It was only a day or two after Lady Gaga’s music video, “Til It Happens To You,” came out that my roommate pulled me over to her side of our couch to watch it with her. My first reaction was about as positive as one could be—in regards to raising awareness about sexual violence. Gaga’s delivery of the lyrics gave the whole message a resounding effect and though the images themselves were graphic, they depicted real-life environments where attempted and completed rapes occur.
As any victim-sensitive video should be, there was a clear notice before the song began that the following scenes could be triggering. But putting awareness of violence aside, what makes this video so important? I believe it’s the vital variety of both race and the environment of the violence.
First, women are already in the minority. For a video like this to be pulled off successfully—and accurately—it is key to neither whitewash nor depict every victim as a woman of color. Whitewashing—the greater of two evils, in my own opinion—would be giving an unspoken impression that the audience consuming the video should now only advocate for these victims because it is the white woman who is being preyed on. Slightly less problematic would be to cast every victim as a woman of color, as if white women were “safe” from such a fate, pushing those sometimes pushed into an “Other” further into that category. As the video is particularly tailored to advocate for campus violence and does not attempt to take awareness to a global scale, I believe the representation was very well done.
Second, it is sexual violence’s general stigma that the situation can somehow be construed for it to be the victim’s fault. However each scenario in the video portrayed an instance where the women were merely going about their business before being attacked by both people the woman clearly did or did not know. Even the stereotypical party scene showed two women together—an attempt at safety in numbers—who were taken advantage of because of deliberate drugging of their drinks. While it has been a trend to ask, “What was she wearing?” or “Was she leading him on?” this video paints a clear picture that these trains of thought have no substance in the reality of violence against women.
So the music video does an excellent job in raising awareness and portraying the victims and situations accurately. But could it have done more?
I recently attended, as a guest, a meeting of Eastern’s own Alliance for Sexual Assault Prevention where they critiqued Gaga’s video. While praise was certainly given where it was due, one member—Darcy King—raised a point on the greater potential the video could have had. The only reassurance and hope the message seemed to give was to turn to friends. While the people closest to us in our lives can sometimes be the more comforting, it is paramount that victims of abuse and violence are fully aware of the resources available to them. While the video gives a phone number before rolling its credits, it would be much more beneficial to direct victims to centers, safe houses, support lines and other organizations that are in their local community.
As awareness builds for sexual violence—especially those on the college campus—more and more organizations, like ASAP, are being created to advocate and/or care for victims and these should be put into the spotlight just as brightly. If these roads to recovery and healing were more advertised and accessible, then Lady Gaga may do much more than turn several heads in the right direction. Shattered and torn lives could be helped back into place.