Film sparks assault talk

BY BEN MARKS | APRIL 15, 2015 5:00 AM

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At FilmScene on Tuesday night, a sold-out theater sat engrossed by a movie called The Hunting Ground, a documentary about rape on college campuses.

After the movie finished, a panel of local activists and experts sat at the front of the theater to discuss the film’s heavy topic and its effect on Iowa City and the University of Iowa.

One member of the panel, a University of Iowa student and survivor of sexual assault, said she didn't feel comfortable reporting it.

“I was really debating whether I should say that up here,” she said. “But after watching this film I feel really comfortable because I think that’s the point it’s trying to get across, that it’s okay to admit this happened and by speaking out about it is what can cause change.”

Some other members of the panel were Women’s Resource and Action Center Program Developer Lauri Haag, Monique DiCarlo, the UI sexual misconduct response coordinator, Pamela Terrill, coordinator of the Johnson County Sexual Assault Response Team, and Susan Junis, university prevention and education coordinator for RVAP.

The panel discussion mainly consisted of audience questions to the panelists regarding the university and community’s response to sexual assault, as well as university policy.

“I thought it was really productive and provocative,” Natalie Fixmer-Oraiz, a UI assistant professor of communication studies said. “I think it was really great to hear some of the student voices and the young folks who are directly impacted by this issue every single day.”

Fixmer-Oraiz said the main conclusion she took from the event was the massive roadblocks facing both sexual assault activists and survivors.

“The big takeaway was there are a lot of structural dimensions to this problem that individuals can’t possible navigate on their own,” she said. “It’s going to take a community committed to ending this epidemic.”

A lot of the questions directed towards the panel revolved around how the university handles cases regarding sexual assault and how it treats the victims.

“You’re more likely to be kicked out for plagiarism, smoking pot in the dorms, getting drunk downtown — almost anything besides sexual assault,” Haag said.

Many questions also dealt with the helplessness many in the community said they felt against large institutions such as the university, who have the money and power needed to control the outcomes.

“Yes there’s money, but students are the consumers,” Junis said. “Students are the reason we exist. They’re the ones who have the power.”

Communication studies Assistant Professor Andy High, lead organizer of the event, said although he was prepared for how moving the film would be, seeing it in person brought it to a whole other level. He also said this is the ideal time for an event such as this.

“This is what we need to be doing, this is a time when it can be changing,” he said. “Especially when we’re looking for a new president, these are the issues we can bring up. I think it’s how the university can be a better place. Iowa could be a leader when it comes to this instead of just another statistic.”

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