The Hunting Ground (100mins, 2015) is a critically acclaimed US feature-length documentary which chronicles the personal stories of students who have reported sexual assault on campuses, and the failure of a number of American universities to respond effectively and appropriately to these reports.
It is the latest film by Oscar-nominated filmmakers Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering who made The Invisible War—a film directly responsible for influencing government policy and laws on how the US armed forces responded to and prevented sexual assault. In Australia we will be using the 58 minute international version of The Hunting Ground for campus screenings.
The issue of sexual violence on Australian university campuses has not, to date, been subject to the same degree of attention in Australia as in the U.S. In part this is due to cultural differences in the experiences of Australian and American students – Australian students do not tend to ‘go away to College’ in the same way that Americans do, for example; but it is also a reflection of the dearth of coherent and specific statistical information about the incidence of sexual assault, sexual threats and sexual harassment on Australian university campuses.
The information we do have, however, suggests there is a significant problem around sexual violence on Australian university campuses. Regular media reports around individual incidents, responses to a 2011 National Union of Students (NUS) survey, the findings of the 2011 Review into the Treatment of Women at the Australian Defence Force Academy (the ADFA Review, led by Sex Discrimination Commissioner Liz Broderick) and results from the 2012 ADFA Unacceptable Behaviour Survey all indicate that sexual assault, violence and harassment regularly occurs on Australian university campuses. Mainstream data around sexual violence in the Australian community supports this contention: the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ Personal Safety Survey in 2012, for example, estimated that women in the 18 to 24 years age group – the age group accounting for some 59% of students at Australia’s higher education institutions – were more likely, compared to all women, to have experienced sexual assault in the 12 months prior to the survey. “The Hunting Ground Australia Project” proposes a multi-pronged approach to addressing these issues.
We plan to use local campus screenings of The Hunting Ground to encourage conversations about the subjects and experiences portrayed in the film and how they relate to the Australian context. We would particularly like to connect with experts, staff from university student services and residences, and local advocates and invite them to attend the screenings and support students and staff.
The Hunting Ground Australia Project seeks to engage in cultural change. Seeking a reduction in the incidence of sexual violence, assault and sexual harassment have had ongoing community support for decades now. We know they are still significant issues. With the current climate of awareness and conversation around respectful relationships, encompassing bullying in school, children being taught to be upstanders, and a community response and interest in domestic violence including the corporate world understanding domestic violence affects in the workplace, we feel now is the time – a time of renewed energy in the sector and an opportunity to make a difference.
Aims & Objectives
The Australian impact campaign is being developed in consultation with key stakeholders engaged in, or with overarching responsibility for, addressing sexual assaults on university campuses.
“The Hunting Ground Australia Project” proposes to implement a multi-year campaign in Universities across Australia, working with student bodies and staff in faculty, residences, colleges, across all areas of campus life to impact in several ways:
- To proactively engage a coalition of “leaders" in the key universities and residential colleges across Australia.
- To create an initial coalition of partners at the Good Pitch event, who will publicly provide leadership, visibility, credibility and momentum to the campaign.
- to work to develop a national survey for campuses to use to obtain baseline data for the incidence of sexual violence and assault on campus, and have that data independently analysed and reported back to Universities
- To work with the Universities across Australia student in a collaborative and transparent way to end sexual assault, using a 'best practice' set of reporting procedures and protocols for staff to use on campus when responding to survivor disclosure of assault.
- To encourage use of training packages and resources for staff and student education in consent training, ethical bystanders and sex and ethics.
Measurement of impact will occur across the uptake of the campus screening program with use of pre/post survey model in use in USA, the data collection from the baseline survey and implementation of this survey across the 39 Universities, the uptake of training opportunities by university residences and the level of student engagement, and the implementation of developed response procedures for reported assaults.
We expect to see an increase of reported assaults as students feel more supported in coming forward, with an outcome in three to five years being a fall in assaults across campuses in Australia.
The Hunting Ground Australia Project will use the documentary as a tool to engage Australian universities, and the broader community, in a conversation around issues concerning sexual assault and harassment, consent, disclosure and reporting on university campuses.
The Hunting Ground Australia Project notes that there are significant cultural, financial and structural differences between American and Australian universities and student life. It is also important to note that The Hunting Ground Australia Project has not come across evidence of any institutional cover-up by Australian universities in relation to reports to date of sexual violence.
However, there are issues raised by the film that are relevant in an Australian context that will enable conversations concerning the effectiveness of existing procedures, protocols and institutional responses; the issue of victim blaming; the impact of alcohol; interpretations of consent; bystander engagement; the prevalence of sexual crime and reporting of those crimes and the need for comprehensive data to inform the conversation.