Civil Liberties

Harvard Profs Criticizing The Hunting Ground Might Have Created a 'Hostile Climate,' Activist Filmmakers Claim

Media is catching on to the junk science that forms the core narrative of the campus rape crisis.


The Hunting Ground

The team of activists responsible for The Hunting Ground—a deeply irresponsible propaganda piece recently shortlisted by the Academy—are clearly desperate to quash legitimate criticism of their film; they recently implied that the 19 Harvard University Law professors who have denounced the film's inaccuracies might be contributing to a "hostile climate" for Harvard Law students.

A recent article in The Harvard Crimson spotlighted a website set up in support of Brandon Winston, the Harvard Law student accused of sexual assault by Kamilah Willingham, who is featured prominently in the film. The law professors, some of whom assisted with Winston's legal defense, have persuasively argued that he is innocent of the allegations made against him. In response, filmmakers Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering and had this to say:

In an emailed statement, "The Hunting Ground" director Kirby Dick and producer Amy Ziering also denounced the website from Winston's legal team.

"It's a slick and sad attempt to mislead the public and blame the victim," they wrote.

They also criticized the Law School professors, many of whom have been vocal critics of Harvard's recently overhauled approach to handling sexual harassment cases, for their letter critiquing the film.

"The Harvard Law professors' letter is irresponsible and raises an important question about whether the very public bias these professors have shown in favor of an assailant contributes to a hostile climate at Harvard Law," Dick and Ziering wrote.

This galling smear is reminiscent of the Title IX investigation of Northwestern University's Laura Kipnis, who was essentially accused of violating Title IX because she was criticizing Title IX. Similarly, critiquing an activist film that relies on junk science is unacceptable and possibly illegal, purveyors of hysteria claim.

Janet Halley, Royall Professor of Law at Harvard, called the filmmaker's comments "bizarre," in an email to Reason.

"The press release and the website enable the public to gauge for itself the veracity of the film," wrote Halley. "This might have made a more unfriendly environment for the exaggerations, omissions, and falsehoods spread by the Hunting Ground.  But here at the Law School we cherish debate and think that evidence matters—sunlight is the best disinfectant."

It wasn't just the Harvard professors; Dick and Ziering were equally dismissive of Reason's criticism of their film. Earlier this week, NPR wrote about the controversy surrounding The Hunting Ground and took note of Reason's investigation of David Lisak's confused approach to serial predators:

The libertarian magazine Reason has challenged the work of one of the scholars who serve as a touchstone for the film, the University of Massachusetts, Boston's David Lisak. He has been invoked as an authority by military officials, college campuses and media outlets, including NPR.

In an interview with Reason, Lisak acknowledged that his study concluding the prevalence of serial campus rapists drew heavily on the earlier work of a former graduate student, whose research was not specifically focused on college rapes. It was conducted on people who happened to pass by on the UMass-Boston campus, a commuter school with an older population than the stereotypical four-year college. …

Dick said the overwhelming consensus of relevant studies implicates repeat offenders — and so did the filmmakers' interviews. Ziering said a significant number of the women who participated in the documentary told her they did so because they were heartbroken to learn their victimizer had assaulted other women too.

"When it comes to statistics, we have to look to the scientists and look at the discussion that's going on among scientists," Dick told NPR. "And [we should] not pay attention to people who might be pundits, because they're not researchers. We should really rely on the researchers to give us guidance."

Some scientists, of course, do indeed take issue with Lisak's serial predator theory. But Dick and Ziering would apparently like to live in a world where the only person allowed to comment on these issues is the guy who shares all of their biases and completely agrees with them.

It's a sign of the fundamental weakness of their argument—a symptom of the fact that college campuses are simply not "hunting grounds" teeming with criminal sociopaths who prey on women—that Dick and Ziering have only one response to their critics: you're not allowed to criticize us.