Last week some disturbing news emerged from Dublin’s Trinity College, with a students’ union survey saying that one in four students at the college had been sexually assaulted.
The story in the university paper, Trinity News, makes for disquieting reading. Out of the 1038 male and female students surveyed, 31% of women claim to have “experienced unwanted physical contact while studying at Trinity or in a Trinity social setting.” While 8% of women and 7% of men “reported having been stalked or subject to obsessive behaviour.” One in 20 people surveyed say they were physically mistreated by a partner. A previous Union of Students in Ireland survey found that one in five women had an unwanted sexual experience.
It’s all very shocking. Campus sexual assault has been in the news a lot of late, with high-profile cases in the United States exposing the mismanagement of claims and protection of perpetrators by college authorities keen to keep crime rates down. Some statistics estimate 16-20% of American female students are victims of sexual assault.
A CNN documentary at the Sundance Film Festival is keeping this conversation lit. The Hunting Ground premiered a few days ago and so far the reaction has been one of disbelief. Audiences audibly gasped at the documentary’s statistics. Now, there are even louder calls for justice for the women who have suffered, not just at the hands of the person who assaulted them, but at the college where they’re supposed to be having the best years of their lives.
Girls star Lena Dunham has stressed the importance of these women being taken serious. At Sundance’s Serious Ladies panel, she said,
“One of the reasons it is important to talk about campus assaults is that these women in positions of incredible privilege are still being forced every day to fight for their truth and that is indicative of the fact that sexual assault is an epidemic and so many people are voiceless. I think campuses are a great place to start because that’s where we’re being educated and that’s where we’re told we’re going to be safe.”
It looks like The Hunting Ground will be the most difficult and necessary watch of 2015.
Follow Jeanne Sutton on Twitter @jeannedesutun