Oftentimes survivors of campus sexual assault live in the shadows, but as the number of sexual assault reports on campuses increase, so do the number of students who are letting their faces and names be known.
In a new documentary, It Happened Here, which premiered on Pivot and will be screened on college campuses as part of the It’s On Us campaign, a more intimate depiction of the journey survivors of campus sexual assault go through is exposed.
“The [female students] move from victims to survivors to activists,” said Marjorie Nielsen, producer of It Happened Here, to Generation Progress. “I hope that [the documentary] inspires and encourages other students and I hope it inspires everybody to take action or to speak out, to break the silence, to stop shaming victims, to stop blaming them, that’s really what has to come out of this.”
It Happened Here follows five female students who have been failed by their universities, either by being sexually assaulted on campus or by the lack of protection under Title IX provided by their administrations.
Three of the girls in the film are Kylie Angell, Carolyn Luby, and Erica Daniels. Angell, Luby, and Daniels were a part of a larger lawsuit against the University of Connecticut, for failing to uphold their rights under Title IX.
“I just didn’t know that that was rape. No one really ever told me that it didn’t have to be in a dark alley with someone chasing you or with someone that you don’t know. No one ever told me that it happens to people at college,” Angell says in the documentary.
The lack of knowledge by men and women on college campuses as to what the definition of rape actually is heavily impacts how campus sexual assault is approached and what next steps should be.
A recent study done at the University of North Dakota found that 1 in 3 men would rape a woman as long as they were not at risk of getting caught. The UND researchers pointed out to ThinkProgress that “simply pushing an anti-rape message won’t necessarily reach those men…because they don’t think of themselves as rapists.”
It Happened Here‘s Nielsen echoed this message.
“Honestly, what I really feel, we can’t fix this through the back end. It has to be a shift in culture,” she said. “I think a lot of attackers don’t perceive themselves as attackers. They really don’t, they don’t know that what they’re doing is a crime…[and] we don’t want to just respond, it really has to be about prevention.”
It Happened Here is one of two documentaries that are slated to be released to the public in 2015. The Hunting Ground, by director Kirby Dick, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.
The trailers for both documentaries intend to place a magnifying glass over the lives of those who have been sexually assaulted, as a way to open up the conversation and encourage bystanders to act.
“[…]Guys that have sisters, girlfriends, mothers, daughters, they have to be made aware that it’s their responsibility,” said Nielsen. “It’s their moral imperative, but it’s also doable.”
Campaigns like It’s On Us show just how easy it is to take action as a bystander. It’s On Us outlines 13 tips on both preemptive and proactive measures that can be taken on their website.
Government statistics that show that 1 in 5 women will be sexually assaulted during their time in college reinforce why documentaries and profiles of these survivors are so essential—especially when connecting the dots of what campus sexual assault looks like today, as It Happened Here does when it states that over 85 percent of reported sexual assaults on campuses are committed by an acquaintance.