The Hunting Ground Australia Project, a collaborative, comprehensive campaign around the incidence of, and responses to, sexual violence in Australian universities, launches in Australia this week.

Central to the campaign is a university screening program of The Hunting Ground, the critically acclaimed US feature documentary film. Screenings have begun at universities across Australia. Released in the US in early 2015, The Hunting Ground has had a remarkable impact there, helping to raise awareness of sexual assault on hundreds of college campuses across America.

The film 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.

While there are significant cultural, financial and structural differences between American and Australian universities and student life, The Hunting Ground Australia Project has confirmed in consultation with the Australian university sector and the National Union of Students (NUS) that there are issues raised by the film that are relevant in the Australian context.

The Hunting Ground Australia Project has bought together a coalition of partners to develop and implement a proactive impact strategy around the film. The strategy includes a partnership with the Australian Human Rights Commission and the Australian Human Rights Centre to develop a national survey tool on the prevalence of and institutional responses to sexual harassment and sexual assault in Australian universities. The survey will be undertaken by the Australian Human Rights Commission with the implementation supported by Universities Australia.

The Australian Human Rights Centre is also undertaking a research project, Strengthening Australian Universities’ Responses to Sexual Assault and Harassment, to develop a model protocol and policy framework. Research for this project commenced in September 2015, with a review of recent policy developments and academic research in America, Canada and the UK. Final policies and protocols will incorporate best practice aspects of this research and the analysis of the national survey data.

Andrea Durbach, Professor of law and Director of the Australian Human Rights Centre has been working on the development of the survey, and the research project directed at developing best practice policies and protocols. “Given the concerning statistics on violence against women in this country, it’s not completely out of the question that these stats might be replicated to some degree at tertiary institutions. At the very least The Hunting Ground and the work of the National Union of Students has triggered the need to do the research to see if that is the case and how we can start to remedy deficient reporting processes and ensure effective and appropriate redress. We requested the Australian Human Rights Commission’s involvement in the design and implementation of the survey because we want the survey to be conducted at arm’s length from the universities and by an independent, authoritative, objective expert in this area.”

“In 2015, the NUS ran a nation wide survey of women students which resulted in some really valuable statistics at Australian universities,” said the NUS National Women’s officer Heidi La Paglia. “In the survey, over 70% of women said that they had experienced some form of unwanted sexual encounter; and perhaps even more alarmingly, the vast majority of these individuals also said that the response they received from their university and or the police was inadequate”

“It’s great to see that stakeholders across the sector are taking steps to address the issue ”

A further element of The Hunting Ground Australia Project is the development of training resources in sexual ethics, consent and bystander strategies. These are being developed by experienced national experts in sexual assault prevention education, in partnership with the leading national sexual assault and domestic violence service. These programs will be available to universities for both staff and student training.

The Hunting Ground’s Producer Amy Ziering has been closely involved in the Australian project. Ms Ziering says “We’re thrilled that our film, The Hunting Ground, is being released in Australia. We are impressed and heartened by the leadership role that Australian universities are taking on these issues – and hope that their efforts will inspire their global peers to demonstrate similar moral courage and follow suit.”

The campus screening program of The Hunting Ground gives all universities and tertiary institutions the opportunity to use the film to begin the conversation on their campuses. Anyone interested in hosting a community screening of the film is encouraged to register their interest via The Hunting Ground Australia Project website (see below).

“Administrators and staff from many Australian universities have recognised the important opportunity the film offers to continue a conversation about sexual violence by scheduling screenings early in the 2016 academic year. We encourage all tertiary institutions and interested community groups to screen the film and engage with The Hunting Ground Australia Project.” said the Project’s Impact Producer Allison Henry.

In a statement posted on La Trobe University’s website, the Vice-­‐Chancellor, Professor John Dewar, outlined his support for a series of campus screening events: “I encourage you to attend one of The Hunting Ground screenings and to be part of the positive changes that are needed to ensure that our campuses are safe places for everyone. Together, we can help to eliminate violence from Australian society”.

The Hunting Ground was one of six documentary films selected for the 2015 philanthropic Good Pitch Australia initiative held at the Sydney Opera House. The leading international forum for documentary filmmaking, Good Pitch brings together filmmakers with foundations, not-­‐for-­‐profits, campaigners, philanthropists, policymakers, broadcasters and key players in the film industry, around leading social and environmental issues, to forge coalitions and campaigns that are good for all these partners, good for the films and good for society.

The Hunting Ground is the latest film by Oscar-­‐nominated and Emmy Award-­‐winning 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 respond to and prevent sexual assault within their ranks. The film is being distributed in Australia by Madman Entertainment, and will be released on DVD and digitally by Madman Entertainment mid 2016.