AUSTIN, Texas — A new documentary highlighting the struggle for sexual assault survivors to get justice in Austin premiered this past week at SXSW.

The documentary, “An Army of Women,” highlights the Austin Police Department's handling of sexual assault cases and inaction at the Travis County District Attorney’s Office during the tenure of former Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore.

The documentary, directed by Julie Lunde Lillesæter, tells the stories of Amy, Marina and Hanna. The three had their rape cases dismissed by Austin police, and since then they've been rebuilding their lives. They join forces with12 other women in a groundbreaking federal class-action lawsuit, the first to argue that sexual assault isn’t prosecuted because it’s a crime that predominantly affects women.

The group is determined to hold police and prosecutors accountable for their inaction, but their resilience is tested as they face setbacks from the system they hope to change. 

“Filming for 'An Army of Women' has become an unexpected part of my healing journey. My sexual assaults were something that I intentionally buried for years, not wanting to look at them, think about them or even talk about them, knowing that I couldn’t go back in time and change them,” Hanna Senko said. “The process of filming a documentary focused on sexual assault has helped me see myself and my experiences in a new light. It has required me to face my fears, and it has helped me learn how to dance with vulnerability and trust. I hope this film inspires others to look at those pieces of themselves that they have hidden and locked away. I hope it helps others find grace for themselves in their pain and suffering and seek connection to the world around them, knowing we all carry shared stories and struggles.”

Lillesæter says she aims to make films that explore topics such as women’s rights and equality, migration and the climate crisis.

“Anger is what drove me to tell this story, but hope is what came to define it. The women’s project springs from a place of optimism: it might take years to achieve, but change is possible. They’re leading the way in beginning an open and honest dialogue about what a more just system can look like. My goal is that viewers will be left with the same level of optimism and fighting spirit that drives this group of women,” Lillesæter said.