Berry Liberman on Amy Ziering
For thousands of women around the world, Amy Ziering has become a fierce and powerful champion. She and long-time collaborator Kirby Dick made The Invisible War, a groundbreaking documentary investigating the epidemic of rape in the US military.
The film won many major awards and inspired a wave of unprecedented new laws designed to protect women in the armed forces. How did one film create the conditions for such radical and sweeping changes in one of the world’s most powerful institutions? The answer, in part, is chutzpah. Not satisfied with releasing the film into the world only to have it fade away after a few screenings, Amy had a simple yet determined strategy of getting it into the hands of the most influential members of the military. The idea being that if they saw it, they couldn’t ignore it. It paid off.
Her latest film, The Hunting Ground, tells a similarly harrowing story of rape on college campuses. The title illustrates the depth of the problem: that predators who perpetrate violence are often protected—by silence, status and victim-blaming. As one survivor says about reporting her rape to a university administrator: “I thought if I told them they would take action, but the only action they took was against me.” The shocking part for Amy has been the public vilification directed at her and the victims for bringing light to these sexual assault cases. Who would have thought that it would prove more threatening to take on universities than the Pentagon? I’m curious about someone who has the courage to tackle these enormous institutions. Thankfully, Amy is the kind of activist storyteller who doesn’t see the risks in telling the controversial story, only the imperatives to do so.
On the day we meet she is speaking at a Good Pitch event, discussing secondary post-traumatic stress disorder. Amy herself began experiencing mild symptoms of PTSD from days of empathic listening to testimonies of violent abuse. Maybe this is a clue as to why we find it so hard as a society to believe victims of violence—that somehow trauma can be transferred, and so we avoid it at any cost, even blame the victims. Maybe it makes us feel too vulnerable. Too unsafe. Too powerless. How lucky we are then when brave people step forward to shine a light in the darkness.