Serious flaws in criticism of ‘Hunting Ground’ | Guest Column

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By Amy Herdy

Investigative producer of “The Hunting Ground”

The recent error-riddled piece running in the Journal of the San Juans concerning the film “The Hunting Ground” would be laughable if the topic of campus sexual assault was not one of the utmost seriousness. Instead, I am appalled, saddened and disgusted by the lack of integrity and accuracy of both the author and the Journal’s editor.

It’s ironic the author clucked that Journal staff “should attempt to grow into better journalists” when he misidentified me, calling out “San Juan Islander producer Amy Ziering.” Ziering, a Los Angeles resident, has never lived on San Juan Island. My role for “The Hunting Ground” was not as a producer. [Herdy is the investigative producer.] We are not the same person.

Neither he nor the Journal staffers who allowed him to lob inaccurate, unsupported accusations at the film did basic journalistic due diligence: They did not contact the filmmakers for a response, nor did they even conduct a quick search of the film’s website, which contains a thorough list of the film’s facts and their underlying documentation. Instead, as their “proof” they published links to blogs, at least one of which was forced to run multiple fact error corrections regarding “The Hunting Ground.”

He attacked cases that “anchor the film,” when validating facts have emerged since the film’s completion. For example, publication of court records after the film’s release showed Florida State football star Jameis Winston was identified by at least two young women for sexual assault, and that FSU covered up both cases. Also after the film’s release, FSU settled with Erica Kinsman in the largest Title IX settlement in history regarding indifference to a student’s reported sexual assault and agreed to a five-year commitment to awareness, prevention and training programs.

The piece incorrectly stated the film is based on “junk science,” when in fact six national surveys, including those by the Washington Post, American Association of Universities, and the U.S. Department of Justice, have repeatedly found that more than 20 percent of women are sexually assaulted while in college.

The author touted criticism of the film by Harvard Law professors, yet failed to mention those very same faculty allowed an accused student to return to campus, using a secretive process that the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights determined was biased toward the accused and violated the civil rights protections of students.

The author wrongfully called the film “propaganda” when the latest Bureau of Justice Statistics study released in January of 2016 found that as many as one in four college students experience campus sexual assault:

It also corroborated another fact of “The Hunting Ground”: That more than 80 percent of college students do not report sexual assault.

That fact underscores the travesty of the careless and biased work of the column’s author and the Journal staffers who failed to fact check him: Denouncing and ridiculing rape victims and their stories only serves to further chill any chance of open, honest conversation regarding rape and sexual assault, leaving victims to suffer in silence.