I got all Oscar ready this weekend. You know, in my pajamas curled up on the couch by myself anxiously awaiting one moment everyone was waiting for: Vice President Joe Biden and Lady Gaga taking the stage for sexual assault. Wait, you thought I was talking about Leo’s big moment?
While my son napped on Friday, I took advantage of one of the rare moments I get as a mom during daylight hours to watch The Hunting Ground, the film about college sexual assault, which was nominated for Lady Gaga’s song “Til It Happens To You” (TIHTY). With my headphones in and my little one napping next to me, I found myself emotionally overcome hearing account after account of gross violations of students’ (both men and women) bodies and rights and universities reprehensible cover ups of the crimes.
I was taken back to the small room where I would document survivors’ stories, photograph them, and complete their physical exam and evidence collection. Lady Gaga’s words “You tell me it gets better …. Til it happens to you, it won’t be real” transported me back to the moment after the patients would leave and I would review my documentation and break down and let the tears and emotions pour out after holding it together for these patients for the 4-6 hour exam. I did my job, but it would never be enough. I knew that no matter how meticulous I was in my evidence collection, only a small number of cases would go to trial, and an even smaller number would result in conviction. As demonstrated in the film and through my personal experience, there is very little accountability for perpetrators of sexual assault.
That is why Joe Biden and Lady Gaga taking the Oscars stage before an audience of more than 30 million viewers and talking directly about sexual assault is important. Biden’s message centered around a campaign he has headed up seeking to change the culture around sexual abuse hoping “no woman or man ever feels they have to ask themselves ‘what did I do’. They did nothing wrong.” Lady Gaga gave an intimate and vulnerable performance of TIHTY on a darkened stage alone with a piano. You could see in her face, this was personal. She was joined on stage by an army of survivors holding hands and bearing messages on their arms like “Unbreakable”, “Survivor”, and “Not your fault”.
A stage full of survivors of sexual assault were supported by one of the biggest pop stars in the world and the Vice President of the United States. Their faces were seen and their voices were collectively heard. I doubt many people will take the pledge Biden urged them to take, but at the very least he made a strong statement that we are all responsible for helping victims of sexual assault. Now, we need to start holding perpetrators accountable and changing the culture that supports committing sexual assault.
We need to start speaking directly to perpetrators who are – brace yourselves – people you know and maybe even people you love. Until we start acknowledging that the people who rape and sexually abuse are most likely humans we interact with daily and not scary monsters lurking in dark alleys, we will never actually reduce the incidence of sexual assault. 8% of men are responsible for 90% of sexual assault. Let’s start talking to them and about them and stop defending them. Let’s stop worrying about their feelings. They lost the right to their image protection when they chose to violate someone in the worst way imaginable.
Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner, Certified Nurse Midwife, Ph.D. Student, Fearless Feminist