Feb 22, 2023
The #MeToo Movement has promoted a greater awareness of sexual assault on both a national and global level. While much progress still needs to be achieved, the prevalence of sexual violence is much better understood and appreciated by the masses when compared to only a few years ago.
As the systemic nature of sexual assault and misconduct has been exposed – whether in the workplace, on dating apps, on campuses, and even in rideshares – individual stories of survivors have become part of the public consciousness. In recent years, a number of documentaries have highlighted how survivors overcome trauma, take control of their own paths to justice, and move forward despite often harrowing circumstances.
In the sections below, we will look at some of the most compelling and inspiring documentaries tackling the issue of sexual violence – including sexual assault, childhood sexual abuse, and workplace sexual misconduct.
** The following descriptions may contain “spoilers” related to the plot/storyline of each documentary.
#1 Audrie & Daisy: Chronicling two similar cases of rape involving teenage girls who are sexually assaulted while unconscious by classmates they consider their friends, “Audrey & Daisey” looks at the effects of sexual violence on survivors, their families, and the communities where these incidents occur. The rape involving Audrie Pott occurred in Saratoga, California. The rape involving Daisy Coleman occurred in Maryville, Missouri. Pott was 15 when she was assaulted and Coleman was 14. The film also looks at how cyberbullying and social media further traumatized the survivors after they came forward to report the crimes. While the film offers a glimpse into the process of overcoming trauma for survivors, one of the girls featured tragically died by suicide at age 23 after reportedly battling depression for years. Four months later, the woman’s mother also died by suicide.
#2 I Am Evidence: The nationwide issue of untested rape kits was highlighted through individual survivor stories in the 2017 HBO film “I Am Evidence.” Produced by Mariska Hargitay, star of the popular NBC drama “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” the film has helped inspire the #EndTheBacklog movement to test rape kits throughout the nation. As a result, many sex offenders have been brought to justice, and local jurisdictions like Orange County have successfully cleared their sexual assault kit backlogs. Earlier this year, Orange County announced charges in six cold cases related to the rape kit backlog being cleared. In addition, California recently announced a portal enabling survivors to track their sexual assault kits online.
#3 The Keepers: Examining the unsolved 1969 murder of a Baltimore nun, Catherine Cesnik, “The Keepers” brought to light a massive sexual abuse scandal at the all-girls Archbishop Keough High School. Additionally, the film exposed a widespread cover-up by high-ranking Catholic Church officials. Survivors of the school sexual abuse courageously recounted their experiences and testified before Maryland lawmakers in an effort to pass legislation similar to California’s AB 218 law which pauses the statute of limitations on childhood sexual abuse claims.
#4 Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God: Director Alex Gibney interviewed numerous survivors of childhood sexual abuse who were harmed by priests while attending a Milwaukee school for the deaf. The film exposes the systemic and odious nature of pedophilia within the Roman Catholic Church and highlights how inaction, cover-ups, and general apathy allowed countless sex crimes to occur for decades.
#5 The Invisible War: An investigative documentary focusing on the epidemic of rape and sexual violence within the U.S. Military, “The Invisible War” has been hailed by both critics and viewers. Released in 2012, five years before the #MeToo Movement garnered worldwide attention, the film was considered to be groundbreaking in terms of tackling difficult subject matter while also placing an onus for addressing sexual violence on some of the nation’s most powerful individuals within the federal government.
#6 The Hunting Ground: Highlighting the pervasive scourge of campus sexual violence, “The Hunting Ground” exposed how major colleges and universities are often complicit in cover-ups and fail to take action in order to maintain their public images. The film also provided a glimpse into the challenges survivors of campus sexual assault often face after coming forward and fighting for justice.
#7 Capturing the Friedmans: One of the first films tackling the issue of childhood sexual abuse to garner worldwide attention, “Capturing the Friedmans” was nominated for an Oscar and received almost universal critical acclaim. Chronicling the story of an upper-middle-class New York family whose father and youngest son are arrested and convicted for shocking sex crimes involving countless children from the close-knit Long Island community, the documentary highlighted how sexual abuse is not only widespread, but it can also impact virtually anyone from any background.
#8 Athlete A: Following a team of investigative journalists from the Indianapolis Star who broke the tragic story of Larry Nassar’s decades of sexual abuse impacting young girls from USA Gymnastics, “Athlete A” has been deemed a “reckoning” for the countless high-ranking officials who turned a blind eye to such unspeakable crimes. The film features first-person accounts from Larry Nassar survivors, including Maggie Nichols, Rachael Denhollander, Simone Biles, and Aly Raisman.
#9 Outcry: Chronicling the story of a high school football star who was wrongfully arrested, convicted, and jailed for sexually abusing a young boy, “Outcry” uncovers a botched police investigation and flawed prosecution which led to a miscarriage of justice. The film follows the accused – Greg Kelley – as he pursues truth and justice, with the validity of his conviction ultimately being overturned and the true perpetrator of the sexual abuse being identified.
#10 We Need to Talk About Cosby: Offering a fascinating and disturbing look into how one of the world’s most beloved entertainers operated as a sexual predator for decades with virtual impunity, “We Need to Talk About Cosby” tackles difficult questions related to the positive role “America’s Dad” played in furthering civil rights and opportunities for minorities in the entertainment industry while simultaneously committing dozens of alleged sexual assaults and rapes.
Additional Sexual Assault Documentaries Worth Mentioning
While they didn’t make our official Top 10 List of Documentaries focusing on Sexual Assault, these films highlight important cases of sexual violence and feature stories of survivors who have overcome incredible odds while fighting for justice.
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At DLG, we believe, support, and fight tirelessly for justice on behalf of all sexual assault and abuse survivors. To discuss your sexual assault case confidentially, contact a member of our Sex Crimes Division today at 818-322-4056 for a free consultation.
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