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According to RAINN (the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network) approximately every 73 seconds a sexual assault occurs in America. More than half of reported sexual assault cases are from survivors ages 18 to 34, placing this age group at the highest risk for being attacked. RAINN also found that one in five women fall victim to completed or attempted sexual assault, while only five out of every 1,000 assailants end up behind bars.

The song “Til It Happens To You” by Lady Gaga and Diane Warren was written and recorded for the documentary film, The Hunting Ground directed by Kirby Dick and produced by Amy Ziering. The film examines sexual assault on college campuses across the nation, while focusing particular attention on school administrations continued failure to seek justice for survivor students. In a TimeTalks Interview, Kirby Dick addresses this negligence.

You know it created you know a second betrayal really. You know they [survivors] go to these schools to completely idealistic thinking that they are very safe environments and most places they are. But there are certain places that are dangerous and they don’t expect that they get assaulted. And then they have the courage to come forward, which is incredible, and then the school you know shuts them down and blames them. It didn’t always happen but it’s happened so many times that it was really surprising.”

Kirby Dick

While laws to prevent sexual assault on college campuses do indeed exist, countless schools still struggle to meet the needs of students who have been assaulted. The 2016 analysis of the Clery Act conducted by the American Association of Women found that 89-percent of the 11,000 colleges in the study had not disclosed rape statistics. Kirby Dick discusses what these statistics mean and how they must no longer be pushed to the wayside. 

One in five women will be sexually assaulted in college and you know sometimes people say ‘well maybe they’re just talking about tapping somebody on the butt or something.’ The reality is more than 50-percent of those are actual rape or attempted rapes. These are really serious crimes. So more than one in ten will experience rape or attempted rape and some of them more than once, or two, or three times.”

Kirby Dick

The goal of The Hunting Ground and “Til It Happens To You” is to provide audience members with a better understanding of what is happening on college campuses and to also provide support for sexual assault survivors. Both Gaga and Warren are rape survivors and were able to pull emotions from their personal accounts to provide a powerful message on behalf of those who have experienced similar trauma. Lady Gaga explains why working on the song was so important to her and Warren. 

You know Diane came to me with the beginnings of this beautiful song and she told me she was talking to the team that was working on The Hunting Ground and about how we wanted to raise social awareness about campus rapes around the world. She knew it was something that was important to me because of my own history.”

Lady Gaga

The song’s lyrics critique society’s inability to understand the impact that sexual assault has on its survivors. It is difficult for non-survivors to grasp the complex nature of survivor trauma because they simply don’t know how it feels to be in this position. 

“Til you’re standing in my shoes,

I don’t wanna hear nothing from you

From you, from you, ’cause you don’t know”

Along with the song’s lyrics, Diane Warren explains how Lady Gaga’s performance illustrates the many stages that sexual assault survivors often go through. 

And the way that your performance starts out vulnerable, you start out like a victim, and as the song progresses, there are three parts like the movie: there’s the beginning of the movie where you see these poor girls going to school and they’re victimized and assaulted and then they become survivors.”

Diane Warren

Gaga’s performance of “Til It Happens To You” at the 2016 Oscar Awards embodied the same emotions Warren mentions, making its impact on the audience even more profound. 

Gaga’s emotion is visible throughout the entirety of this performance. During the third refrain the curtain behind her parts as dozens of sexual assault survivors emerge to join her on stage for the remainder of the performance, many of which were featured in The Hunting Ground film. After wrapping the performance, Gaga joins hands with survivors to display solidarity. Similar to Gaga’s Oscar performance, co-producer Nicole Ehrlich explains how the song’s music video plays a fundamental role in advancing the song’s message by serving as a public service announcement against sexual assault. 

The number one things that I want people to take away from this project is to be a leader, not a follower; be a hero; be the good friend; make good decisions; and value everyone’s life.” 

Nicole Ehrlich

Ehrlich also addresses how the video exemplifies the urgent need for structural changes in order to adequately address sexual assault. 

For institutions, this should be a no tolerance issue and we need major policy change.” 

Nicole Ehrlich

The Hunting Ground producer, Amy Ziering echoes the song’s message that support is not directly synonymous with understanding and explains how rape culture often distorts awareness.

It’s always solidly the perpetrators fault and the problem is our culture really doesn’t understand these crimes or process them properly. There’s a lot of rape myths that make people think it’s ‘he said, she said,’ ‘it’s confusing’ and actually, no it’s not confusing.”

Amy Ziering

Lady Gaga highlights how this apparent disconnect in society’s understanding further demonstrates the need for widespread resources and education for survivors. 

I think part of the process is getting the message in its purest form around the world as much as possible to breed compassion about this issue—so that when somebody comes forward to the administration at their school that they really listen and that they really genuinely help them and they go through the process of making sure that the child is healed in the future. You know is it just about making sure we find the culprit, or is it about making sure that the kid has access to the right mental wellness; making sure that the kid has access to resources and other students that have been through the same thing? I think that those things are even more important in a way—it’s just helping to change the climate of humanity.” 

Lady Gaga


Throughout the music video’s story plot, survivors find comfort from those who have experienced similar traumas. Although the video has a haunting effect on viewers, it also has optimism woven throughout it and promotes the importance of compassion. Gaga suggests that survivors must find the power from within to begin the healing process. 

The only person in this scenario that can heal you is yourself and that is the complicated process—it’s the only person. So what the video I feel like teaches people is that it’s what helpful is that as we as humanity can be compassionate to one another, to lead each other to those epiphanies, but we can’t actually provide them for each other.”

Lady Gaga

A month prior to the release of “Til It Happens To You,” Americans were brutally awoken to the country’s deeply rooted sexual assault issue that has taken college campuses by storm. On January 18, 2015 Chanel Miller was sexually assaulted by Brock Allen Turner on Stanford University’s campus. The Stanford Rape Case provided many people with a more accurate understanding of what was happening on college campuses. During this transformative time, both the The Hunting Ground and “Til It Happens To You” helped to shape the future narrative of sexual assault while also spreading awareness.

After the release of the song, Lady Gaga Tweeted: “We hope u feel our love & solidarity through the song & perhaps find some peace in knowing u r not alone through this film.”

If you, or a loved one has experienced sexual assault and need help. The National Sexual Assault hotline can be reached at 1-800-656-HOPE(4673).

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