Harvard Law School professors criticize campus sexual assault documentary

FILE - In this Aug. 1, 2005 file photo, a bicyclist walks by Langdell Hall, the Harvard Law Library, on the Harvard Law School campus at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa, File)
Harvard Law School.
Charles Krupa/AP

More than a dozen Harvard law school professors are criticizing the campus sexual assault documentary “Hunting Ground” for its portrayal of an accused student’s case.

The film, which will air on CNN Nov. 19, focuses on two survivors of sexual assault from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, but also calls out a number of institutions, including Harvard, for their mishandlings of sexual assault cases.

The documentary was released in theaters earlier this year.

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The Harvard case features Kamilah Willingham, a law school graduate, who tells filmmakers that she and a friend were sexually assaulted by another law student. Willingham says the Law School initially found the student guilty and expelled him. After an appeal, professors allowed him to return to school. Willingham could not be reached for comment.

The student was not named in the film, but a Slate article from June first identified him as Brandon Winston.

The government found Harvard Law School in violation of Title IX gender equity law last December, which the film says is proof that the college was negligent in its handling of Willingham’s case.

But 19 law school professors issued a statement Wednesday criticizing the film’s portrayal of Willingham’s story.

“There was never any evidence that Mr. Winston used force, nor were there even any charges that he used force,” the faculty wrote. “No evidence whatsoever was introduced at trial that he was the one responsible for the inebriated state of the women who are portrayed in the film as his victims. Nor was any body vested with final decision-making authority persuaded that Mr. Winston was guilty of any sexual assault offense at all. Mr. Winston was finally vindicated by the law school and by the judicial proceedings, and allowed to continue his career at the law school and beyond.”

Robb London, a spokesman for Harvard’s Law School, said the administration does not publicly discuss particular disciplinary cases.

“We’ve been working very hard to prevent the problem of sexual assault and harassment, and to ensure that if such harms occur, our procedures for handling them will be fair to all involved,” he said in a statement.

The film’s website addresses these claims with a “Facts” page, where it describes Willingham’s case in detail, including the appeal and the fact that Winston was ultimately reinstated at the school.

“In an effort to dismiss the crisis of campus sexual assault, some rape deniers have attacked the findings of our film and some of the victims in it,” the site says.“Whatever the motivation of these critics—and frankly it boggles the mind—the truth is on our side. These are the facts.”