Meet Some of the Survivors Who Made This Year’s Oscars Unforgettable


Lady Gaga’s performance at the 88th Academy Awards of her Oscar-nominated theme song from The Hunting Ground, titled “Til It Happens To You,” brought the house down. She shared the stage with 50 courageous survivors, many of them from the film, who received a standing ovation and who made it one of the most significant and memorable moments in Oscar history. Below, a few tell us in their own words why they stood up and what the song means to them (special thanks to Robbie Woodsum, a survivor, for these amazing photos).

Jacqueline Lin

School: Stanford University 

What inspired you to stand up and take the stage?
I need the world to start believing survivors. But even more, I need the kindhearted part of the world to recognize that sexual violence is not a solved problem. We are getting silenced more and more every minute by institutions with a power they are quick to wield—the legal power to gag survivors and destroy lives. I never want another survivor to feel the isolation I felt in continuing to fight against my university. She is a beacon for those of us who cannot speak onstage.

What was your reaction to the performance at the Oscars?
Her howl was heartbreaking and I was sobbing alongside every other survivor. During our first rehearsal for the Oscars performance, the 50 survivors and Lady Gaga made a pact to get a tattoo. As the designer, I created this original work of art to serve as the design for our tattoo. The design is to be used for tattoo purposes only and no other commercial purposes. If you have further questions or ideas, please let me know. The tattoo was made for and dedicated to survivors. It is a unity symbol inspired by the loops of our DNA structure and our universal infinity sign. It combines inspiration from Lady Gaga’s favorite flower, the white rose, to breathe life into an organic and growing symbol. The final image embraces a fiery shape to give us power and strength everywhere we go.

Fabiana Diaz

School: University of Michigan

What is your connection to The Hunting Ground?
I helped coordinate the viewing at my University in April 2015 and also had Annie and Andrea for a Q&A, which is where we connected.

What inspired you to stand up and take the stage?
What inspired me was her song. When I first heard the song in the film I broke down crying because I felt as if the song was written for me and about me. This song resonates with me, as much as it does with many survivors of sexual violence, and it allows me to push through.  I was just so truly grateful that Diane Warren and Lady Gaga wrote this piece because the impact it is having on the movement is exactly what we need. Thank you!

What was your reaction to the performance at the Oscars?
This song has the power to bring every single emotion out of you from pain to bravery and it did just that for me.

Becky Stepp

School: UCLA

What is your connection to The Hunting Ground?
After seeing the movie, I was inspired to share more details about my story as I had a very similar experience as many of the girls in the film, especially to Erica Kinsman and her fight with Florida State.

What inspired you to stand up and take the stage?
I came out with my story to help others not feel alone, to give people a voice that did not have the means to speak about their experience themselves. That’s why, when I got an email last week about standing on stage in solidarity with other survivors, I could not pass up the opportunity. Standing on stage was more than just a moment, standing on stage meant so much more. We stood there for the millions of people who have been assaulted and we proclaimed in silence that there needs to be a change on college campuses.

What was your reaction to the performance at the Oscars?
When I heard “Til It Happens To You”, I finally felt that someone understood. Being assaulted is just a phrase until you have to deal with the indescribable pain and loneliness. This song gives people who feel alone at least one person who gets it.

Lea Roth

School: Dartmouth College

What is your connection to The Hunting Ground?
My activism with #RealtalkDartmouth and #EdActNow was featured in The Hunting Ground, as well as a visit visit Annie Clark during Nastassja’s and my organization Spring Up’s 2014 workshop tour.

What inspired you to stand up and take the stage?
It’s always a powerful experience to participate in collective activism, and I wanted to share this moment with other survivors who have been using their voices and actions to advocate for change every day for years.

What was your reaction to the performance at the Oscars?
Her performance on the night of the Oscars was so powerful, so honest, so vulnerable, and raw—it was such an incredible honor to share in her creative process and to create a piece of performance art that touched so many people.

Nastassja Schmiedt

School: Dartmouth College

What is your connection to The Hunting Ground?
I was included in The Hunting Ground discussing my experience of sexual assault, I’m depicted talking with Annie Clark in Los Angeles during my workshop tour with my company, Spring Up, and my protest at Dartmouth College was depicted at the end of the film.

What inspired you to stand up and take the stage?
I decided to participate because it is so important to have LGBTQ, genderqueer, and black survivors visibly included in the discussion as we experience sexual violence at higher rates and are less likely to be believed. It’s a privilege to be able to speak publicly about my assault without losing the support of my family, and I was honored to be able to partake with my fiancée Lea Roth.

What was your reaction to the performance at the Oscars?
Hearing Lady Gaga perform “Til It Happens To You” was surreal, I have expressed each of the ideas behind every line in one way or another—and to feel heard and mirrored by someone I have admired for years expressing those same concerns on such a huge stage is something I will never forget.

Kirat Sandhu

School: Indiana University, Purdue University Indianapolis

What inspired you to stand up and take the stage?
Honestly, I was inspired to stand up and share that stage and my story because I wanted to break the mold of what my Punjabi-Indian culture has deemed normal. It’s normal for experiences with sexual violence to be swept under the rug, and I want more people who look like me and come from similar backgrounds to know, that they are not alone in what they’ve been through.

What was your reaction to the performance at the Oscars?
I felt angry, sad, and liberated all at once. I know the pain of what happened to me will never go away, but being on that stage and hearing her sing was validation for every time I have fought to share my story.

Chloe Allred

School: Cornish College of the Arts, Laguna College of Art and Design

What is your connection to The Hunting Ground?
I saw The Hunting Ground at the Seattle International Film Festival. I went with a friend and I didn’t know much about it, just that it was a documentary. The film stunned me—with story after story like my own, not just of surviving sexual assault, but of being abandoned and shamed by peers, friends, schools, family, etc. In my own life, I found the friends who truly cared about me and stuck by my side. That helped me survive. After the film ended, there was a Q&A with Amy Herdy, one of the producers. I approached Amy after the Q&A. I was a real wreck, I had been crying for about 80% of the film, but I felt deeply grateful that The Hunting Ground team was addressing this in such a huge way. I make paintings about survivors of sexual assault and eating disorders. It has been my way of processing my own experience, and also of giving a platform to other survivors. I gave my card to Amy, she looked up my work, and we’ve been in consistent contact since!

What inspired you to stand up and take the stage?
I am deeply passionate about this topic. It guides my artistic practice and activism. Through the Body Joy Project, I have worked with numerous survivors of eating disorders, sexual assault, and body shame. Their bravery and resilience is truly inspiring. Their willingness to share their story with me and allow me to paint them has been an honor. The opportunity to be on stage with Lady Gaga and the other survivors just felt right. I wanted to take a very public stand against rape culture. It was exciting, but definitely not easy. Addressing my rape in public is hard, and it brings back a lot of pain from that experience. But it is also healing to take ownership of my story and show other survivors that they have nothing to be ashamed of, that they did nothing wrong.

What was your reaction to the performance at the Oscars?
A punch to the heart, in a good way.

Jasmin Enriquez

School: Penn State University, University Park

What is your connection to The Hunting Ground?
I was interviewed for the Hunting Ground a while back. The first time I was raped I was in high school. The second time I was raped I was in college but I never reported either assaults so my experiences didn’t necessarily fit the documentary narrative. I still do Q&A panels around San Diego with the film, though!

What inspired you to stand up and take the stage?
I knew there would be hundreds of thousands of people watching the Academy Awards who were survivors. I wanted them to know that they are not alone. I wanted them to see that there are people in the world fighting for them, and with them, to create change. To me, it was important for them to know that we were all standing in solidarity with them.

What does “Til It Happens to You” mean to you?
Hearing Lady Gaga sing “Til It Happens To You” made me feel emotional but most importantly it made me feel like other people understood my pain.

Hannah Schiller


School: MIT

What is your connection to The Hunting Ground?
I was interviewed for the film and appeared in it for a short time.

What inspired you to stand up and take the stage?
When I was asked to take part in the performance, I immediately agreed because it was an amazing opportunity to help promote a cause I am passionate about on the Oscars stage. As the performance drew nearer, it became more important to me to be on that stage, to let survivors know that they are not alone, they are believed, and they should not be ashamed.

What does “Til It Happens to You” mean to you?
I avoided listening to the song until after I agreed to be in the performance, because I knew it would be upsettingly accurate (and it is).

Stephanie Feldman


School: Scripps College

What is your connection to The Hunting Ground?
I have friends who were in The Hunting Ground and I’ve felt such a deep connection to the film’s message. I am so grateful that I was given this opportunity to be a part of it.

What inspired you to stand up and take the stage?
Speaking out and taking a stand is such a huge part of my healing process and it’s why I’ve dedicated myself to providing a platform for survivors to share their voice with my project, Be Heard. Being honest about my experiences is empowering to me and being given the chance to stand alongside other brave, strong and outspoken activists was simply a dream come true. This was such a special opportunity to be able to stand for survivors everywhere and to raise awareness around the world.

What was your reaction to the performance at the Oscars?
It was breathtaking, she sings with such conviction. I think almost every survivor can relate to the song, it’s a testament to the problem of rape culture in our society. You shouldn’t have to be a survivor to understand the devastation of sexual violence, hopefully one day we can live in a world where that’s no longer the case.

Ariane Litalien

Processed with VSCOcam with t1 preset

School: Harvard University, McGill University

What is your connection to The Hunting Ground?
I was sexually assaulted by a classmate who lived in my dorm at Harvard. I was interviewed about my experience for The Hunting Ground in fall of 2013, it made such a huge impact on my life. It taught me that my voice mattered at a time when it was being constantly suppressed by administrators.

What inspired you to stand up and take the stage?
Getting to know fellow survivors at Harvard, as well as Annie and Andrea from The Hunting Ground, helped me get through the past three years, and made me feel so much less isolated. I wanted to pay it forward and let other people know they are not alone.

What was your reaction to the performance at the Oscars?
I cried the first five times I heard it, and cried again after every rehearsal at the Academy Awards. There is something about this song that perfectly embodies the essence of what being a survivor feels like. It is just so incredibly cathartic to hear it.

Ibis Valdés

IbiscropSchool: Northeastern University 

What is your connection to The Hunting Ground?
I was interviewed in October 2013 when I was the Director of Communications at Northeastern’s Feminist Student Chapter. I received an email in our group account from the producers looking to make a documentary about sexual assault culture on US college campuses. I agreed to an interview where I spoke about my assault, how the university handled it, and the activism I’ve done since.

What inspired you to stand up and take the stage?
Once I heard news that Lady Gaga signed on to promote the documentary through a song, I knew the theme and message of the documentary would instantly reach millions. I just didn’t anticipate HOW. I was inspired to stand up there for my fellow feminists of all backgrounds; for my Latinx feminists; for friends of mine who have shared their sexual assault stories with me; and lastly for myself, as a beautifully poignant redemptive moment for all the times I was depressed, unfocused, and isolated because of what happened to me.

What was your reaction to the performance at the Oscars?
 was inspired, moved, and one step closer to healing and full redemption from my assault.

Emily Farley

EmilycropSchool: University of Notre Dame

What is your connection to The Hunting Ground?
I was interviewed for the film. The producers found me based on news articles about the play that I wrote as a student called Loyal Daughters. Discussions surrounding The Vagina Monologues were getting tangled up in arguments on morality, its relevance on a Catholic campus, and shock value rather than the important topics of sexual violence and sexuality. I wanted to create something by, for, and about Notre Dame students, that spoke to sexuality and sexual violence as experienced by my peers, so the message couldn’t be ignored. After conducting about 60 interviews with students, faculty and staff and collecting written submissions, I compiled them into a series of anonymous short scenes. With the help of a huge team of talented, passionate people, we put on an amazing multiple-night run to a packed house each time. I’m honored and proud that it continues to be adapted, updated, and produced annually—ten years later.

What inspired you to stand up and take the stage?
I wanted to stand up on stage for all the people who so bravely and generously shared their stories with me back at Notre Dame so that together, we could educate, support and inspire the rest of the student body. I wanted to stand up for the people who saw themselves represented on our stage back at Notre Dame, and represent them on the Oscar stage with Lady Gaga. I wanted to stand up for me because despite all of my theatre activism at school, I focused on the stories of others and tried to bury my own, seeing it as irrelevant and insignificant. I was completely in denial about my own experience of assault until I saw an eerily similar situation reflected back to me by a sexual assault awareness program called Sex Signals put on by Catharsis Productions, hosted by Notre Dame. It wasn’t until that moment that I could begin to process what had happened, which led me to dedicate the rest of my college career to working to help myself and others through it. That is the power of creative sharing.

What does “Til It Happens to You” mean to you?
I am not alone.

Kevin Kantor


School: University of Northern Colorado

What inspired you to stand up and take the stage?
After I went public with my story, and the subsequent exposure that my poem “People You May Know” received, I was incredibly humbled by the wealth of love and support that flooded in from fellow survivors and allies to the cause. I was afforded a platform to speak out and educate on these critical issues & have been doing so since I graduated in May. However, as an actor, my first few post-graduate experiences attempting to find representation left me feeling lost and defeated again. Just days before I was invited to join Gaga at the Oscars, I was told in an agency interview that it would be problematic to sign me because of how public I had gone with my rape, that my image was “unpalatable” and “too difficult to sell.” Being a survivor is not something you become, it is something that you do. Every day. Standing on stage with all of those brave and brilliant humans, Gaga included, was just one act of our collective ongoing survival story. The opportunity to exist as loudly and defiantly as we did in front of so many respected members of my industry lent me the reaffirmation of my worthiness, and the worthiness of survivors everywhere, at a time when I needed it most.

What does “Til It Happens to You” mean to you?
It brings hope that survivors everywhere will feel validated and heard with this anthemic song, this battlecry.

Aryle Butler


School: UC Berkeley

What is your connection to The Hunting Ground?
I was part of the film, and took part in filming for over three years as a survivor, activist, and passionate supporter of the message. I also formerly worked with End Rape on Campus (EROC) and took part in the premiere at the Sundance Film Festival and subsequent Q&As.

What inspired you to stand up and take the stage?
Sexual assault can be isolating, and knowing that others will see all of us, together, and know they are not alone is the greatest gift I can give to other survivors I have yet to meet. I work doing violence prevention community education at Human Options in Orange County, and know that showing my community in Southern California that strong survivors stand up on this issue was important for me. It’s a way to give back to the community and to be a part of something greater than myself. Throughout all of my academic work, my legislative and activist work at the state and federal level, and all my own personal healing work, I am always in awe of the beauty and strength that takes root when individuals forged in tragedy and adversity create communities of immeasurable love and incredible power. Standing together is as close to invincible as any one person could be.

What does “Til It Happens to You” mean to you?
Until you do something, it will happen to too many.

Nora Bales


School: California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo

What is your connection to The Hunting Ground?
I wasn’t in the Hunting Ground, but my best friend Ari Mostov was.

What inspired you to stand up and take the stage?
I’ve never publicly shared any aspect of my story, and I rarely privately share anything about it either. This issue has long been very important to me—I personally am a survivor and many of my closest friends are, too. What ultimately gave me the courage to stand onstage was the memory of my friend Sasha, who took her life after an intense legal and personal battle following her sexual assault at her school, University of Missouri. (Her story: Too much goes unsaid, and for too long I’ve been relying on the strength of others to make changes in how rape and sexual assault are dealt with on college campuses and our culture at large. I’m finally ready to share what happened to me.

What was your reaction to the performance at the Oscars?
I felt simultaneously brave and terrified, and that I definitely made the right choice.

Julia Dixon


School: The University of Akron.

What is your connection to The Hunting Ground?
I appear in the documentary talking to Annie and Andrea via Skype, discussing the Clery complaint that they helped me file. I am very lucky to have so many people I consider friends in the documentary.

What inspired you to stand up and take the stage?
I thought about what it would have meant to me when I was 18 or 19, recently assaulted, to see this kind of stand on the world’s biggest stage. It would have made me feel less alone; it would have emboldened me. I know there are still so many people going through their recovery in that lonely space, and I want to help them get out of it as fast as possible.

What was your reaction to the performance at the Oscars?
I felt overwhelming solidarity with people I had never even met, and strength to keep moving forward.

Rose Richi


School: University of Connecticut

What is your connection to The Hunting Ground?
I interviewed for the film and made a small appearance towards the end; the clip is from one of the many news outlets that followed our title IX lawsuit against UConn.

What inspired you to stand up and take the stage?
The opportunity to reach millions of people in one moment. Lady Gaga is an incredible person who is standing up to an industry and a culture that shames survivors and I wanted to be a part of that.

What was your reaction to the performance at the Oscars?
There aren’t words to describe how I felt on that stage; it was transcendent.

Sage Carson


School: University of Delaware

What is your connection to The Hunting Ground?
I have spoken on panels for The Hunting Ground about my work surrounding sexual assault in Delaware and on UD’s campus.

What inspired you to stand up and take the stage?
I stood with Lady Gaga and other survivors on stage to show survivors across the country that they are not alone and that they are loved. I isolated myself for so long after my assaults because I felt no one would believe me or knew what I was going through. I hope that the performance showed other survivors that there is a community of people like them who believe them and will always support them. I stood on stage with an inspirational group of survivors in hopes of giving other survivors the strength they need to heal.

What was your reaction to the performance at the Oscars?
I felt like I wasn’t alone anymore.

Angelo Alessandro Rodarte


School: California Institute of the Arts

What inspired you to stand up and take the stage?
First and foremost, as a gender non-binary chicanx person, I stand for all trans*, queer, non-binary, LGB people and people of color. I have been deterred and silenced for a long time. Sexual assault can occur to all people of all walks of life. It’s not specific to race, age, gender, sexuality, lack of, or any other fictions we have been forced to believe—or constructs we are forced to live in. As victims, if we don’t come forward, this injustice will continue to thrive and affect more people than we can imagine.

I felt it was time to no longer stand silent on something we have been taught to be ashamed of. Even more so, it’s time to no longer allow ourselves to be oppressed by institutions that have much to gain by our silence.

I felt an obligation to not only change, but to set a larger stage for the dialogue. We are not victims, we are survivors.

What does “Til It Happens to You” mean to you?
Hearing “Til It Happens To You” challenged me to take back authorship of my body and emotions that previously felt both manipulated and stolen from me.

Andrew Brown


School: Brown University

What is your connection to The Hunting Ground?
I was featured in The Hunting Ground.

What inspired you to stand up and take the stage?
I wanted to take this opportunity to tell survivors who haven’t told anyone that they’re not alone and they are beautiful.

What does “Til It Happens to You” mean to you?
The first time I heard “Til It Happens to You,” it immediately brought me back to the confusion and pain I remember feeling between my assault and the first person I told. I knew the song and our performance could help people understand how difficult the experience can be for survivors and how deserving we are of respect


Zerlina Maxwell

Zerlina-320School: Tufts University

What is your connection to The Hunting Ground?
I met the stars of The Hunting Ground through my own work advocating against rape culture. As a journalist, I’ve covered campus sexual assault for a variety of publications and through that work have become connected with the network of students filing Title IX complaints against their colleges and universities.

What inspired you to stand up and take the stage?
I wanted to show that even after sexual violence, you can live a happy life! I wanted to show those at home that they are not alone. I wanted to stand in solidarity with others who have a shared experience of overcoming the most intense form of adversity.

What does “Til It Happens to You” mean to you?
At the beginning of the song I feel rage and sorrow, but by the end of the song I feel powerful and determined.

Myra Crimmel

myra-crimmelSchool: University of California, Santa Barbara

What is your connection to The Hunting Ground?
I filed a Title IX/Clery Act Complaint with the assistance from Sofie Karasek, who was in the film and is now one of the founders of End Rape on Campus.

What inspired you to stand up and take the stage?
I wanted to be around other survivors who took action against their perpetrator and consequently had to fight against our own universities’ administrations.

What does “Til It Happens to You” mean to you?
Sexual assault is just another word until it becomes the pain you live with for the rest of your life—don’t judge us.

Ryan Clifford

ryan-cliffordSchool: University of California, Davis

What is your connection to The Hunting Ground?
The Hunting Ground filmmakers interviewed me, a male victim of a sexual assault.

What inspired you to stand up and take the stage?
I want others to know that I am a male victim who was sexually assaulted and brutally hazed by fraternity members. I have learned that no one wants to recognize that even a male can be a victim of a sexual assault and even if one believes it can happen, no one wants to talk about it.

What does “Til It Happens to You” mean to you?
Lady Gaga brings life into the song for victims to know that they are not alone.

Melissa Maher


School: Iowa State University

What is your connection to The Hunting Ground?
My friend, Annie Clark, is one of the main subjects in The Hunting Ground. She let me know about the film when it was being made and let me know they were looking for subjects, but at the time I couldn’t participate because I was involved in an active lawsuit about my case.

What inspired you to stand up and take the stage?
I stood for every person who couldn’t stand up. I had also decided if I could get one person to realize they’re not alone, I was doing something to help.

What does “Til It Happens to You” mean to you?
This song makes me think about everyone who told me I was fine, when they never knew what I was dealing with. The problem doesn’t disappear just because you stop thinking about it.

Robbie Woodsum

robbie-woodsumSchool: George Mason University

What is your connection to The Hunting Ground?
I was interviewed for The Hunting Ground and appeared in the film.

What inspired you to stand up and take the stage?
My therapy dog had died unexpectedly and then I got the invitation to join my fellow survivors onstage with Lady Gaga. Life is a cycle of ups and downs, and this is one of those. It’s like the universe knew I needed excitement and distraction. Plus I would never give up an opportunity like this. Meeting my fellow survivors was the best part. We formed quick bonds and life-long friendships. Without their support, I don’t know how I would have managed through this past weekend.

What does “Til It Happens to You” mean to you?
The first time I heard it, I cried. It embodies perfectly how you face the world as a survivor. You just don’t get it, until it happens to you.

Thanh Mai Bercher


School: The University of California, Berkeley

What is your connection to The Hunting Ground?
Most of the people who helped me and taught me how to help my friends are featured in the film. Working with them and getting to know Kirby was empowering in terms of having this issue be recognized beyond the confines of our campus. The Hunting Ground was the first place in which I saw our work validated. No other institution recognized the importance of our efforts and experiences.

What inspired you to stand up and take the stage?
So many of the survivors that I know don’t feel validated, because they think that they are alone and have yet to hear that they deserve to be loved and supported. I hope that people who see this film, hear the song, or see us standing there can recognize that there are other people out there who have felt what they are feeling and continue to fight.

What does “Til It Happens to You” mean to you?
Lady Gaga conveys so much emotion and care, and this song just completely encompasses how it feels to experience trauma and have to navigate interacting with other people.

Molly Mescall


School: Saint Mary’s College/Notre Dame

What is your connection to The Hunting Ground?
Yes, I appeared in the film speaking about my experience at Notre Dame.

What inspired you to stand up and take the stage?
Being a part of The Hunting Ground film, I feel that saying yes to this experience was only natural. Sharing my story with others has helped me to heal and I can only hope that it can help others who may be in the position I was once in.

What was your reaction to the performance at the Oscars?
Lady Gaga’s performance of Til It Happens To You was extremely powerful to witness, and was yet another reminder that I am not alone in the pain that I have experienced.

Maya Weinstein


School: George Washington University

What is your connection to The Hunting Ground?
I was featured in The Hunting Ground.

What inspired you to stand up and take the stage?
Ever since The Hunting Ground, I have seen how sharing a story brings others the strength to share theirs. The more the issue is brought to light, the more power survivors feel to stand up and stand together. I have always looked up to Lady Gaga, and was drawn in by her genuine devotion to making the world a better place. I couldn’t think of a more intense and special way to reach such a huge audience and inspire many more survivors to share their stories.

What was your reaction to the performance at the Oscars?
When I heard Lady Gaga sing “Til It Happens To You,” I felt connected to everyone on that stage. I felt something way bigger than myself and I realized the power that we all held by simply standing in unity.

Ali Arman


School: UC Berkeley, Harvard University

What is your connection to The Hunting Ground?
I was interviewed in the film. I shared how hard it was to tell my parents about my assault, and I discussed the toll my assault had on my mental health.

What inspired you to stand up and take the stage?
I wanted to show people that there’s life after sexual assault. In my interview, I talked about attempting suicide. By sharing my story, I want people to know that there is so much more out there than the pain they’re feeling. There are new friends and bad dates you haven’t met yet; there are amazing successes and crushing failures you still have to learn from; there are gorgeous sunrises and moments of being that you deserve to be alive to see. I shared my story so people will know that sexual assault is not the end of their stories.

What was your reaction to the performance at the Oscars?
First I cried, then I smiled.

Wagatwe Wanjuki

School: Tufts University, Rutgers University

What is your connection to The Hunting Ground?
I was interviewed for it and appear briefly in the documentary.

What inspired you to stand up and take the stage?
I wanted to participate in a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that would be a historic moment in the visibility of survivors.

What was your reaction to the performance at the Oscars?
I was blown away and touched by the pure emotion she exuded during her performance.

13th Student Files Sexual Assault Lawsuit Against Harvard

Yet another sexual assault survivor has spoken up about Harvard’s failure to keep her safe.

Alyssa Leader is the thirteenth Harvard student to file a Title IX lawsuit against the school, alleging that Harvard repeatedly ignored her reports of assault and even housed her with her attacker.

The school has a legal duty to support victims, adequately investigate complaints of campus sexual assault and harassment and separate victims from alleged perpetrators in the process.

After months of being told Harvard could do nothing about her continually being harassed, Alyssa sought and obtained a permanent  restraining order against the accused in civil court.

Harvard has a serious problem. Kamilah Willingham, a survivor who spoke in our film about her trauma and Harvard’s attempt to bury it, has endured tremendous abuse as a result of her bravery. Some of her own professors went so far as to ridicule her publicly while grossly distorting the facts.

Until schools take their federally-mandated duty to protect students seriously, it falls to survivors like Kamilah and Alyssa to come forward and create change. It shouldn’t be their responsibility to protect their peers and future students, but they do and we commend them for their courage.

Thankfully, there are other Harvard students and educators trying to enact positive change, like the student Harassment/Assault Legal Team (HALT) at Harvard Law, which came to the defense of Kamilah’s account in The Hunting Ground, and Jessica Fournier ‘17, an organizer of the anti-sexual assault advocacy group Our Harvard Can Do Better. This week, Fournier outlined her organization’s goals for the semester: “[We] see our role as a voice outside of the administration, outside of Harvard, that is able to be critical of what the administration is doing and to push… a policy-oriented angle.”

For more on Alyssa Leader’s lawsuit, read Tyler Kingkade’s article in the Huffington Post.

Denying the Truth about the Epidemic of College Sexual Assault

This op-ed by Amy Ziering and Kirby Dick originally appeared in the Guardian

Much as there are people who deny the existence of climate change, or the public health value of vaccines, there are those who have tried to cast doubt on the incontrovertible: sexual assaults are rampant on our college campuses.

Deniers insist that key statistics on campus sexual assault are inflated or indeterminate – and some journalists who should know better are buying into this myth. We saw this most recently in Alia Wong’s article last month in the Atlantic, which claimed: “Every statistic about campus sexual assault seems to be contradicted or challenged by another one” as well as in a 2014 article by Emily Yoffe in Slate which alleged that “studies suggesting this [is an] epidemic don’t hold up to scrutiny.”

The truth is that studies over several decades have repeatedly confirmed that, though exact percentages may vary, there are extremely high rates of sexual assault on US campuses.

National studies – including one released this week by the Department of Justice – show as many as one in four women are sexually assaulted in college. This follows the Washington Post/Kaiser Family Foundation study from June of 2015 and the more than 150,000 students who responded last year to the Association of American Universities survey, both of which clearly established that sexual assault in college is a serious public safety problem.

Rape deniers try to dismiss these studies because they include some “lesser assaults” like groping and forced kissing in their numbers. But the truth is those assaults are crimes and many are felonies.

There is one outlier study that deniers invariably point to – the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), which found a much lower rate of sexual assault. What they never disclose is that this study has been severely criticized by the National Academies of Sciences, which – in a 278-page report – unequivocally concludes that the NCVS sexual assault prevalence numbers are unreliable.

Among other criticisms, the report found that the NCVS study failed to count sexual assault while incapacitated (which in one survey accounts for more than 50% of college sexual assaults). Moreover, it erroneously based its calculations on an average student attending college for 3.5 years, when the average student now takes nearly six years to graduate, resulting in a potential undercount of up to 40%.

Suggesting we cannot trust the science is an age-old tactic to distract the public from the truth. These attempts to manipulate public opinion and minimize the epidemic are reminiscent of misinformation campaigns waged around concussions in the NFL and around climate change.

In fact, some who deny the sexual assault epidemic also denied climate-change. In a 2007 article about An Inconvenient Truth, an Academy Award-winning documentary about global warming, Emily Yoffe wrote that it is “hard to believe assertions that the science on the future of our climate is settled,” and “just because something can be plotted on an X and Y axis does not make it the whole truth”.

The truth is that we can, and must, rely on scientists to provide us with information about the nature and extent of the problem, and denying their expertise is a sure path to tragedy.

Those who attempt to discredit the work of these scientists and claim sexual assault is too hard to quantify do much more than mislead the public; by encouraging our country to ignore this crisis, they contribute to the problem. It’s time we come together to move beyond these harmful misinformation campaigns, acknowledge this problem and create real and effective change for the sake of our nation’s college students.

Shoot the Messenger

We were warned that our film about campus sexual assault would prompt a backlash, and as filmmakers who take on challenging subjects, we were ready. Even so, we’ve been shocked by some aggressive and deeply personal media attacks on the young women featured in our film.

As noted in a ThinkProgress rebuke of those who continue to deny that rape is a problem, some of these attacks have come have come from people with powerful platforms, and their smear campaigns have become a second trauma to survivors. Kamilah Willingham, a key subject of our film, likened it to a second assault when a few of her own professors at Harvard Law attacked her personally in the form of a public letter. But those professors went further than spreading false information, they actually launched into victim blaming her. Casey Quinlan writes in Think Progress: “The writers of the letter are also betraying two common assumptions about what make a rape or sexual assault ‘legitimate.’ They imply that the intoxicated state of the victims is related to how responsible they are for their own sexual assault, and they also imply that force is necessary to sexually assault a victim.”

Quinlan has taken a hard look at the claims of our detractors, as well as the preponderance of evidence supporting us:

Despite extensive research showing that a significant number of college students are raped on campus, some people — including political figures, journalists, and college administrators — continue to imply it’s not actually a high-priority issue or that claims are already being handled correctly.

The most prominent example of this backlash came from Emily Yoffe, who criticized Willingham’s account in Slate, saying it was simply a “spontaneous, drunken encounter,” and Stuart Taylor of The National Review. Willingham said she received the worst harassment shortly after Yoffe wrote about her.

“Some of the criticism is from people who really don’t understand the issue and who really don’t understand the experience of survivors,” Amy Ziering, the producer of The Hunting Ground, said in an interview with ThinkProgress.

Ziering and her colleagues interviewed over 100 sexual assault survivors over the course of making the film. She noted that a lot of the sexual assault survivors who were interviewed for The Hunting Ground didn’t agree to appear on camera because they “didn’t want to go through the trauma of publicly claiming this happened to them” and face the subsequent backlash.”

This article strikes a blow to the many rape deniers who have attacked our film and the survivors we feature. Read the full text here.

Survivor Victory: Erica Kinsman Wins Historic Settlement Against Florida State

Today, Erica Kinsman settled her lawsuit against FSU for $950,000 and a five-year commitment to programs that promote sexual assault awareness, transparency and prevention. FSU must report on these efforts every year for the next five years. It’s the largest settlement of its kind in U.S. history. Erica’s allegation of sexual assault by Jameis Winston is one of the centerpieces of our film and one of the reasons powerful interests like Florida State University have been trying to silence and discredit us.

This settlement is a win for survivors everywhere. Through her bravery, resilience and integrity, Erica was able to transcend her traumatic experience, stand up to FSU’s institutional betrayal and show other sexual assault survivors they no longer have to remain silent.

As the filmmakers of The Hunting Ground, we are proud to have shared Erica’s moving and courageous story, which has helped raise awareness of sexual assault on college campuses across the country. It is our hope that FSU and other schools learn from this ordeal so that other student survivors are not put through the anguish that Erica has endured.

But this is just one case of many. As a community of survivors and advocates, we must continue to bring sexual assault out of the shadows, hold accountable those responsible and end the epidemic of sexual assault on campuses across the country.

Today and everyday, Erica and other survivors deserve our support and our care.

Erica’s powerful story was seen by millions online when we posted it earlier this year and it continues to inspire supporters who #StandWithErica. Watch it below:

Announcing Til It Happens To You: Sing for Survivors

The Hunting Ground’s original theme song, “Til It Happens To You,” is a rare piece of popular music. It was created by two powerhouses in music industry: Diane Warren and Lady Gaga. It has climbed the charts. And it’s a song about surviving sexual assault.

This month, “Til It Happens To You” was nominated for an Academy Award. This is a groundbreaking platform for a song that has broken the silence about the culture of sexual assault. The buzz around this song has turned into a public discussion about how commonly women and men face sexual violence and, as a result, often experience trauma, shame, and silencing.

“Til It Happens To You” has become an anthem for survivors everywhere. It’s personal to countless individuals, some of whom even created their own versions of the song.

To elevate this song and the crisis of sexual assault even further, The Hunting Ground, in partnership with the It’s On Us campaign and ROK Mobile, is launching Til It Happens To You: Sing for Survivors, an a cappella contest in which college students are invited to record their own a cappella versions of the song to strengthen the movement and change our culture around sexual assault.

The contest is live:

By bringing together students and the music community, we will be able to engage new allies in the fight against campus sexual assault and expand the reach and scope of our collaborative advocacy efforts.

Sing a song, spread the news, and change the world.


Lady Gaga’s Oscar Nomination Propels Campus Rape Awareness

This article by The Hunting Ground filmmakers, Amy Ziering and Kirby Dick, was published by The Huffington Post on January 15, 2016:

We are thrilled that “Til It Happens To You,” The Hunting Ground‘s original song, has become the fifth song from a documentary ever to receive an Academy Award nomination.

We are grateful to Lady Gaga and Diane Warren for their inspiring and moving contribution to the film. Viewed more than 24 million times online, the song’s video debut sparked a 34 percent increase in calls to the National Sexual Assault Hotline and has become an anthem for survivors of sexual assault around the world. This recognition is about more than awards; it’s about the long overdue change it will help bring.

So, too, is The Hunting Ground.

This past year marked a major turning point in the fight against campus sexual assault. Since The Hunting Ground premiered at Sundance last January, we’ve challenged powerful institutions that have covered up the problem on their campuses for decades. Together with our partner organizations and student activists, we have started a national conversation about the culture of campus sexual assault in America and how to stop it.

Almost a million people watched the film on CNN, while more than four million people have watched The Hunting Ground online. We’ve taken our message to diverse and influential audiences to spark change — from Washington, D.C. to ESPN Headquarters and the most powerful corporate executives in the country. This outreach, along with the work of our partners, including the White House’s It’s On Us campaign with Generation Progress, has helped foster a rising tide of action to prevent sexual assault on college campuses nationwide. In 2016, Delta Airlines will continue to show It’s On Us PSAs on all flights and 6,000 radio stations across the country will play PSAs featuring “Til it Happens to You.” The Hunting Ground has also hosted events with governors and state legislatures, the Department of Education, Department of Justice and the Office of Violence Against Women.

Policymakers are listening. In 2015, dozens of state legislatures introduced bills tackling campus sexual assault. This included “Enough is Enough,” a bill in New York that was signed into law last July following The Hunting Ground screenings to the New York State legislature. As Governor Cuomo said during his State of the State Address on Wednesday: “We were right when we passed the most aggressive law stopping sexual violence on college campuses in the nation.”

At the federal level, Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Claire McCaskill introduced the Campus Accountability and Safety Act with broad, bipartisan support.

Academia is listening. There have been nearly 1,000 screenings on U.S. colleges. More than 50 schools have conducted sexual assault climate surveys, a critical first step for administrators to understand to prevent harmful trends assault on their campus, and hundreds institutions have begun reforming their policies. And as of this month, there are 197 open investigations for colleges in possible violations of the federal Title IX law.

Naturally, change does not come easy. We have been met with naysayers, including those who go so far as to attack the scientifically established statistics and the documented accounts of survivors in our film. Not surprisingly, these attacks are coming from schools whose wrongdoings the film exposed, like Florida State University and Harvard Law School, which have decided to attack the messenger rather than the problem on their campuses. Whether they want to hear it or not, the fact is that if we don’t make changes, 1-in-5 women will continue to be sexually assaulted while in college, as confirmed by multiple studies.

As filmmakers, we strive to focus on urgent, complex topics that will generate awareness and discussion. Our 2012 documentary, The Invisible War, lifted the curtain on the crisis of sexual assault in our military, spurring Congressional hearings and dozens of successful reforms. The Hunting Ground, too, has shone a light on some uncomfortable truths. And in challenging the status quo, we have exposed those powerful institutions that are the most afraid of change.

This awards season also marks a new year, and with it an opportunity to bring the conversation around sexual violence to new audiences on campuses, in the media and in the halls of Congress. We will continue to do just that in 2016, standing with and for the survivors in The Hunting Ground – including Kamilah, Erica, Annie, Andrea, Rachel and Sofie – and all those whose voices have yet to be heard. The safety of millions of young women and men depends on it.

How Harvard Law Professors Retaliated Against An Assault Survivor

The following op-ed by The Hunting Ground Filmmakers, Amy Ziering and Kirby Dick, was published by the The Huffington Post on January 5th, 2016:

We were warned.

At a public discussion following the premiere of our film The Hunting Ground, which is about sexual assault on college campuses, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) predicted: “The power on that status-quo side, you’re going to see it in response to this film… Believe me, there will be fallout.”

She was right.

Two powerful universities whose wrongdoings were exposed in the film have gone to great lengths to attack the accounts of survivors: Harvard Law, which protected an assailant who was repeatedly found to have committed assault, and Florida State University, which covered up a rape investigation of its star quarterback. Both have mounted aggressive disinformation campaigns to protect their reputations, only to be proven wrong as more facts about these schools have come to light.

Controversial subject matter is nothing new for us. We previously made the award-winning documentary The Invisible War, which lifted the curtain on the crisis of sexual assault in our military and spurred five Congressional hearings and the passage of dozens of reforms. The Pentagon, rather than attacking the film, began extensively using it as a training tool to address the problem. Many colleges and universities are doing the same with The Hunting Ground, and to date there have been nearly 1,000 screenings on college campuses.

Unfortunately, FSU and Harvard Law are outliers, attacking the messenger rather than the problem. Before the film’s broadcast debut on CNN, FSU President John Thrasher released a statement condemning both the film and CNN, claiming, “FSU does not tolerate rape. Period.” The following week, a New York Times story contradicted that claim when it reported that FSU’s former victim advocate director testified that 40 football players had been accused of either sexual assault or intimate partner violence and only one found responsible.

More recently, a group of Harvard Law professors launched a public campaign to discredit an assault survivor. In doing so, they ignored the facts of the case: Kamilah Willingham was a third-year Harvard Law student when she reported to the school that a fellow student had sexually assaulted her and a friend while they were unconscious and incapable of consent. Her assailant admitted to committing assault in both text messages and a tape-recorded interview.

Harvard Law’s Independent Fact Finder undertook an extensive three-month investigation and found Willingham to be credible and her assailant not credible, in part because he had changed his story multiple times. Harvard Law’s Administrative Board and Appeal Hearing Officer agreed, and found the accused student responsible for sexually assaulting both women while they were incapacitated, and recommended his dismissal. Then, a group of Harvard Law faculty overturned that finding and allowed the accused student to return to campus, using a secretive process that the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights later determined was biased toward the accused and violated the civil rights protections of students under Title IX. The truth is that if that process had followed OCR guidelines, the Harvard Law faculty would not have legally been able to overturn the finding.

Rather than acknowledging their involvement in this unfair process, these Harvard Law faculty have instead tried to publicly discredit Willingham, even going so far as to team up with the assailant’s defense attorney to build a biased website against Willingham. It is wrong for professors who have adjudicated a case to side with one of their former students against another in this way. These aggressive actions send a very chilling message to all current and future students at Harvard and Harvard Law: if you report a sexual assault, your professors may come after you publicly. What student would report a sexual assault if they know this might happen? Very few—and when fewer assaults are reported, rapists are free to continue to assault, and the school becomes a more dangerous place.

Students and other faculty at Harvard Law, and attorneys who specialize in campus sexual assault, have strongly and repeatedly criticized these professors. Despite this, the Harvard Law faculty continue to retaliate against Willingham. Even more troubling, in all their attacks, these Harvard Law professors have neither acknowledged that their school has a sexual assault problem, nor expressed any genuine concern for the hundreds of survivors who’ve been sexually assaulted at Harvard Law over the past decades.

Oddly, Harvard Law’s attacks on Willingham did not begin until November 11, nearly 10 months after the film premiered. But they did come just eight days after Harvard launched a $305 million fundraising campaign. The disturbing irony is that Harvard Law is doing exactly what The Hunting Ground shows universities have done for the past 50 years: discrediting survivors to protect their own reputations and funding, all at the expense of their students’ safety and well-being.

Despite the aggressive tactics of these few schools, 2015 marked an important year in the fight against campus sexual assault. Dozens of schools conducted surveys of their students, revealing how pervasive the problem is, and legislatures around the country began developing reforms. After Governor Cuomo screened The Hunting Ground twice for members of the New York State legislature, they passed the bipartisan “Enough is Enough” legislation reforming how all colleges in New York address sexual assault. Meanwhile in Congress, Senators Gillibrand (D-NY) and McCaskill (D-MO) have reintroduced the Campus Accountability and Safety Act. The bill has gained 34 cosponsors, including Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio (R-FL).

As filmmakers, it is always our goal to focus on topics that will generate awareness—and this film has achieved far more than we ever hoped. As we start the New Year, it’s on all of us to continue these critical gains in the fight against campus sexual assault—and to refuse to bend to powerful institutions that protect the status quo by shaming and silencing the courageous young women and men who are trying to change it.

Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-656-HOPE for the National Sexual Assault Hotline.

Watch: Lady Gaga’s Live Performance of “Til It Happens To You”

“Til It Happens To You,” the song written for The Hunting Ground by Diane Warren and Lady Gaga, has become an anthem for survivors of sexual assault and has made tens of millions of people aware of the crisis. The song has been nominated for several awards, including a Grammy Award nomination for Best Song Written for Visual Media and it has made the shortlist for the Academy Award for Best Song.

Lady Gaga was honored as Billboard’s 2015 Woman of the Year and during the ceremony she performed a powerful rendition of “Til It Happens To You.” Watch the video of her acceptance speech and performance.


A TimesTalks Conversation with The Hunting Ground Filmmakers, Lady Gaga & Diane Warren

On December 10, Frank Bruni of the New York Times hosted a TimeTalks Conversation with the co-writers of “Til It Happens To You,” Lady Gaga and Diane Warren, and The Hunting Ground Filmmakers, Director Kirby Dick and Executive Producer Amy Ziering. The five guests discussed surviving sexual violence and the need to change our culture of silence and shame around sexual assault.

Watch the full video of this fascinating conversation: