We tune in to the Oscars every year for a variety of reasons: to see what fashionistas like Cate Blanchett and Alicia Vikander are wearing, to witness the bright-and-shiny spectacle of the gold-and-crystal bedecked stage sets, to take in the show’s various jokes (the good – we’re looking at you, Tracy Morgan in The Danish Girl spoof—the bad, and the ugly), to hear who’s thanking whom in those acceptance speeches, and to enjoy the Best Original Song performances. This year, we had one more reason, thanks to the unlikely pairing of Vice President Joe Biden and Lady Gaga, whose five minutes in the spotlight brought down the house.
Vice President Biden introduced Gaga’s raw, real performance of “Til It Happens to You,” the Oscar-nominated song about sexual abuse cowritten by Gaga and Diane Warren for the documentary The Hunting Ground. As powerful as it her performance was, there was no doubt who the stars of this segment were: the 50 sexual assault survivors who appeared onstage with Gaga, with phrases like It Happened to Me, Unbreakable, and Survivor etched in blank ink on their arms.
Bringing these survivors to the stage is all part of the documentary filmmakers’ partnership with It’s On Us, an initiative started by President Obama and Vice President Biden in 2014 to raise awareness of and stop sexual assaults, especially on college campuses. Though it’s tempting to think that sexual assault isn’t really widespread, consider these sobering statistics, courtesy of the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN):
- 44% of victims are under age 18; 80% are under 30
- 293,000 people are victims of sexual assault each year
- 1 in 5 women is assaulted during her college years
- 68% of assaults are not reported to the police
- 47% of rapists are a friend or acquaintance of the victim
- 98% of rapists never spend so much as a day in prison
Back when the President and VP first introduced the initiative, President Obama memorably said, “For anybody whose once-normal, everyday life was suddenly shattered by an act of sexual violence, the trauma, the terror can shadow you long after one horrible attack. It lingers when you don’t know where to go or who to turn to. It’s there when you’re forced to sit in the same class or stay in the same dorm with the person who raped you; when people are more suspicious of what you were wearing or what you were drinking, as if it’s your fault, not the fault of the person who assaulted you.”
He summed up, “It is on all of us to reject the quiet tolerance of sexual assault and to refuse to accept what’s unacceptable.” That’s what ItsOnUs is hoping to do. By putting the responsibility squarely on all of our shoulders to recognize that nonconsensual sex is actually assault, to identify situations where sexual assault may occur, to intervene when we see suspicious activities, and to create an environment that accepts and supports survivors of assault, instead of blaming them for encouraging it, we can bring long, long-overdue change to this ongoing crime.
To learn more about ItsOnUs, visit their website.