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An Army of Women Review: Profound & Powerful

An Army of Women sheds a devastating light on the mishandling of sexual assault cases by police officers and prosecutors in Austin, Texas.

Who do you turn to when members of the criminal justice system (which is in force to protect citizens) dismisses your rape case and fails to listen to you? Thereafter, you continue to be disregarded and spend much of your life fighting for justice when it should have existed in the first place. This is the harsh reality for the women who are the subject of Julie Lunde Lillesæter’s documentary An Army of Women, premiering worldwide at the 2024 SXSW Film Festival. And while the documentary feature is extremely upsetting, it’s an empowering watch that sheds a devastating light on a vast amount of rape cases disregarded by various members of law enforcement. However, through perseverance and the support of their dedicated attorneys, the women involved in the documentary achieved justice while bringing a voice to the voiceless.

In 2018, multiple women in Austin, Texas, filed a federal action lawsuit against the Austin Police Department and the Travis County District Attorney’s Office after their reported rape cases were dismissed. But their fight to be heard didn’t start there. Amy (who used a pseudonym for most of the documentary for her family’s safety) had sought justice for fifteen years. She first reported her rape case in 2008 and later turned to her lawsuit attorney, Jenny, for help. Though Jenny, along with her partner and fellow attorney Elizabeth, who also worked on the case, warned the women that they were likely to lose the case due to the vast amount of sexual assault cases that do not result in prosecution, the pair fought for their clients. They hoped that Amy and the other plaintiffs would finally receive justice and that law enforcement would take accountability for dismissing their cases, some of which were reported over a decade prior.

An Army of Women takes place during the timeframe of the pending lawsuit and showcases various one-on-one interviews with each plaintiff. Viewers are presented with an array of footage showcasing each woman’s dedication to spreading awareness for the dismissal of rape cases while fighting for their voices to be heard. Most of the documentary focuses on Amy, Marina, and Hanna, though other plaintiffs recount the heinous details of their reported cases. Each was denied due to the District Attorney’s Office claiming a lack of evidence, resulting in each case being cast aside before even making it to a jury trial.

Throughout An Army of Women’s runtime, the women voice their frustration with the handling of their cases, as some of the plaintiffs reveal mounds of evidence that had been overlooked. Amy states that after she started documenting her communications with prosecutors and the police, she was told that her DNA sample had been contaminated. It’s angering to watch, especially when the actions of others resulted in the dismissal of serious sex crime cases through no fault of the accuser’s own.

An Army of Women (Differ Media / SXSW 2024)

While watching the documentary, I became more enraged as each minute of An Army of Women passed. Not only were each of the women’s rape cases not taken seriously, but the criminal system failed to listen to each of them and treat them like human beings. The trauma each woman faced is unimaginable, and the reality of the situation makes you lose hope in a system designed to enforce laws and instill justice in our civilization. All the years the women have fought effortlessly to be heard is time they will never get back, and I became highly emotional and frustrated when listening to their stories. I was also astonished when a news anchor stated, “Nationally, fewer than 1% of reported cases result in a felony conviction.” This is an infuriating statistic that further reflects a broken system that was in dire need of an overhaul in its handling, or at the time, lack thereof, of sexual assault cases.

An Army of Women will be a tough watch due to its subject matter. Still, it’s an impactful documentary that empowers women and reflects how dedication and advocacy in numbers can move mountains. Lillesæter delicately handles the heavy subject matter as viewers get to know each of the women throughout the film and each is dedicated time to tell their important story. As a viewer, you feel you are experiencing their journey in real-time as each setback and victory arises as they await the lawsuit verdict.

As a woman, I can’t even begin to describe how grateful I am for each woman in the documentary sharing their devastating experience with the public and how vital their fight for justice was for the future handling of rape cases. Their movement resulted in a settlement payment for each of the plaintiffs and created $4,670,000 in funding for policy improvements concerning sex crimes.

Praise must also be given to attorney Jenny and her partner, Elizabeth, for taking on the class action lawsuit case and fighting the corner of their clients for years in hopes of change. You can tell how much they care about each plaintiff, devoting much of their time to helping each woman and stopping at nothing to achieve a favorable result.

Though at the close of An Army of Women, I was overjoyed that the Austin City Council approved the Austin Police’s settlement, no amount of money will be able to make up for the trauma and devastation each of the women faced for all those years. Their cases should have been handled appropriately from the get-go, and it’s heartbreaking to see it get to this point. But what you can take away from An Army of Women is how monumental this movement has been in the criminal justice system. Thanks to these brave women who shared their stories in this must-see documentary, their advocacy revolutionized the handling of sexual assault cases. 

After watching An Army of Women, one can only hope that such policy improvements will prevent members of law enforcement from doubting victims of sexual assault ever again.

An Army of Women was screened at SXSW on March 8-15, 2024. Read our SXSW reviews and our list of films to watch at SXSW 2024!

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