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Rape Survivor: Working On A Sexual Assault Documentary Helped Me Heal

05/11/2015 05:43 pm ET | Updated May 11, 2015

Ari Mostov says she was bitter that she felt pushed out of her "dream school" in 2013, after campus officials didn't take her report of rape seriously.

Now, the 22-year-old is channeling her energy into "It Happened Here," a documentary about campus rape -- work she said makes her feel like she is making an impact and has also helped her heal.

Mostov filed a complaint in May 2013 against the University of Southern California that resulted in an ongoing federal investigation of the school. In the complaint, Mostov detailed that the university's Department of Public Safety had told her she had not been raped because her assailant stopped and did not orgasm.

Records later obtained by The Huffington Post showed that the DPS had also labeled Mostov's report as an "injury response" rather than rape, which she believes shows how the school kept sexual assault statistics low.

The increased scrutiny on USC began to subside in 2014. Some of the complainants graduated, while others said they became too stressed to continue speaking about their cases in public. Mostov was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and clinical depression. She had found university employees' responses to her report of an assault to exacerbate her mental anguish, so she left USC behind.

"I knew returning to school, it was going to be absolute hell again," Mostov said, so she took time off to address the aftermath of her assault on her own terms.

Mostov was a film and screenwriting major at USC, and was able to find some short-term production work after leaving school. Then she was introduced to Marjorie Schwartz Nielsen in November 2014, who agreed to hire Mostov to help work on the "It Happened Here" release and subsequent campaign and promotions. The film debuted on the cable channel Pivot earlier this year and began being screened on college campuses in conjunction with the White House's "It's On Us" anti-sexual violence campaign. It will be released on iTunes and Google Play on May 12.

Working on the film, Mostov said, has been "one of the most amazing experiences" of her life.

"For the longest time I wasn't able to think about what happened, I wasn't able to grieve," Mostov said. "Not being able to return to the school of my dreams and all of this hurt and pain I was putting off -- I was finally able to put it to work."

Nielsen said the survivors she has worked with and interviewed came forward for various reasons -- that their assailant attacked someone else, that they felt their school's atmosphere was getting worse, that they were tired of hearing stories similar to theirs -- but what has kept them involved is a desire for "not letting the momentum die."

"None of them pursued civil suits against their attackers," she said. "They took up activism because they wanted it to change things."

Neilsen said the social activism component is critical because to actually eliminate sexual violence, awareness isn't enough -- advocates need to address actual solutions.

At each screening, Neilsen said she explains campaigns some colleges have hosted on their campuses to inspire copy-cat demonstrations, and asks students in attendance to take the White House's "It's On Us" pledge.

The "It Happened Here" team has had more than 130 screening requests for the film, including some from organizations in France, Canada and Bangladesh. It's stretching beyond college campuses, getting screened at several California high schools. On March 30, Mostov and Neilsen spoke about sexual assault at a TEDxYouth event in San Diego. Over the summer, the team will plan for more screenings at schools in the fall. They said they are particularly hoping to get more high school students to see the film, so they can start engaging young people before they arrive at college.

"This affects everyone, and really, in order to stop the cycle, we need to get ahead of these behaviors," Mostov said. She envisions a day when asking for consent is as routine as asking for a condom.

"We're really hoping to help to teach people, especially the younger generation, that they have a right to advocate for themselves," she added. "It's personally something I really struggled with because I didn't know."

Mostov wants to send the message that "I am brave."

"I am doing this, this happened to me and I'm not going to be silent about it," she explained. "My story matters too. This is what happened. I don't care if you don't believe me, I don't care. This is what happened to me."

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