6 Documentaries That Will Change Your Perspective on Sexual Assault

How exactly does one become “aware” during National Sexual Assault Awareness Month? One way to become better acquainted with the subject matter is to watch a documentary… or six.

Below is a list of six of the best documentaries that I’ve seen that get in depth on sexual assault. I won’t pretend that any of them are easy to watch, but the stories and information they depict are important to understanding the crisis so that we may discuss better ways to address the institutional and societal failings that allow rape culture to prevail.

1. AUDRIE & DAISY

This 2016 documentary, distributed by and available on Netflix, is about two teenage girls – Audrie & Daisy – who were raped in separate incidents in separate states.

What makes this film’s point-of-view so compelling is that it’s not just about the sexual assault, it explores the subsequent victim blaming the girls endure. Particularly in the age of social media, anonymous community members harassed both girls online, forcing them to endure further trauma.

Everyone’s so concerned about how pressing charges will ruin the rapists’ lives, yet they show literally no empathy for the lives of the girls whose lives they are actively ruining through this harassment.

Though social media has a dark side, the girls find it can also be a source of solace as they find and connect with other survivors on social media platforms to feel less alone.

2. SEX CRIMES UNIT

Though Law & Order: SVU gives television audiences a peek into what a NYC sex crimes investigation looks like, documentarian Lisa F. Jackson gives a more realistic portrayal in this 2011 HBO film.

Jackson’s cameras follow the New York County’s district attorney’s team of prosecutors for crimes of sexual assault, with a lot of the focus on assistant D.A. Lisa Friel. There are both heartbreaking moments when prosecutors can’t make a sufficient case on behalf of a victim and satisfying ones when long-delayed justice is finally procured in the courtroom. Both outcomes are extremely compelling.

3. THE INVISIBLE WAR

Winner of both a Peabody and an Emmy Award takes a much-needed look at sexual assault in the military. The in-depth investigation doesn’t sugarcoat the situation, detailing just how many active service members are victims of sexual trauma by their peers and superiors.

More often than not, the victims are too afraid to report these assaults, but even when they do, their allegations are disregarded. The filmmakers found evidence of a systematic attempt to cover up sexual assault complaints rather than addressing them.

The takeaway from the documentary is clear: to establish actual accountability, the power to prosecute needs to be removed from commanding officers and reassigned to an independent body. Now if only our lawmakers would stop to watch this film so they’d do something about that.

4. I AM EVIDENCE

Just released on HBO in the past week, this Mariska Hargitay-produced documentary looks into the chronic backup of untested rape kits in law enforcement facilities. In cities all across the country, hundreds if not thousands of kits gathered dust for years. If it happened in just one metropolis, that would be a travesty – the fact that the same thing happened all over suggests a systematic apathy toward finding justice for women and men who have been sexually assaulted.

The documentary pays particular attention to Cleveland, which decided to devote a lot of resources to finally going through the kits and investigating those that matched DNA in the database. Through this experiment, we see how easily law enforcement could have stopped serial rapists had they just tested the kits when they originally taken.

5. INDIA’S DAUGHTER

Streaming on Netflix, this 2015 hour-long documentary tells the story of Jyoti Singh, a 23-year-old student in India who was attacked and gang raped on a bus. Singh died from the injuries she sustained a couple weeks later, yet in her death became a symbol for the societal mistreatment of women in her country.

If for no other reason, you should watch it because the Indian government blocked it from its airwaves. When the documentary made its way to YouTube, authorities forced the company to block it for users within India. Times are changing though, and the country will face a lot of resistance if it thinks it can maintain the status quo of women being second-class citizens.

6. THE HUNTING GROUND

Also available on Netflix, this 2015 film explores the disturbing prevalence of sexual assault on American college campuses, allowing victims to explain their stories and the rape culture that pervades institutions of higher learning.

Viewers can’t help but share in the frustration with the subjects of the documentary as they witness repeated red tape by the colleges to try to hold rapists accountable for their actions, instead more often putting the accusers on trial. No doubt, the film reignited a conversation within these schools to reconsider how to better handle sexual assault investigations and punishments.

65 comments

Jen S
Jen S3 months ago

This failure to prosecute, to test must change as does victim blaming, victim shaming and self-righteous people interjecting their ignorant opinions to the public. I teach on a college campus, and rape culture is prevalent; I deal with the problem frequently and if one of my students comes to me, I support her through the process, which is lengthy and far from pleasant, as do many faculty women. Sex crimes deserve the attention as any crime against persons.

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Chad A
Chad Anderson4 months ago

Thank you.

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Jim Ven
Jim Ven4 months ago

Thanks.

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Jim Ven
Jim Ven4 months ago

Thanks.

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Jerome S
Jerome S4 months ago

Thank you

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Jerome S
Jerome S4 months ago

Thank you

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Magdalen B
Magdalen B4 months ago

Patronising title. The author does not know me ormost of the readers.

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ANA MARIJA R
ANA MARIJA R4 months ago

Shared. Thank you.

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Angela J
Angela J5 months ago

Thanks

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Past Member
Past Member 5 months ago

terrific

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