The hundred or so students in a Funger classroom Thursday night weren’t there for the typical class lecture.
GW Students Against Sexual Assault partnered with Loveisrespect Campus Network to provide a screening of The Hunting Ground Thursday night, followed by a panel of survivor activists featured in the film. The panel included GW senior Maya Weinstein, also featured in the film, who spoke of her sexual assault, and was moderated by former White House Advisor on Violence Against Women Lynn Rosenthal.
Ariella Neckritz, GW junior and president of GW SASA, started off the night by discussing the film, which follows the story of two young sexual assault survivors who decide to devote their time towards advocating for nationwide reform in how universities handle sexual assault cases. Neckritz also introduced representatives from organizations that combat sexual assault and dating violence who briefly spoke about their work. Jordan Brooks, assistant director of the White House Council on Women and Girls, discussed the national task force Not Alone and the It’s On Us campaign. Ashley Badgley, a program coordinator from Break the Cycle, a nonprofit that provides programs for dating abuse survivors, spoke briefly about the importance of healthy relationships and the opportunity for the attendees to get involved with the organization.
The importance of getting involved was a huge topic of the two hours. During the panel, Andrea Pino, one of the activists, stressed the difference between simply talking about the issues and taking action. While it included dozens of stories of sexual assault, The Hunting Ground centered around UNC graduates Andrea Pino and Annie Clark joining to take action after they were angered by how their sexual assault cases were handled.
They became experts on Title IX and concluded that it was illegal for universities to allow perpetrators to stay on campus. After being featured on the front page of The New York Times, they received call after call from other survivors. For every survivor they put a sticker of their location on a five-foot U.S. map. Connecting the dots, they realized sexual assault on campuses is a national problem, and set out on a road trip to meet as many survivors as they could. After sleeping in parking lots and hearing countless stories from survivors, they founded End Rape on Campus, which provides support for survivors, prevention education, and policy reform.
During the panel, Pino and Clark, along with the other survivors, discussed what support survivors need, how to make student organizing effective, and sexual assault’s connection with dating violence. They frequently brought up the dangers of a media narrative that gives just as much attention to false reporting, which The Hunting Ground cited as only occurring in 2-8% of cases. They also criticized the media for covering each sexual assault case as an episodic issue instead of the national epidemic it is, relating it to how gun violence is covered. By not relating each case to the others, it delegitimizes its prevalence and importance.
Weinstein related the general issues to GW specifically, where she notes that a lot of the change here has been student-driven, such as SASA pioneering the sexual assault training being integrated in CI. For students wanting to get involved, the panelists agreed on the importance of leaving time for yourself through self-care, and finding the type of activism that works for you. Upon closing, Neckritz noted that everybody can engage in everyday activism—such as talking with friends before going out or intervening in an exchange at a party that appears concerning.
Weinstein echoed this sentiment when she said that policies on paper only mean so much: “we can’t legislate culture.”