‘Til It Happens To You’ a message to end all sexual violence
Erin McAuliffe | Monday, September 21, 2015
Lady Gaga released a PSA in the form of a music video for “Til It Happens To You” last week. The song was featured in “The Hunting Ground,” the documentary — screened at Notre Dame — that addresses campus rape culture and its consequences. The music video, purposefully released within The Red Zone (the weeks after student orientation and before Thanksgiving Break, when students are statistically at highest risk to face sexual assault) does not gloss over the problem.
“The following contains graphic content that may be emotionally unsettling but reflects the reality of what is happening daily on college campuses,” the video opens.
Through Gaga’s reach and the song’s subsequent accessibility, pop music is used as a vehicle to empower and provide self-worth while not shying away from controversy: a topic addressed by Scene last week.
The song was co-written by Lady Gaga and Diane Warren, both Grammy award winners. Catherine Hardwicke, best known for her work with “Twilight,” directed the video.
The video was shot in black-and-white, a trend recently utilized by artists like Run The Jewels and Kendrick Lamar in their own social commentary-style videos, in which they address the likes of racial injustice and police brutality.
In “Til It Happens To You,” the all-too-realistic attacks, committed both by strangers and acquaintances, are hard to watch.
Shots of the survivors’ arms, legs and backs with sayings like “Believe Me” written in marker call out colleges’ continued failings in dealing with campus rape cases. The schools’ proceedings, addressed extensively in “The Hunting Ground,” all too frequently place the blame on the victim, cover up cases (especially when associated with sports teams) and question whether the victim is to be “believed.”
The placement of these sayings on the survivors’ bodies is representative of how they have come forward in vulnerable conditions to call out these gross shortcomings and take back ownership of their bodies. The juxtaposition of the sayings “I am worthless” and “I am worthy” in the video signifies the struggle and internal conflicts survivors go through during this process.
At Saint Mary’s this past Thursday, Andrea Pino and Annie Clark, the co-founders of End Rape on Campus (EROC) who were featured in “The Hunting Ground,” addressed their own struggles in dealing with their sexual assaults and their university’s response. Their talk, “A Culture of Commitment: Everyday Activism and Supporting All Surviors,” is one example of the steps Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s are taking to address campus rape culture, especially since Notre Dame witnessed three reports of sexual assaults or battery within the first two weeks back on campus.
“What we call ‘Everyday Activism’ is the radical notion that everyone can play a part in ending violence and oppression by resisting rape culture, supporting survivors and challenging our institutions,” Pino said.
Lady Gaga, a survivor of sexual assault herself, took this idea of Everyday Activism to heart in a scale and medium that are, importantly, not so everyday. “We hope u feel our love & solidarity through the song & perhaps find some peace in knowing u r not alone through this film [sic],” she tweeted.
The music video demands respect for and support of survivors.
“Believing survivors is radical,” Pino said at her Saint Mary’s talk. “It seems to be the only crime in which no one is believed; it’s always alleged. It seems as if sexual assault never happens.
“When someone comes forward and tells you they’ve been sexually assaulted the first thing you should say to them is you believe them, the second thing you should say is they’re not alone and the last thing you should say is it’s not their fault. These are oftentimes the three things survivors never hear.”
Gaga’s video ends with survivors being led out of dorm rooms arm-and-arm with fellow students offering their support. The staggering statistic that one in five female college students will be sexually assaulted during their four years on campus flashes across screen, followed by the number for the National Sexual Assault Hotline, ending the music video with a resource and message we all need to hear.