Harvard Law professors call campus rape documentary a 'seriously false picture'

Filmmakers stand by their account

Nineteen Harvard Law School professors signed a letter criticizing the depiction of campus rape in recent documentary "The Hunting Ground."

The film premiered to positive reviews at the Sundance Film Festival in January, then was released theatrically in March, and now will run on CNN this week. The film focuses on the perceived inadequate response of school officials to allegations of sexual assault.

However, the Harvard Law professors say they disagree with how the film portrays a case at Harvard, as it "provides a seriously false picture of both the general sexual assault phenomenon at universities and of our student," according to the letter.

"It's not a documentary. It's propaganda," says Janet Halley, one of the authors.

The case in question involves a law student—unnamed in the film but identified in the letter as Brandon Winston—accused by fellow law student Kamilah Willingham of sexually assaulting her and her friend after a night of drinking.

She reported him, and Harvard Law expelled him. However, in the legal sphere he was convicted of only misdemeanor nonsexual assault, and the school subsequently readmitted him.

The professors say the documentary left the incorrect impression that Winston is guilty, drugged his victims, and is a serial offender.

Others have criticized the Harvard segment of the film for sexual assault statistics calculations and depiction of the case. Meanwhile, CNN and filmmakers Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering defend the work.

"Studies confirm that failed policies on campuses overwhelmingly favor perpetrators, enabling them to commit crimes with impunity. Where are the letters of outrage from these professors decrying this grave injustice which has been going on for decades, and has a devastating impact on survivors, their families and our society," they wrote in a text message to the New York Times.

Harvard has been at the center of several sexual assault discussions in recent years. Last fall, 28 current and former law professors condemned the university's new sexual misconduct policy. In January, it was found in violation of Title IX and agreed to revise its sexual assault and harassment policies. And in September, the Association of American Universities released its survey that found 31% of Harvard's female seniors reported being the target of nonconsensual sexual contact.

"The documentary has created an important conversation about campus sexual assault," says Diane Rosenfeld, a Harvard law lecturer who was in the film but did not sign the letter. "We need to be rolling up our sleeves and really figuring out what kind of preventative education programs to develop which create a culture of sexual respect" (Buckley, New York Times, 11/13).

Thoughts on the story? Tweet us at @eab_daily and let us know.

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