He was one year older than I was and headed to medical
school. Somehow that gave him a veneer
of respectability. He also seemed
reserved and didn't drink much. When he
asked me out after English class, I floated all the way back to my dorm so I
could tell my roommate. We may or may
not have jumped on the bed and squealed with excitement.
By all measures, he was a catch.
The date was enjoyable, but that's not what sticks out all
these years later. What sticks out is how
forceful he was after the date. I
remember him using his considerable physical strength to his full
advantage. I couldn't overpower him, but
I eventually evaded his too-strong grasp by convincing him I had to pee. Free from his grasp, I ran all the way back
to my dorm. This time, my roommate and I
were not squealing with joy. I was
shivering; she was pacing back and forth, saying what a jerk he was.
It never occurred to me or my roommate to go to any
authorities. I must have felt shame
because I swore my roommate to secrecy. You only keep secrets if you're ashamed. I thought it was my job to protect him. And I also thought it was my fault for liking him and agreeing to go to
his place after the party. The following
year I learned about two other women who had similar encounters with him. I thought of us as belonging to a shameful club. On a campus of 50,000 students, there must
have been others.
Meanwhile, he went off to medical school.
This memory came flooding back to me when I saw Lady Gaga's
powerful new video for a song she wrote with Diane Warren for the campus rape
documentary, "The Hunting Ground." "Til
It Happens to You" has been described as a PSA about rape culture on campus. It graphically depicts the rape of several college
women, who subsequently suffer depression and self-hate in the aftermath. All of the narratives are disturbing, though
the sexual assault of the woman who was drugged and unconscious appears particularly
savage—her sheer vulnerability and lack of consciousness sears the viewer.
Lady Gaga's narrative arc provides some redemption in that
the survivors (you can't convince me that Lady Gaga is singing about victims—they
are definitely survivors) find communities of believers. The rape survivors appear to emerge from the isolation
of victimhood, which hints that the transformation from victim to survivor entails
joining with others—witnesses, fellow survivors, friends, advocates—and giving
a voice to this epidemic.
As the song ends, text appears that spells out the scope of
the epidemic. "One in five college women
will be sexually assaulted this year unless something changes."
I wish there was no need for Lady Gaga's video. I wish I could send my daughter off to college without warning her about date rape drugs and campus rape statistics.
Lady Gaga's willingness to throw her fame and prodigious talent
behind this project is vitally important. Her video educates us by dissecting our culture and depicting an uncomfortable
reality. If you're paying attention, her
video should outrage you about what our culture accepts for its collegiate
Back in 1992 when I was using the urge to urinate to escape
a dangerous date, there was no video to signal that I wasn't alone. Or that it wasn't my fault. Mariah, Madonna and Paula Abdul were singing
about unrequited love and being in rocky relationships—nothing nearly as edgy
as non-consensual, violent sex. Their
videos were uncomplicated, cotton candy snacks for late night study breaks.
I wish there was no need for Lady Gaga's video. I wish I could send my daughter off to
college without warning her about date rape drugs and campus rape statistics. But the fact is that I can't. Not yet. Faced with this reality, I'm grateful for Lady Gaga bravely taking on
date rape and starting a conversation that is long from over.