A crowd packs the Stroum Jewish Community Center for the screening of “The Hunting Ground” on Nov. 6. Contributed photo

Young men in Mercer Island discuss film about sexual assault at college campuses

The Mercer Island chapter of the National League of Young Men screened “The Hunting Ground” on Nov. 6.

  • Thursday, December 1, 2016 11:13am
  • News

By Priscilla Padgett

Special to the Reporter

The Mercer Island chapter of the National League of Young Men (NLYM), a nonprofit organization for young men in grades nine through 12, screened the award-winning documentary “The Hunting Ground” at the Stroum Jewish Community Center, followed by a panel discussion with distinguished community members, on Nov. 6.

“The Hunting Ground” presents the stories of multiple students who allege that they were sexually assaulted at their college campuses, and that college administrators either ignored them or required them to navigate a complex academic bureaucracy to have their claims addressed.

The film contains interviews with college administrators who state they were pressured into suppressing rape cases. The film chiefly criticized actions (or lack thereof) by university administrations, including Harvard, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Amherst College and Notre Dame, as well as examined fraternities such as Sigma Alpha Epsilon.

NLYM Mercer Island planned to screen “The Hunting Ground” last spring, before the Brock Turner Stanford case, before the Baylor football team case and before the presidential election accusations. After the Nov. 6 screening, the panelists — Rachel Gerstenfeld, Mercer Island Detective Art Munoz, Heather Wehr and Peter Qualliotine — answered audience questions and talked about how young men can prevent sexual assault.

Gerstenfeld, a University of Washington peer advocate, is a second year student majoring in psychology and music performance. She was an intern for the Sexual Assault and Relationship Violence Activists on campus last year, as well as a member of Huskies for Suicide Prevention and Awareness, and she currently works at Health and Wellness as the events and programming coordinator for the Peer Health Educators.

Munoz, a school resource officer in Mercer Island schools, interacts with students, works with Mercer Island School District security officers, provides resources and teaches classes related to student behavior and law enforcement.

Wehr is a LifeWire, sexual assault and domestic violence advocate. Wehr spent two years in Guatemala with a nonprofit combating gender-based violence, and has an M.A. in sociocultural anthropology from the University of Kansas.

Qualliotine, the co-founder and director of Men’s Accountability for the Organization for Prostitution Survivors (OPS), has worked in both Portland and Seattle on the issues of sexual harassment and sexual assault, including the development of prevention curriculum for middle and high school students. OPS seeks to promote men’s accountability by engaging men to be allies to women to end gender-based violence.

NLYM President Diane Salisbury said she thought “the film as well as the panel of experts helped to shed light on how prevalent the problem is in our society.

“This event brought awareness of the social responsibility the young men have to change the current culture,” she added.

Senior Bligh Bjarnason said he thought the film “helped to open our eyes to a topic that is not being discussed enough.”

“As the mother of a son heading off to college next year, it was a good way to begin the conversation with him about college life, expected behavior and making sure he advocates for the safety of young women on campus,” said Bjarnason’s mom, Stacy. “What I found most disturbing about the film was the lack of support the universities gave to the victims. The good news is that is does sound like most universities are making improvements.”

NLYM is a structured program for mothers and their sons that promotes the development of young men into community leaders through leadership involvement, charitable and community service, cultural experiences and protocol education. For more, visit the NLYM website at nlymmercerisland.org.

Panelists Rachel Gerstenfeld, Mercer Island Detective Art Munoz, Heather Wehr and Peter Qualliotine discuss how young men can prevent sexual assault. Contributed photo

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