Lady Gaga’s Powerful Message to Sexual Assault Survivors

The pop queen’s latest release is more PSA than music video.
Sep 18, 2015·
Samantha Cowan is an associate editor for culture.

Many female students settling into the fall semester at universities around the country can relate to Lady Gaga’s newest music video. Instead of glitzy costumes, choreographed dances, and special effects, this five-minute clip takes a stark look at sexual assault.

College students replace Lady Gaga in the video for “Til It Happens to You,” released Thursday night. Director Catherine Hardwicke (of the films Twilight and Thirteen) takes viewers through the attack and recovery process of four women.

Reliable statistics about the prevalence of rape on college campuses are hard to pin down—the often-reported one in five figure comes from a small study that defined sexual assault very broadly—but what is more certain is that at least 85,000 American women, and possibly many more, are raped each year, and the majority of rapes go unreported.

In Hardwicke’s depiction, women try to fend off attackers and are pushed around like rag dolls. But some of the most visceral moments occur in the aftermath of the attacks.

The students withdraw. Some stay in bed or experience flashbacks. One leaves school altogether, while another attempts to scrub herself clean. These emotional tolls—along with depression, self-blame, and anxiety—are common responses to sexual trauma.

The song was first featured in The Hunting Ground, a documentary about campus sexual assault and how universities address allegations. Lady Gaga has spoken openly about her own experience with sexual assault, when she was a teenager, and worked with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to pen an op-ed supporting affirmative consent policies among the state’s universities. The White House launched a campaign to prevent sexual assault at colleges last year, encouraging campuses to spread awareness and teach students about the importance of consent.

The video shows what can happen if no action is taken, but it also portrays the victims as resilient as the women find support from their parents and friends. Lady Gaga’s new video will likely provide more of the same for real-life survivors.