hard thing to talk about, A. And, B, when you do talk about it, there's a lot of retribution and blowback. And so it's a scary thing and it takes a lot of courage to come public and talk about.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    And, as a filmmaker — filmmakers making a case, you have to build a case-by-case sort of the way they were. Is that right? Is that how you felt?

  • AMY ZIERING:

    Yes.

    We had cameras on over a dozen campuses and were tracking various stories.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    You had cameras on at the same time?

  • AMY ZIERING:

    Yes, over a dozen, yes, oh, yes, yes, yes.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Over what period of time?

  • KIRBY DICK:

    Well, we started shooting in April 2013, and we actually finished shooting December 2014. What we wanted to show, by following all these people — I mean, we interviewed well over 60 people — is that this isn't just a problem where it's one, two, three, four people. This is a problem across all campuses.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    According to the filmmakers, fewer than 40 percent of all cases are ever reported, and very few ever lead to punishment.

  • QUESTION:

    So, in your time at UNC, how many students came to you and said they had been assaulted?

  • WOMAN:

    Yes, it's hard to put a number — it's hard to put a number on it, so at least 100.

  • QUESTION:

    And of the 100, how many of the perpetrators were removed from campus?

  • WOMAN:

    From what I remember, no one was expelled during that time.

  • QUESTION:

    So these guys could just get away with it?

  • WOMAN:

    Absolutely.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    The word complicity is used when it comes to the complicity of college officials in covering up or ignoring cases. That's a strong word.

  • KIRBY DICK:

    Let's face it. If they're happening at this rate over decades and decades, university officials have to know this. I mean, there's no way that they don't.

    Administrators know. The reason they haven't taken action is because they don't want anything to harm the reputation of their university. It will affect their admissions. It will affect their donations. And so university officials in most campuses often make the decision to keep this covered up and not be transparent about assaults that are happening or the processes to investigate and adjudicate those assaults.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    You do say in the film that the cases of false reports are rarer than is usually thought. But they do happen.

  • AMY ZIERING:

    They do happen.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    We just saw what happened at the University of Virginia with a badly reported story.

    How could you be certain that you had built a kind of airtight case?

  • KIRBY DICK:

    We were researching these cases, in many cases, well over a year.

    And we have just hundreds and hundreds of pages of actual documentation. We have all kinds of evidence. The statistics around false reporting are that somewhere between 2 percent and 8 percent of reports of sexual assaults are false, which means 92 percent to 98 percent of those reports are not false.

    And I think this is something that really surprises people. They don't realize how rare it is.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    The film ends with what looks like a real call to action. Is that how you see your roles as filmmakers?

  • AMY ZIERING:

    We have presented a portrait for the American people of what is going on, on our campuses. And then we are offering up ways in which maybe what's going on can be rectified.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Well, you're doing more than that. You're actually at the end saying, do this, do that, do that.

  • KIRBY DICK:

    Well, there's a reason for that. When audiences see our film, I mean, no one comes out of that film not moved, and in many ways not outraged.

    And what's wonderful is, they want to do something to help change this problem. And so I think it's incumbent on us to give them some directions to go, some things to do. I mean, what we say in our film is, look, you know, so much of us have a school that we love, that we went to, that we're going to now.

    You know, it's going — to help those schools change, it's going to take all the people in this country to contribute. And so that's what we're really doing. We're giving them direction on how to help to change this problem.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Have you had any response yet from either individual schools or from the university system as a whole?

  • KIRBY DICK:

    No.

    We are optimistic. When we made "The Invisible War" about sexual assault in the military, the military was very responsive. They immediately changed some policies. We expect that the same thing will happen with this film, is that schools would see this as a — and hope that they will see it as an opportunity to get this kind of information out more widely, and it will help them address the problem.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Kirby Dick, Amy Ziering, thank you both very much.

  • KIRBY DICK:

    Thank you.

  • AMY ZIERING:

    Thank you.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    There has been some pushback against the film. Today, Florida State University, one of the colleges mentioned in the documentary, said they had not been given a fair chance to respond before the documentary was released.

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