On February 28 of 2016, 50 survivors of sexual assault took the stage with Lady Gaga at the 88th Annual Academy Awards. What followed was a performance that immediately became one of the most powerful performances I have ever witnessed on live television. The image before the cameras went off air has been ingrained in my mind ever since: till this day, I still see all of those survivors united together in standing strong and supporting one another, each of them facing their own reality on national television. And not just any reality — this reality is one that one day killed something inside of them; it was more than a nightmare because it actually happened, and now these individuals have to live with it for the rest of their lives. For some, being sexually assaulted was a reality, but being taken seriously about it was not. It may very well have taken some of them years to finally accept and then speak out about it, but when they finally did, it was nothing less than liberating. There they stood, all as equally proud of his or herself as they were of each other because of the strong person they have become after someone took advantage of not only their bodies, but also their very beings. Today, this frame continuously plays in my head. Every single time I think about it, I experience chills all over again, and all I can ever think is “Damn, what a powerful performance.”
Sexual assault is inclusive of any and all types of sexual contact with someone who either cannot or does not provide consent, otherwise referred to as a victim. This person can be underage, passed out, have an intellectual disability… The list is never-ending. Rape, attempted rape, sexual coercion, incest, fondling or unwanted touching under or above clothing, sexual harassment, or anything sexual that is verbally or visually unwanted all qualify as sexual assault.
According to statistics, one in every five women and one in every seventy-one men will be raped at some point in their life. 91% of the victims of rape and sexual assault are women, and 9% of them are male. These are the graphics that show the big difference between men and women while simultaneously showing that even though some gender is at a higher risk than another, each gender can be affected at the end of the day. It is hard to believe that we live in a country in which rape is such a taboo and in which victims are afraid to speak out for fear of being judged and blamed. Unbelievably, only 37% of sexual assault is reported, and only 12% is child sexual abuse, which makes it the most under-reported crime. Still, what the big question here is why are people so afraid to speak out about something as serious as sexual assault?
Everyone in the world that has been sexually abused has a different story to tell, so they all have a different reason as to why they decided to keep quiet in the first place. One of those reasons, however, can be self-blame, because the victim assumed they did something to provoke it or did not do enough to stop it. Fear also plays a big role on silence, because what would happen if they told? Maybe they are afraid of their own life or the life of family member; or maybe they could simply be afraid of the unknown: “What if no one believes me?” Fear is their worst enemy. Still, some victims choose to not speak on it because they believe doing so will only hurt others, and they do no want to cause any more damage. They do no want to assume the position of “weak” because they already feel “dirty”.
Television and media can be a powerful outlet if you know how to use it. If done correctly, it can influence and empower people to do better. The Oscars is the second most-watched show in the United States, and Lady Gaga and Joe Biden were clever to use it as a platform for sexual assault awareness. We don’t have many people speaking about it, we don’t have many people encouraging others to speak out, and we don’t know how to influence others and tell them that it’s okay to tell their story. Instead, we have our government deciding for us if whether or not we were raped, because once again, power and money have a better chance at winning a case.
These past few weeks, we have all become familiar with pop artist Kesha and her disturbing lawsuit against her producer, Dr. Luke, a case in which Kesha accuses her producer of forcing her to snort illegal drugs and gave her sober pills in which, according to the lawsuit, she woke up the next day naked in his bed with no memory of how she got there. Also, she declared that he threatened her with destroying her career and her family if she went public with the abuse, which also caused her to sign a contract in which she basically sold her life to the devil. Out of this lawsuit, all she wanted was for Dr. Luke to be removed as her producer so she could be free and make music again. She didn’t even requests that he go to jail. However, in NYC, a judge ruled against her and it has been impossible for her to get out of this contract. Now, she is stuck with her abuser.
How is it possible that someone dreams and career is only allowed to be continued depending on her credibility as to whether or not she was sexually abused? Why does she need to prove something that is obviously affecting her and her career? Why does our government have to decide if we were raped or if we weren’t? As Lady Gaga said, “I don’t want to live in a country where the government decides if I was raped or not”. However, this is the example we are giving to everyone out there, and it is the reason why sexual assault and rape is the most-under reported crime in the United States
The argument that I absolutely cannot and will not ever accept is the “he/she was basically asking for it” argument. Nobody, I repeat, NOBODY, asks to be a raped, regardless of what he or she are wearing or how they are dancing and regardless of how they are looking at you or what their body language is supposedly saying. When someone says “no”, that means “no”, not “maybe”, and definitely not “yes”. The way someone dresses is their own choice and it shouldn’t be a reason for you to feel, as they want to be touched by your selfish hands. The way someone dances doesn’t mean that they want you and your sex; it means that they are happy and they feel sexy in their own body. So I don’t want to hear those excuses because that’s one of the main reasons why people are so scared to speak out about their terrifying experience.
It doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from, all of us are at risk to be sexually assaulted by a predator that didn’t know how to respect our body. It can happen to women the same way it can happen to men, or to anyone else who doesn’t identify in the binary. It could happen to you grandmother, your mom, your son, your daughter, your cousin, you aunt, your uncle, your friends or even the person that you dislike the most. Rich and poor, white or black, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual, queer, pansexual, and any other sexual orientation people might identify with. And what’s more sad is that it can happen anywhere, in your own home, at church, at school, at work, after work, walking home, basically any place that you visit — anywhere, and at any time.
It is important for us to bring awareness to something as serious as sexual assault. We have to make sure our community feels safe to speak up and tell their story. It’s our job to break this taboo and make it a serious topic, because everyday more innocent people are being abused and fewer predators are paying for their actions. We can all come together and make a change. Educate yourself and you will be able to educate others. If you are a parent, make sure you have great communication with your children; and whoever you are, do not ever tell someone they are lying when they ‘re telling their story. It’s our job to open our ears for those who need someone to talk to, or offer you shoulder when someone needs to cry. Take the pledge because it’s on us to create change.