Previews in some of RAINN's crisis centers have already triggered a backlash from some viewers because of the graphic violence. But Sandberg said the heroines, Salander and Vanger are realistic -- and neither are passive victims.
Salander, 24, is raped by her legal guardian who had control of her finances and the authority to report her as mentally unstable. He assaulted her sadistically for two hours using a gag and a rope and physically beat her.
Vanger is raped by her father and mother from the ages of 13 to 15, fakes her own murder, and runs away for several decades.
Salander avenges her own father -- a sex trafficker -- for the beatings of her mother and mutilates the body of her guardian in retaliation for his assault.
The genesis of the project was from Music Box Films, which wanted to "capitalize" on its young fans in a grassroots campaign that showed some "social responsibility," according to its marketing consultant Nevette Previd.
"Fans are of a certain demographic, and they read the book first. Then it has a trickle down effect," she said. "We are trying to market foreign films to an audience that doesn't necessarily see foreign films."
"We came up with a program that was mutually beneficial," she said of the partnership with RAINN. "They can educate, and we can get the 20-somethings, so it's a win-win for both of us."
Previd admits the rape scenes are horrifying. "I think that from a movie point of view it was essential to put it in," she said. "This is a foreign film version of the book, not Hollywood. But it wasn't sensationalizing. It's real life."
Both groups are hoping that up to 1,000 colleges get the free film and discussion guide, which will be presented sometimes on or about Sept. 23, the organization's RAINN Day.
"The most wonderful thing to come out of the film is people are having a dialogue about sexual violence," said Jen Marsh, RAINN's hotline and affiliate services director. "When people start having a conversation, whether they liked or disliked the books is relevant."
Lisbeth Salander and Harriet Vanger illustrate two different, but typical responses to rape.
"It varies from survivor to survivor, but Lisbeth exemplifies a common reaction: distrust of people, anger and sometimes a desire for revenge," she said. "Victims discuss fantasies, but not acting on it, just thinking about the aggressor."
"Isolation is also a big one and Lisbeth is a good example of that," said Marsh. "It ties into the distrust."
Like Vanger, who who moved to Australia after being raped by her brother, "some victims cope and deal with abuse by kind of starting over, something as small as changing one's appearance or separating from anything that reminds them of the assault."
Such was the case with Sandberg, who said recovery after sexual assault is a "tough road."
'It truly lasts a lifetime," she said. "It's not that you ever get over what happens, but you learn to live with it."
The day she was assaulted, her walking partner was sick and Sandberg, at the time only an eighth grader, stood alone at the bus stop on a busy street corner when the windowless industrial van pulled up.
"He had a gun in his hand and a knife in the other and before I knew it the gun was at my head and the knife was at my throat," she said. "He threw me in the back."