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How The Hunting Ground Spreads Myths About Campus Rape

Activist film set to air on CNN this weekend uncritically parrots bad theories peddled by a serial exaggerator.

Hunting GroundThe Hunting GroundOn Sunday night, CNN will air The Hunting Ground—a work of activist propaganda disguised as a documentary about sexual assault on American college campuses.

Among its numerous faults, the film blames the campus rape problem on a plague of serial rapists; expert opinion on this matter comes courtesy of psychologist David Lisak, whose misleading interpretation of his flawed research on serial predators is given center stage throughout the film. (Read Reason’s multi-part expose on the research underlying Lisak’s dubious theory here, here, and here, and see Linda M. LeFauve's new article examining Lisak's misleadingly constructed video interview with a rapist here.)

The Hunting Ground covers two high-profile sexual assault disputes in great detail. It goes to extraordinary lengths to paint the alleged assailants in these cases as perfect examples of Lisak’s model rapist, implying that these men are repeat offenders who plan out their crimes and drug their victims.

But in reality, it’s far from clear that The Hunting Ground’s accused rapists are even actually guilty—let alone serial sociopaths who stalk and incapacitate their victims.

The “Amazing Lie at the Heart of a Movie Claiming to be a Documentary”

Nineteen Harvard University law professors have denounced the film for (among other faults) misrepresenting the case of Harvard law student Brandon Winston, whose life was put on hold after a night of drunken, drug-fueled sexual contact resulted in his expulsion from the university and criminal charges.

“What our student did is not the kind of violent, repeat sexual assault that the movie claims is both the nature of the problem nationwide and that each of the people in the film are an example of that,” said Elizabeth Batholet, one of the Harvard law professors speaking out about The Hunting Ground’s errors, in an interview with Reason. “That’s an amazing lie at the heart of a movie claiming to be a documentary.”

The Hunting GroundThe Hunting GroundWinston was accused of sexual misconduct by then-student Kamilah Willingham, who gives her one-sided account of the dispute toward the beginning of The Hunting Ground. According to Willingham, she and a female friend had drinks with Winston at her apartment, proceeded to a bar where Winston bought them more drinks, and then all three returned to her apartment in a state of inebriation, where Winston assaulted them while they slept. The clear implication from the film is that Winston is a monster frequently preys on his victims by drugging them and was ultimately able to elude justice because Harvard does not take victims seriously.

“He’s a predator,” Willingham says in the film “He’s dangerous.”

But, as Slate’s Emily Yoffe discovered in her groundbreaking investigation of the dispute earlier this year, the real story was much different. There is no evidence that Winston drugged the women; on the contrary, Willingham and Winston both consumed cocaine that Willingham herself had supplied. Willingham used a bloody condom she discovered in her wastebasket as evidence that her friend had been violently raped, but DNA evidence ruled out the possibility that the condom had been used by Winston (though it did match Willingham).

Nor is it true that Winston escaped wholly unpunished, as The Hunting Ground implies. Harvard initially recommended his expulsion, and repeatedly placed him on academic leave, but reinstated him after determining that insufficient evidence existed to brand the encounter as assault. A grand jury declined to indict him on any charges having to do with Willingham; he was eventually convicted of a misdemeanor charge of nonsexual touching of Willingham’s friend. The film’s only reference to these facts is through some text briefly displayed at the very end.

The accusation put Winston’s future on hold for three years. A young black man with no history of criminal activity had to suspend a promising education at Harvard law school while both university administrators and the court system adjudicated the accusations against him.

“Three good years of his life have gone solely to this,” said Harvard Law Professor Janet Halley, who also rejects The Hunting Ground’s narrative, in an interview with Reason. “It’s not right for the filmmakers to extend it out to yet another trial in the court of public opinion, when the underlying claims have been so conclusively rejected. It’s bad for the overall effort for justice, and it’s bad for this young man.”

 “Major Distortions and Glaring Omissions”

The Hunting Ground’s case against former Florida State University star quarterback Jameis Winston (now with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers; no relation to Brandon Winston) is similarly plagued by inaccuracies. Accuser Erica Kinsman claimed Winston drugged her at a bar, forced her back to his apartment, and raped her on the bathroom floor.

Kinsman says in the film that she’s “fairly certain” the drink Winston (or one of his friends) gave her was spiked, but two separate toxicology reports established that there were no date-rape drugs in her system on the night of the incident. Indeed, Kinsman has repeatedly changed the details of her story, first saying she passed out after consuming the drink and was unable to recall how she got into a car with Winston, and later saying she was coerced or intimidated into the car (something investigators thought was dubious, given that there were a lot of other people around at the time). The facts undermine the idea that she was preyed on by Winston, who was eventually cleared of sexual assault during a university hearing run by a retired Florida Supreme Court justice. Winston is now suing Kinsman for defamation.

In a statement chiding CNN for deciding to screen The Hunting Ground, FSU President John Thrasher excoriated the film for its “major distortions and glaring omissions.” Its producers have fallen into the same trap as Rolling Stone’s editors did with their discredited story about gang rape at the University of Virginia, wrote Thrasher.

“A Film Project That Is Very Much in the Corner of Advocacy”

The makers of The Hunting Ground, of course, are not interested in anything resembling the truth. Indeed, an email from investigative producer Amy Herdy made public confirmed recently this beyond any doubt. In the email, Herdy told Kinsman’s lawyer that the makers of The Hunting Ground, “do not operate the same way as journalists—this is a film project that is very much in the corner of advocacy for victims, so there would be no insensitive questions or the need to get the perpetrator’s side.” In a separate email, Herdy discusses tactics for “ambushing” Jameis Winston.

While the cases against the two Winstons don’t stand up to scrutiny, The Hunting Ground does manage to identify a single serial predator: an unnamed man whose face is blurred for his interview with the filmmakers. This man confesses that he was incarcerated for sexual assault and hopes that by coming forward, he is educating the public about how to prevent people like him from committing attacks. His monologue is interspersed with separate commentary from Lisak. Here is a transcript of that part of the film:

Man: “I was incarcerated for six and a half years for sexual assault. I know I was at fault. Like I said, the reason I really wanted to do this interview was to help someone else out. Maybe to have them become aware of what they are doing wrong.”

Lisak: “The really practiced sex offenders identify groups of people who are more vulnerable.”

Man: “College is the place where lots of alcohol is consumed and the number of victims is endless.”

Lisak: “These men select victims ahead of time. It could be a bar, it could be a fraternity party where people are drinking.”

Man: “At the parties, like frat parties, I mean people are getting wasted. So it’s not like a lot of the time dependent on who they’re with. Nobody keeps an eye on them.”

Lisak: “The alcohol is essentially a weapon that is used to render somebody extremely vulnerable.”

Man: “Alcohol definitely makes it easier to overpower a victim if they’re inebriated or under the influence. Less struggle for sure.”

Lisak: “Then there is an isolation phase. So if somebody who has deliberately gotten this young woman extremely intoxicated, and at some point he says to her, ‘I’ll walk you back to your room,’ or ‘you can sleep it off if you want, we have a bed upstairs.’ And that’s where the assault occurs.”

The film’s only case of clear-cut predation, then, is supported exclusively by an anonymous interview that provides no checkable details. 

The film also claims eight percent of men in college commit 90 percent of the assaults and that the average number of assaults per rapist is six. The citation, of course, belongs to Lisak’s 2002 study, “Repeat Rape and Multiple Offending Among Undetected Rapists.” But as Reason confirmed in its previous invesitgations of Lisak’s work—and Lisak himself confirmed—that study wasn’t actually about college students, and didn’t ask participants about crimes committed on campuses.

A Representative Case?

Is The Hunting Ground’s anonymous predator—whose crimes are implied, but not confirmed, to have taken place on a campus—a representative case?

The interview bears a striking similarity to one conducted by Lisak decade ago. Lisak allegedly sat down with a serial rapist who was also fraternity brother and interviewed him about is methods. This conversation was later replicated by an actor and passed off as an anti-rape educational material dubbed an interview with an undetected rapist, and known as “the Frank video.”

But, as a new investigation by Reason contributor Linda LeFauve reveals, the Frank video is a composite of several conversations with rapists—demonstrating that Lisak’s own stereotypical serial predator is a carefully concocted cut-and-paste character.  

The validity of Lisak’s theory was recently called into question by a new paper authored by Kevin Swartout, Mary Koss, Jacquelyn White, Martie Thompson, Antonia Abbey, and Alexandra Bellis. The authors found the serial predator theory to be based on “surprisingly limited” scientific evidence; their own study that most college rapists did not commit rapes across multiple years.

Lisak and his advocates have pushed back against this study, telling The Huffington Post that it contains significant flaws and ought to be retracted.

Nevertheless, Swartout said in an email to Reason that his team stands behind their work.

“We want to move the field forward by engaging in discussion of the issues through the peer review process,” he said.

Co-author Mary Koss told Reason that “no study is above reproach and we were and are open to constructive criticism and the need to make corrections if deemed necessary in the judgment of the editors.”

The science behind the serial predator theory, then, remains decidedly unsettled. But people who tune in to CNN on Sunday night won’t be treated to a nuanced examination of the question. Instead, they will be hit with a work of activist propaganda that wrongfully portrays college campuses as uniquely dangerous environments where women are literally hunted by sociopathic rapists.

“We who have spoken out at Harvard are completely committed to addressing sexual assault,” said Bartholet. “It’s horrible that this film is coming out that is now misrepresenting the nature of the problem and diverting attention away from how we can address it.”

Photo Credit: The Hunting Ground

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  • Crusty Juggler||

    It's not fair?

  • Tundra, well-chilled.||

    Witch hunts won't conduct themselves, Robby.

    “We want to move the field forward by engaging in discussion of the issues through the peer review process,” he said.

    Huh? Shouldn't it be:

    "We want to make outrageous and dangerous claims, completely unsupported, and then be validated by right-thinking people."

  • bunslicer||

    That quote is actually from one of Lisak's opponents.

  • MSimon||

    War on Blacks? By Progs? Say it isn't Wilson.

  • Mr Lizard||

    STEVE SMITH DOESNT HUNT

  • ||

    Someone who worked on the film has apparently been editing Wikipedia entries for several months to make the film appear more accurate.

    Alva took particular interest in editing the Wikipedia page of Jameis Winston, the only person named in the film as an alleged rapist. Winston was cleared by three separate investigations, yet activists — and the film — claim this was due to a biased process and investigators seeking to protect a star football player. The film doesn't mention the holes in Erica Kinsman's accusation against Winston and in fact allows her to tell a story that contradicts physical evidence.

    On March 31, 2015, Alva edited Winston's Wikipedia page to remove much of the explanatory material surrounding the FSU and Tallahassee police investigations into Winston and to soften the doubt in Kinsman's story.
  • Crusty Juggler||

    There are plenty of facts in the Winston case that do not necessarily indicate rape, but make him look pretty scummy (which isn't rape).

    I assume this documentary spends a lot of time on the deplorable Vanderbilt football dorm rape, right?

  • MJGreen - Docile Citizen||

    There are plenty of facts in the Winston case that do not necessarily indicate rape, but make him look pretty scummy

    We do know that Winston's a serial whiner.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    CNN's gone too far to turn back now.

  • Rhywun||

    ^This

    What the hell outfit not named Salon or Jezebel would even touch this?

  • MarkLastname||

    We always like to believe things are getting better, sanity is getting more popular, but this level of unabashed propaganda being on CNN really humbles those expectations. Soon it will be on PBS, kindergartners will be watching it as part of their sex ed, and the accompanying reading material will be the SCUM manifesto. I think a grade school in Sweden actually already did that once; had the kids read the SCUM Manifesto, that is.

  • MSimon||

    Law suit on Monday.

  • Enjoy Every Sandwich||

    he was eventually convicted of a misdemeanor charge of nonsexual touching of Willingham’s friend

    It's against the law to touch people? WTF is "nonsexual touching" and why is it a crime?

  • Crusty Juggler||

    Buy me a drink and I will show you. Wink.

  • Citizen X||

    Nice try, but even the most casual H'n'R lurker knows that ALL touching is sexual with you.

  • geo1113||

  • sarcasmic||

    Any non-consensual touch is technically assault. Though if you call the cops for someone doing so they'll laugh in your face and call you a pussy. On the other hand if you touch a cop he'll likely take it as an opportunity to beat you to within an inch of your life before charging you with assault on a police officer.

  • thom||

    Though if you call the cops for someone doing so they'll laugh in your face and call you a pussy.

    Wait? I thought that the cops have no choice but to enforce the law as written? Anytime some poor schmuck gets caught up in the criminal justice system on some technicality that is obviously an injustice, we're treated to interviews with cops and prosecutors throwing their hands up in the air and assuring us that doing the common sense thing is simply out of their control...

  • sarcasmic||

    Victimless crimes? Yes. They enforce those with religious zeal. But because they go around assaulting and robbing people for a living, when someone is assaulted or robbed, the cops will usually tell them that they deserved it. Seriously. I've seen it happen more than once.

  • The artist known Dunphy||

    Right... Like you saw yourself justifiably convicted of your crime and it's all everybody else's fault

    Attribution error, meet Sarcasmic

    Yet another 'it's not my fault' douche

  • sarcasmic||

    The only part that pissed me off was that fact that I had to fix the car that hit me because the cop intentionally omitted the fact that the guy ran a red light. But you know this, and would have done the same thing. So who's the douche? Yeah, the cop. But now I repeat myself.

  • Rhywun||

    WTF is "nonsexual touching" and why is it a crime?

    If you have to ask...

  • SFC B||

    I thought in the Emily Yoffe article it was revealed he admitted to touching the second woman's breasts while she was passed out.

  • MarkLastname||

    Basically it's one of those laws meant to give would-be victims and prosecutors and police the ability to have people arrested at will without any of that annoying paperwork. After all, every single day we are all probably guilty of multiple counts of 'nonsexual touching.'

    That seems to be the goal of the justice system right now, with an unholy alliance between hysterical progs and 'tough on "crime"' conservatives, there seems to be a strong desire to do to all rights what's been done to money: that is, it belongs to the government, and what of it you get to keep is the sheer generosity of said government. Now we're all criminals, felons even, and every day we aren't arrested is but a gift from our great guardian angels.

  • Derpetologist||

    There is a word for people who pose as victims to exploit the sympathy of others: beggars.

  • thom||

    I prefer plain old "fraud".

  • Not okay||

    They did the same thing with the invisible war or whatever the fuck it was called.

  • ||

    I saw an ad for that show a few days ago and immediately thought "uuhhhh boy...they're doubling down on the Rolling Stone retardation".

  • ||

    And CNN does have some good docs. This one was amazing (and sad).

  • Idle Hands||

    I would have thought long and hard about paying a visit to that prosecutor if something similar had happened to me.

  • ||

    Fucking prosecutor apologized for "the system" failing Morton. Hope he gets penis leprosy.

  • Crusty Juggler||

    Even Krakauer wrote a book about college rape and I do not believe he responded well to it's criticism.

  • Brian||

    They were going to name it The Raping Fields.

  • PBR Streetgang||

    Coincidentally, in the UVA case (the one with the Dean I Think) there is hearing on the Dean's Motion to Compel production of Certain Of Jackie's emails, texts and social media postings.

  • PBR Streetgang||

    The coincidental part being that the hearing is today.

  • Loki||

    They've gotta do something their shattered "narrative". Unfortunately all they know how to do is double down on the lies in the hopes that if they repeat them enough times that enough people will start to buy their bullshit. Worked for AGW, so why not "campus rape"?

  • Loki||

    *to salvage their shattered "narrative"...

  • Illocust||

    Oooo shiny, we'll get to see if she had help fabricating or did it all on her own.

  • PBR Streetgang||

    Dammit. Hearing was postponed until Dec. 4.

  • Illocust||

    It's kind of funny how the serial predator talks about how everyone at college parties get themselves drunk and it makes them easy pickings. While the narrator goes on and on about how rapists target a specific individual and trick them into getting drunk. Difference between taking advantage of a situation that already exists and creating it.

  • Bill Dalasio||

    Yeah, because college girls at parties have to be tricked into drinking. We all know that, absent those tricky predators college girls would uniformly be teetotalers.

  • Enjoy Every Sandwich||

    Well, yeah! Those darn predators spike the lemonade at the quilting bees that the girls all attend!

  • Long Woodchippers||

    "alcohol is a weapon" but of course it's "blaming the victim" if we advise women not to get drunk

  • Sevo||

    The producers admit it's agit-prop; of course is spreads lies. That's the intent.

  • SugarFree||

    Drug rape myth exposed as study reveals binge drinking is to blame

    Not one women in a 12-month testing period who claimed to be the victim of a spiked drink tested positive for a date rape drug.

  • Loki||

    Bitches need to learn how to handle their alcohol better...

  • ||

    Clearly, the logical conclusion is that doctors are rape-enablists too.

  • ||

    C'mon, everyone knows women don't have agency to make their own choices about drinking and partying and sexy times! Sheesh!

  • Illocust||

    This makes a lot of sense to me. I always wondered how these guys were getting these date rape drugs. There are a lot of slimy people, but it's harder for people to sleep with themselves at night when they preplan a rape as opposed to simply taking advantage of an opportunity. A single individual can do that and a group of individuals can pressure each other into doing that, but it's a lot more unusual for a completely disinterested third party to be willing to help with that when they don't get any sex out of the deal.

  • ant1sthenes||

    Obviously rapists have developed new undetectable date rape drugs.

  • ||

    Didn't we already have one blockbuster rape film this year? 50 Shades of something or other? I don't think rehashing the same material with the thin veil of cinema verite is going to bring them the same level of attention.

  • Notorious UGCC||

    Wait, you're saying colleges *aren't* hunting grounds where you get to go and rape coeds without fearing punishment?

    You could have told me *before* I spent all that money renovating my basement into a rape dungeon.

  • ||

    Wait, you're saying colleges *aren't* hunting grounds where you get to go and rape coeds without fearing punishment?

    Before graduation, yes.

  • The artist known Dunphy||

    Asking campus admins or God forbid - student govt- to investigate rape makes as much sense as going to the police for a root canal

    SOME campus PD's are equipped and trained to do so, but campus admin's should stay the }%}%%# out

  • Lorenzo Valla||

    CNN should get Sabrina Erdely to introduce the movie to the audience. I doubt she's busy these days...

  • kint||

    The lawsuit by Winston against Erica Kinsman is actually a countersuit. Kinsman has filed a lawsuit against Winston for sexual battery. Also, there were flaws in the police work against Winston.. I think the prosecution didn't do a good job, and might have been prejudiced against Kinsman.

  • Lorenzo Valla||

    Watching the supposed Q&A after the screening on CNN. The CNN host is completely biased and it's obvious that every time critics of the movie get to the meat of their points, the comments are edited or cut off. And, it's 3 against 1.

    Pretty shoddy.

  • Lorenzo Valla||

    They discuss at length about the degree to which colleges are investigating rape cases, but it never occurs to the SJWs that perhaps the fucking police should be investigating rape rather than colleges.

  • ||

    Hi:)

  • josh||

    i'm confused. so i'm not in danger of getting raped by a college professor and/or cnn?

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    I just got paid $6784 working off my laptop this month. And if you think that's cool, my divorced friend has twin toddlers and made over $9k her first month. It feels so good making so much money when other people have to work for so much less. This is what I do,

    www.OnlineCash9.Com

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