Each year, outstanding films, directors and talent are recognized at the Oscars. A night of high-fashion and even higher profile attendees is guaranteed to bring surprises, but one star stole the show, and no, it wasn’t Leo. (But, I mean, who didn’t freak when sweet, sexy Jack from the Titanic FINALLY won an Oscar?!) So, if not announcing the Oscars’ most-anticipated award, “Best Actor in a Leading Role,” then what was this big, emotional scene? Well, the Academy recognizes much more than just film, and this year, one movement brought tears to the eyes of the entire audience.
Sexual assault has been at the forefront of the media in recent years, with the frightening statistic that one in five women are sexually assaulted before graduating from college. In 2015, a survey done by the Association of American Universities found that, of 150,000 students participating from 27 universities, nearly 23% of women were victims of sexual misconduct. Even more shocking: 34 % of University of Michigan female seniors, 32% of Yale and 29% at Harvard reported having unwanted sexual contact in their four years at school.
Studies indicate that the majority of survivors haven’t reported their assaults, many saying they felt it wasn’t “important” enough or didn’t seem “serious.”
Wait…What? Rape isn’t serious…you are kidding I hope?
But it’s all too common for women to think this, because we have been socialized to believe that our sexual health isn’t important enough to speak up about. Even if they are reported, many victims experience cover-ups by campus officials and police. Nonetheless, there have been an increase in survivors coming out and speaking up about sexual assault, because it NEEDS to be addressed.
In 2015, The Hunting Ground was released on college campuses nationwide, sharing the stories of survivors of sexual assault who have said, “enough is enough.” These heroic women are still in school, attending class each day and maybe even seeing their offenders on campus, but they continue to fight for change in campus policies. This eye-opening film was nominated, not for its cinematography, but for its music. Lady Gaga’s “Til It Happens To You” was nominated for “Best Original Song,” and, though she didn’t end up winning the Oscar, her performance was enough that even Rachel McAdams and Kate Winslett were teary-eyed.
When Gaga was 19 years old, she was taken advantage of by a much older man, but she never reported it, saying she felt “too afraid” or “too ashamed.” Now, she’s using “Til It Happens To You” to be a sign of strength: the support many survivors need to continue to fight for justice and healing.
“Let’s change the culture,” said Vice President Joe Biden, who took the stage before Gaga’s breathtaking live performance during the Oscar’s. “We must, and we can.”
The Vice President has been an avid supporter of sexual assault legislation during his time in office, but the performance that followed his brief speech made everyone forget that he was even there.
The curtains pulled back to reveal Mother Monster, herself, dawned entirely in white and sitting at a white grand piano, as if something out of a dream. As the lights slowly brightened the stage, several dark figures appeared, standing beside the singer as she belted out the most powerful lyrics I have ever heard. These individuals, hand-selected by Gaga prior to the performance, are survivors. These are people who, like me, were sexually assaulted. However, unlike myself, these are the teens and young adults who found the courage to stand on stage with one of the most influential musicians in the world and face society. This is the same society which convinced them that it’s “your fault,” that they should be ashamed, and these are even those who assaulted them in the first place.
Piecing It Together; My Story
As I pieced it all together, I, sitting there on my sofa in East Lansing in my cozy pajamas and fuzzy socks, called my mom and cried. I cried telling her of what had happened to me just two years ago, in my first year at college. I cried for those of my friends who had shared their stories of assault with me. I cried for all of the survivors on that stage at the Oscars, as well as those who, like me, were crying at home, finally admitting to their parents that something horrible had happened. I spent two years keeping my rape story a secret from everyone, even those most important to me. I was afraid, and I felt it was my fault, because I hadn’t been strong enough to stop him. I didn’t even have the courage to report it to the police and give that bastard what he deserved.
Because of my fear, my rapist is still out there. Because of all of those who felt pressured into keeping their assault a secret, all of our rapists may still be out there. We shouldn’t be afraid. We should NEVER have felt that our bodies aren’t important enough to be respected and protected. We should NOT feel that we can’t tell even those closest to us, such as our parents, in fear that we would be punished. Survivors DESERVE to be heard and their rapists brought to justice. No more victims living in fear of seeing their rapists in class. No more victim-blaming, saying that it’s my “fault” I was raped. No more athletes getting off the hook for assaulting their peers, just because it’s too close to the big game. No more classmates giving excuse after excuse for why I seemed like I “wanted it.” Rape is real. Rape is serious. Rape is important.
It’s been a long and strenuous battle to encourage universities to change their policies and treat sexual assault as it should be. Though her performance was just a few minutes in front of a piano, Lady Gaga has made this conversation important again. She is the reason I finally came forward about being sexually assaulted, and, though my mother cried for me, I knew in that moment that she had never been prouder. Though I will not be pressing charges, what happened two years ago changed the way I look at myself. It took away my strength and confidence.
So, from me and from the rest of us who have been violated, we say thank you, Lady Gaga. With this simple song, you have made us feel powerful again. You have reminded us that we are important. We need more people like you who continue to fight for justice, even if the offender has been put away. We, as women, deserve a leader like Gaga who publicly gives us strength and support. We are no longer victims, and we must come together to continue to make change. For more information on how to get involved, please visit www.itsonus.org and remember that YOU ARE IMPORTANT. Don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise.