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Inspired by The Hunting Ground, a widely praised — and criticized — cinematic documentary on campus sexual assaults, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is using screenings of the film to promote legislation that would establish a uniform definition of consent, as well as reporting and investigative procedures for all his state’s public and private colleges and universities.
As part of his campaign, Cuomo hosted a private screening of the film at Lincoln Center Tuesday with a question-and-answer session afterward. The proposed statute is titled “Enough Is Enough” and is modeled not only on a code already adopted by the State University of New York system, but also on California’s groundbreaking “Yes Means Yes” law. The key to both the California law and New York’s proposed statute is a clear definition of what constitutes consent to sex: an unambiguous “yes” to specific acts. That legal consent cannot be given by an individual intoxicated by alcohol or drugs.
The documentary, which also has been shown at Sundance and the White House, is the second by producer Amy Ziering and director Kirby Dick to deal with the underreporting of and institutional indifference to widespread acts of sexual assault. Their 2013 film The Invisible War documented the appalling situation women find themselves in at Marine Barracks Washington.
After seeing that movie, which was nominated for an Academy Award, then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta implemented sweeping reforms across the armed services. New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand credits the film with inspiring her to introduce the Military Justice Improvement Act, which set up an independent judiciary to review sexual assault allegations in the armed services.
The Hunting Ground, however has become the source of some controversy, with the Libertarian publication Reason and the generally liberal online magazine Slate alleging that some of the cases reported in the film misrepresent or exaggerate the actual facts of the encounters.
Some commentators have also blamed the victims for drinking too much or wearing provocative clothing. Ziering has sharp words for those critics. “It doesn’t matter what you do,” she told THR. “If you’re drinking too much and someone robs you at gunpoint, you don’t say ‘Well, you were drunk. Why were you drunk?’ It makes absolutely no difference what state you were in.”
Cuomo’s admiration for The Hunting Ground and its message has been unrestrained. During a recent appearance to promote “Enough Is Enough” alongside House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, he told his audience, “Sexual assault on campus is not really the illness, it’s not the problem, it’s a symptom of the illness. The problem, the illness, is that we are in a society that still discriminates against women and that still treats women unequally.”
The governor went on to cite the documentary’s statistics that “only five percent of rapes on college campuses are reported, 5 percent. Worse than that, just 10 percent of the perpetrators who are found guilty of sexual assault are permanently expelled. We are still covering this up. … We are still in a state of denial, like we are with domestic violence, like we are with so many other issues. We don’t want to address the problem that we victimize women in our society. And the sexual assaults are a perfect manifestation of that.”
Ziering said she was “moved” that Cuomo was using the film to garnish legislative support. “We’ve seen it happen not only in New York, but several other states now, including Delaware and Massachusetts,” she said. “We thought reaction to The Invisible War couldn’t be topped and already this is exceeding it.”
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