If listening to Lady Gaga’s powerful voice in ‘Till it happens to you piano and violins ballad while watching the video makes the viewers unsettled, shocked or brings tears to their eyes, it is difficult to imagine how it actually feels being one of the girls and boys who get sexually assaulted not only on US campuses but in the entire world every day.
The song performed and produced by Lady Gaga and co-written by her and Diane Warren (believed to be one the most important songwriter in the world) was produced for the Hunting Ground, a documentary exploring cases of campus sexual assault and aiming to contribute to the national debate on the issue.
Lady Gaga, whose twitter cover page is an image from the video, posted:
The 4 survivors of campus sexual assault interviewed in the movie, wrote a letter to Gaga and Warren, showing their gratitude:
“The release of your song will have an unparalleled impact on the culture of campuses nationwide. Imagine a survivor who, after hearing your song, no longer feels isolated or alone. Picture that survivor’s friend, telling that survivor that it’s not her fault … We want to thank you both for having the courage to write and perform this song and for allowing your talent, your music, your lyrics and your voices to tell our stories.”
The Song has a few important messages.
1. The song’s title and chorus reiterate the fact that some things can only be understood by people who have had a similar experience.
Words like “I know how you feel”, “it gets better in time”, “pull it together, you’ll be fine” can be perceived as trying to minimize the gravity of the situation and do not always bring comfort to someone going through a difficult time. And while all need support from friends and family, a different kind of help can be given by support networks.
Maybe the main achievement of the two activists, Annie Clark and Andrea Pino, who filed a federal complaint against their university and openly spoke about their experiences, was that they connected survivors and together they created a US nation-wide movement.
Even if campus sexual assault is by no means a new issue, it managed to get attention from the media and US Government’s thanks to “the numerous student activists around the country that have protested about how their cases of sexual violence have been mishandled.”, said Sarah McMahon, Associate Director, Center on Violence Against Women & Children, School of Social Work, at Rutgers University.
Annie Clark thinks that now survivors are “talking a lot more” and that they are “creating communities where people can feel a lot less alone.”
2. It is important for friends, family and others to stay close to those who suffer and to show they care.
The impact sexual assault can have devastating consequences in a person’s life, even more so if they are young. Survivors can feel isolated, ashamed, abuse drugs or alcohol, suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder or depression.
According to Suicide.org “untreated depression is the number one cause for suicide; about 33% of rape victims have suicidal thoughts and about 13% of rape victims will attempt suicide. Suicide attempts may occur years after the rape.” From suicide and attempted suicide to failing grades, school drop-out and missing on future life opportunities are just some of the effects.
Andrea Pino said in an interview: “when I went public, I was told I was creating a hostile environment at UNC. When I explained to a professor what was happening and how it was affecting my grades, I was told I was lazy, and it was suggested that maybe I couldn’t handle Carolina. I dropped that class. Then I dropped 11 more classes after that. I’m still not an official graduate.”
3. Speaking out, demanding justice, connecting with others, even if sometimes excruciating, can bring solace and maybe the hope that something will change and the next assault won’t happen.
The messages written on the survivors’ bodies change from shame and hopelessness: I am worthless/ Sometimes I hate myself/ Believe me to confidence and faith: Listen, you will hear me/ I am worthy/ I love myself.
It is common for activists to use their bodies to raise awareness on an issue, the act itself being sometimes a challenge of the societal norms. In this case the written bodies are just used to reinforce the message that survivors will not be silenced.
4. An important fact related to sexual assault which might not be widely known: in 4 out of 5 cases of rape the perpetrator is known to the victim.
An attacker jumping out of the bush in a dark alley is definitely something that can happen but most assaults take place in bathrooms, in dorm rooms, at parties, just like portrayed in the music video. And what makes students particularly vulnerable, besides being young, is the fact they think they are in a safe environment.
They think they are in a place that should keep all of them safe.
Everybody has the right to a safe education. One sexual assault is too many!
As of September 2015, 139 US colleges were being investigated of mishandling of sexual violence cases.
You tell me “it gets better, it gets better, in time”
You say I’ll pull myself together, pull it together,
“You’ll be fine”
Tell me what the hell do you know,
What do you know,
Tell me how the hell could you know,
How! could you know
You tell me “hold your head up”
Hold your head up and be strong
Cause when you fall, you gotta get up
You gotta get up and move on.”
Tell me, how the hell could you talk,
How could you talk?
Cause until you walk where I walk,
It’s just no joke!
Till your world burns and crashes
Till you’re at the end, the end of your rope
Till you’re standing in my shoes, I don’t wanna hear nothing from you
From you, from you, cause you don’t know
Till it happens to you, you don’t know
How it feels,
How it feels.
Till it happens to you, you won’t know
It won’t be real (how could you know?)
No It won’t be real (how could you know?)
Won’t know how I feel
Till it happens to you, you won’t know how I feel
If you want to learn more about the Hunting Ground documentary check out their Facebook page.
If you want to take a pledge to help keep women and men safe from sexual assault: http://itsonus.org/#pledge
If you are looking for more resources: https://www.notalone.gov/ and http://www.aauw.org/resource/campus-sexual-assault-tool-kit/