An image from Lady Gaga’s “Til It Happens to You” video, a haunting depiction of campus rape and its aftermath. It has been viewed more than 7 million times worldwide, but can it change the way we address sexual assault? (YouTube)
Can Lady Gaga’s new video move the needle on campus rape?
Lady Gaga’s new video, “Til It Happens to You,” is a haunting depiction of campus rape and its aftermath.
It shot to the No. 1 spot on the Billboard + Twitter Trending 140 chart Thursday, the day it debuted.
It captured the attention of Oprah Winfrey, who tweeted about it.
It’s been viewed more than 7 million times worldwide, according to People magazine.
But will it move the needle on the way we talk about — and, ideally, prevent — sexual assault?
Co-written with Diane Warren, the video is a powerful, black-and-white depiction of several rapes in different college settings. It was written for “The Hunting Ground,” a documentary about campus rape released in February.
Sixteen to 20 percent of women who enroll in college are sexually assaulted while in college, and 88 percent of women raped on campus do not report it, according to Adam Robinson, executive director of Zacharias Sexual Abuse Center, a Gurnee-based organization working to eliminate sexual assault and support survivors of the epidemic.
I called Robinson on Wednesday to see what he thought of Gaga’s new video.
“It’s difficult to watch,” Robinson said. “My hope is people who see how difficult it is to watch will understand how many of these crimes are actually happening, and we’re not watching. We’re not listening. But they are happening.”
It’s a blight on our campuses, he said, but it doesn’t begin (or end) there.
“We sexually objectify women and teach men to understand women as objects,” he said. “We teach women their value is in being sexy but not sexual. All these hypocritical messages create a ground where these crimes can and do happen so frequently.”
I told Robinson that I wondered if we become desensitized to the horrors of rape when we see them depicted in fiction like Gaga’s video — the same way violent video games and movies are believed to make us numb to real-life brutality.
“I think popular culture already does a tremendous job of desensitizing us, unfortunately,” he said. “But without showing the victims’ side of things.”
Gaga’s video, he said, tells rape survivors’ stories — before, during and, perhaps most important of all, after the attacks. That’s a perspective we don’t often see in pop culture.
“So frequently,” he said, “society’s response to rape is to sort through the dissonance within (itself) by turning the focus onto the victim. ‘Did she have too much to drink? What was she wearing? Did she go back to his dorm room?’ We argue away the pain of it for our own sake. What that creates is a society where we stop pointing the finger at perpetrators and train women how not to get raped instead of training men not to rape.”
Very few men commit rapes, it’s important to point out. Fewer than 8 percent of men in college commit more than 90 percent of sexual assaults, according to Robinson. And men are also victims; an estimated 3 percent of American men — that’s 2.78 million men — have been sexually assaulted or raped, according to RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network).
The solution certainly doesn’t lie in demonizing any one gender or making men and women terrified of one another.
The solution, Robinson said, is a clearer understanding of consent, specifically, and sex, more broadly.
In one scene of the video, a guy slips a drug into the drinks of two women at a party and assaults them once they’re unconscious.
“What has he been taught about sex?” Robinson said. “That it’s a thing to attain. That it’s not about equal agreement or shared experience. That you do what you have to do to get it.
“The power of Lady Gaga’s words and imagery,” he said, “is that it shows there’s a consequence to that belief. That’s very powerful.”
The video ends with a message: “For help call National Sexual Assault Hotline. 1-800-656-HOPE.” Robinson said his group also offers a 24-hour support line: 847-872-7799.
LIFESTYLES | By HEIDI STEVENS
SEP 23, 2015 AT 11:56 AM