Of particular salience in the dialogue across the country is the issue of sexual assault – whether on campus, in the military, directed at LGBT people, etc. The recent launch of Lady Gaga’s song “Till It Happens To You”, co-written by Diane Warren, is yet another vehicle driving discussion around this topic. Here are five ways that celebrities, activists and ordinary individuals across the country are combatting and raising awareness about sexual assault.
Pop culture as a platform
Lady Gaga’s music video for “Till It Happens To You” serves as a Public Service Announcement (PSA) for the issue of sexual assault and raising awareness about its victims. The song was co-written with acclaimed songwriter Diane Warren and produced for the documentary The Hunting Ground which assesses campus rape across the U.S. The video features several instances of sexual assault and shows how the victims are able to cope, seek support and find survive such a traumatizing experience. Lady Gaga is an example of how celebrities can use their spotlights and platforms to connect with millions of people, help raise awareness about rape culture on college campuses and sexual assault, and provide encouragement to those who have faced it.
Take a pledge, change the conversation
As a star athlete and one of the top football recruits in the country, Jerome Baker was a leader on his high school football team, at his high school, and throughout his community. Driven by a desire to rebuild the reputation of his fellow athletes and to change the conversation around sexual assault and rape in his community, Jerome decided that he would make a pledge to end violence against females. Not only did he pledge to do so, but he encouraged and recruited athletes in his community to sign on as well. From making phone calls to talking about the pledge in the gym, Jerome was able to recruit over 100 high school athletes in his area to join him. He is an example of how a leader at any age and at any level can change the conversation and encourage young men to step up, act responsibly and promote respectful behavior.
#SayHerName, tell her story
Janet Mock is an author, TV host, activist, trans woman, and a whole lot more. On a recent episode of Melissa Harris-Perry’s MSNBC show, Mock used the opportunity presented to her as a guest host of the show for a night to highlight a particular issue regarding sexual assault – and that is the prevalence of violence against trans women, and trans women of color in particular, by naming all of the trans women who had been murdered in hate-motivated crimes in the past year. That number unfortunately has increased in the days since Mock’s segment on MSNBC. The Human Rights Campaign and the Trans People of Color Coalition published a report that similarly names all trans murder victims in the U.S. Mock’s naming of these victims reinforced that they aren’t a statistic, they’re people and should be treated that way.
As a U.S. Senator from New York, Kirsten Gillibrand has taken up the mantle in Congress for reforming how the military investigates and prosecutes allegations of sexual assault. She has fought tirelessly, introduced legislation, reached out to members of both political parties, held hearings and, in doing so, has helped raise sexual assault to prominence in the national discourse. In a political institution that is often unable to come to a decision on many issues due to partisanship, Gillibrand was able to get Republicans and Democrats alike to back her proposal. While ultimately unsuccessful in seeing her reform included in the final military funding bill, she nonetheless took on the massive institution that is the U.S. military and brought the topic of military sexual assault to the front and center of political and social discourse. And she’s not giving up, as she reintroduces her legislation and keeps up the work to see her reforms come to fruition.
Taking a stand and making people listen
As the now-famous “mattress girl,” Emma Sulkowicz has been fighting for justice since her sophomore year of college after university officials mishandled her and other students’ reports of being sexually assaulted by a fellow student. In order to bring attention to the university’s handling of her situation and to make students, faculty and administration listen to her story, she chose to do her senior thesis in the expression of performance art by carrying her mattress with her everywhere on campus. She is an example of yet another individual who has brought the issue of sexual assault, particularly on college campuses, to prominence. Her protest piece refuses to let her community forget about her assault, and allows her to take a stand as a victim and not be silenced.