Five Survivors Speak Out in the Sexual Assault Documentary “It Happened Here”

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Genre: Documentary
Release Date: 2014
Director: Lisa F. Jackson
Producer: Marjorie Schwartz Nielsen
Duration: 1 hour 16 minutes

I was 14 years old when my mom and I first watched It Happened Here, a documentary on sexual assault on college campuses. It opens powerfully, with college boys at Yale chanting, “No means yes! Yes means anal!” We both visibly cringed and wondered what we had gotten ourselves into. My mom sat perched on the edge of the couch with the remote control aimed at the TV, ready to “edit” the film for me should that be necessary. It wasn’t. It turns out the film is impactful without being too graphic.

The opening shocked us, which I think was likely intentional. It illustrates how pervasive rape on campus is and hints to the rape culture that we are about to learn about in the rest of the film. This is where It Happened Here really shines, letting us hear firsthand about the alarming pervasiveness of sexual assault on college campuses, the prevalence of institutional cover-ups, and most importantly what happens after the sexual assault. But, I believe the film goes an important step further by also featuring mental-health and legal experts, administrators, and educators. This approach provides invaluable education for all viewers and inspires others to join the movement of student survivors who are boldly coming forward to take action on their college campuses and in federal court.

It Happened Here tackles the questions Why is sexual assault happening? and How can we prevent campus assault? A diverse panel of experts provides answers to these important questions. Woven throughout are the intimate stories of the five survivors from Amherst College, University of Connecticut, and Vanderbilt University. Each survivor shares what happened to her, how she has fought for her school and her perpetrator to be held accountable, and how she is working to bring change on campuses and in our court systems.

An especially poignant scene in It Happened Here, is when survivor Erica Daniels’s parents talk about how sexual assault changed their daughter, how that changed them in turn, as well as Erica and her relationships. Viewers see that this isn’t a problem that just affects the survivors. It also affects the survivors’ families, friends, and communities.

Lisa F. Jackson, the film’s director, shared this, “I hope that It Happened Here will catalyze discussion and change on college campuses. For our main characters, telling their stories and confronting their schools was an enormously empowering experience. Sexual violence is a topic that people turn away from. It is a subject fraught with misconceptions and veiled in myths; a crime that is denied, belittled and misunderstood; and an assault that leaves debilitating scars on its victims. Our characters shared with us a great gift, trusting us with their stories and allowing us to follow their brave journeys out of the shadows in the hopes that they will inspire others to do the same.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.

You may view It Happened Here or schedule a screening at your organization by visiting the film’s website.

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Minnah Stein is a junior at Pine View High School. She is a national qualifier on her school's speech and debate team, an award-winning writer, and an impassioned activist. She founded EMPOWERU (a community action program) and serves on the advisory board for the national nonprofit Stop Sexual Assault in Schools as well as the local nonprofit Community Youth Development. When she isn't working to make the world a better place, she enjoys playing her ukulele and her banjo, reading, and all things related to Broadway.