When upsetting is a good thing


“Lady Gaga” by Eva Rinaldi is licensed under CC BY 2.0. / Cropped from orginal


Henry Sweitzer


Released in accompaniment to the documentary The Hunting Ground, the music video for Lady Gaga’s single “Til It Happens To You” highlights the upsetting realities of sexual assault in college.

“The following contains graphic content that may be emotionally unsettling but reflects the reality of what is happening daily on college campuses.” This is the warning that prefaces the video, which opens with a series of seemingly normal college scenarios.

A young woman writing music in her dorm, when a man who looks like a friend starts teasing her. A transgender man gets out of the shower of a communal locker room, and another guy walks in. Two women dance at a party, and garner the attention of a guy.

Quickly we see images that we don’t see often, but happen far too much. A young woman pressed against a wall, clearly struggling; a transgender man being harassed because of his bindings; a man drugging women’s drinks.

It is here where people tend to turn away, and it is here where it is so important that they don’t. The warning shown at the beginning of this video serves a minute purpose; those whose mental health would be irreparably compromised by these images shouldn’t see them, but for everyone else, this videos serves as an important reminder of the reality of life as a college age woman.

According to the Campus Sexual Assault Study prepared for the National Institute of Justice, one in five women are sexually assaulted while in college, and this video does not shy away from depicting this reality. Things progress quickly from harassment and aggression to assault and rape, and it’s here where the visual depiction becomes important.

Pain is evident on the faces of these victims, both during the attacks, and in the aftermath. Images of depression and flashbacks are interspersed with messages of self-hate written on the victims’ bodies.

But along with these are cries for helps.  “Believe me.” “Listen.” Data collected by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center found that only 2-8% of rape claims are false, meaning 92-98% are true. In spite of this, research done by the Enliven Project—an organization that works to remove the stigma around sexual assault as a means of ending sexual violence—found that of those rapes that were reported, only an approximate 30% went to trial.

The words written on these victims grow even stronger when laid against these facts, telling a story of isolation that too many women know.

I found myself very upset while watching this video. The assaults depicted are very realistic, and the feelings they left me with were present for some time after the video ended. But I think that’s important. And in that, I think the video did its job. Those critical of the video have claimed that its depictions of sexual assault are too graphic, but that’s entirely the point.

Rape and sexual assault are shrouded in a dark cloud of mystery, and by depicting how it happens and what it looks like, Lady Gaga makes it real in the mind of the viewer. I think it’s important to bring these hidden issues into the real world. I think the creators of this video did an excellent job in doing so.

The rape scenes aren’t gratuitous; they aren’t dramatized. They’re accurate. They’re realistic. And that’s why they’re important.

Gaga recently opened up about her own rape, saying that it was one of the inspirations for writing this song, and her connection to the issue is clear in this soaring power ballad. On September 17th, she tweeted “We hope [you] feel our love & solidarity through the song & perhaps find some peace in knowing [you are] not alone through this film #TilItHappensToYou.”

The video ends with scenes of the victims receiving love from friends and family, sending a message that isolation isn’t the answer. A network of support is key to helping victims begin to heal.

The theme to this video is visibility, in all its forms—the victims pleading for the visibility of their assault, the validity of their pain and the video’s goal of visibility of this issue. Rape is still happening. The numbers are rising, and the release of this video is a powerful step towards addressing and ending this issue of sexual violence on college campuses once and for all.