These Are Some Of The Sexual Assault Survivors Who Stood With Lady Gaga At The Oscars

Lady Gaga’s emotional performance of “Till It Happens To You” at the Oscars hit a high note near the end, when a group of 50 sexual assault survivors walked on stage and stood defiantly as the cameras zoomed in to show they had messages written on their arms, including “Not Your Fault” and “It Happened To Me.”

The ballad was nominated for best original song at the Oscars, since it served as the theme for the campus rape documentary “The Hunting Ground.” 

Vice President Joe Biden appeared on stage Sunday to introduce Lady Gaga and ask people to take the “It’s On Us” pledge to end sexual assault and intervene in potentially dangerous situations.

“I’m asking you to join millions of Americans, including me, President Obama, the thousands of students I’ve met on college campuses, and the artists I’ve met here tonight to take the pledge,” Biden said, ”A pledge that says, ‘I will intervene in situations when consent has not or cannot be given.’ Let’s change the culture. We must change the culture, so that no abused women or man, like the survivors you will see tonight, ever feel they have to ask themselves, ‘What did I do?’ They did nothing wrong.”

Backstage, Biden took time to speak with each one of the survivors “for a really long time,” the survivors who met with him told The Huffington Post. Lady Gaga’s choreographer taught some of the survivors the dance moves to “Telephone,” they said. And actress Brie Larson, who starred in “Room,” an Oscar-nominated film about a woman imprisoned and raped, met with the survivors backstage before the performance, and later hugged each one as they left the stage. They also offered her a huge hug after she won the Oscar for best actress. 

Then best actress fave Brie Larson gets up, hugs each, every one. #Oscars

— Chris Gardner (@chrissgardner) February 29, 2016

There was clearly a lot of attention on sex abuse victims at the Oscars. In addition to Lady Gaga’s performance and Biden’s brief speech, the show included the nominations and awards for “Room,” as well as for “Spotlight,” the best picture-winning film about reporters who uncovered the child rape scandal in the Catholic Church. 

But what was less explicit Sunday was that the group of sexual assault survivors gathered for Lady Gaga’s performance was diverse, in more ways than one. It included men and women, as well as people who don’t identify as either gender; survivors from various racial backgrounds; students who attended elite schools like Harvard and those who attended state universities; and some who were first-generation students. 

Here are some of the survivors who joined Lady Gaga on stage at the Oscars:

Standing along Lady Gaga’s piano on stage were Annie Clark, Andrea Pino and Sofie Krasek, three women who were featured prominently in “The Hunting Ground” as they began to organize a group called End Rape on Campus, which they now run. The group helped spark a wave of federal complaints against colleges and universities about how they handled sexual violence cases. 

Thank you @VP for standing with survivors. Now #ItsOnUs: #Oscars #TilItHappensToYou @ItsOnUs

— End Rape on Campus (@endrapeoncampus) February 29, 2016

Ari Mostov, a survivor from the University of Southern California, actually worked on a different documentary about campus rape, called “It Happens Here.” Mostov had reported an assault to the University of Southern California’s Department of Public Safety, but said officers told her it was not a crime because her assailant didn’t orgasm.

Wagatwe Wanjuki, who currently writes for Upworthy, and who started the #SurvivorPrivilege hashtag in response to a controversial column from George Will that suggested students reported rape to gain a “coveted status” as a victim.

Andrew Brown, a survivor whose case at Brown University was previously profiled on HuffPost.

Ryan Clifford, a survivor who appeared briefly in “The Hunting Ground.”

Kamilah Willingham, who was featured prominently in “The Hunting Ground” in connection to her sexual assault case at Harvard Law School. 

Good luck to @Diane_Warren and @ladygaga tonight at the Oscars! ❤️ #tillithappenstoyou

— Kamilah Willingham (@kamily) February 28, 2016

Rose Richi, one of the women who sued the University of Connecticut for how it handled several sexual assault cases. 

Kevin Kantor, a slam poet who once performed a piece about his rapist appearing on Facebook under the “People You May Know” section. 

Nastassja Schmiedt and Lea Roth, two survivor-activists who are now engaged, and were assaulted when they were both at Dartmouth College. They’ve since started an activist group called Spring Up, and wrote a book that explores sexuality with young people, aptly titled Millennial Sex Education. They gave a copy of the book to Biden. 

Zerlina Maxwell, a survivor, writer and commentator. She made waves in 2013 when she appeared on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show and argued against the idea that arming women with handguns would prevent rape, since a majority of assaults are committed by someone the victim knows. Instead, Maxwell said, there should be more focus on teaching men not to rape. Maxwell subsequently received racially fueled death threats for speaking out against rape, according to Democracy Now(Disclosure: Maxwell has previously hosted segments on HuffPost Live.)

So inspired by this amazing group of brave survivors #oscars

— Zerlina Maxwell (@ZerlinaMaxwell) February 29, 2016

In an Instagram post on Monday, Lady Gaga thanked the survivors for standing on stage with her, writing, “Thank you for all the things you said, for listening to my story and sharing yours. I will never forget it. 50 survivors, so brave, relentless determination.” 



Tyler Kingkade covers higher education and sexual violence, and is based in New York. You can reach him at, or find him on Twitter: @tylerkingkade.


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Relying On Friendship In A World Made For Couples

By Briallen Hopper

I’ve been accused of romanticizing friendship, and it’s true, I do. I tell my friends I love you on a regular basis, I celebrate Galentine’s Day every year, and I have a Golden Girls votive candle that I like to light at night when I’m counting my blessings. I’m not ashamed to admit that my friends are my world. They are responsible for most of my everyday joy, fun, and will to live. But that doesn’t mean I think friendship is easy.

Related: 25 Famous Women on Female Friendship

Solid, lasting, intimate friendship is not effortless for anyone. But it’s particularly difficult for single people. In addition to all the usual challenges friendships face (envy, crazy-busy-ness, Hillary vs. Bernie), unpartnered people have to reckon with the reality that for us the stakes are higher. When friendships are your primary relationships, friendship isn’t just important: It’s existential.

My friend Lucy vividly conveys the stakes when she describes her practice of getting together with friends a couple times a week as a “feral prevention plan.” For people in pairs, a certain amount of socialization is automatic, but single people have to schedule frequent friend time in order to prevent what Lucy calls “the slide from solitude into loneliness,” and what I tend to experience as the slide from keeping it together to falling apart. Lucy starts to feel deprived after three days without friend time; I can only make it through one or two before I start to get antsy.

It’s difficult to organize your life around friendship in a world that’s built for couples, and it’s doubly difficult when your time with friends is seen as a fun extracurricular instead of a basic human need. As my friend Mara says: “People describe me as a social butterfly, but it’s mostly because if I don’t make plans with friends, I am literally all by myself staring at the wall in my apartment (or more likely at the TV).” TV can definitely take the edge off, which is how I ended up memorizing most of the dialogue from 30 Rock, but nothing can adequately replace the presence of people you love.

Related: The Secret to Staying Friends in Your 30s

Single women deal with their intense dependence on friendship in different ways. Some of us rely on a best friendship that’s as complicated as a love affair, or a few close friendships that are as familiar as a family. I’ve tried both, with mixed results: My passionate friendships have proven to be as combustible and doomed as any other kind of passion, and the blissful chosen-family lifestyle I loved in my 20s, which I remember as a soft-focus montage of weekly gin nights and impromptu picnics in the park, has become impossible to sustain in my 30s. These days my oldest friends and I live farther apart and spend more of our time on work and caregiving. We fit each other in between deadlines and other demands, and often make do with Facebook and phone tag. Any serious fun requires child care and/or coordinated vacation time and is scheduled two to six months in advance.

Because individual friendships are subject to distance and decay, friendship in my 30s has meant learning to roll deep. Sadie, a single friend of mine who has adopted four daughters, told me, “I could call 15 to 20 people in the middle of the night for anything, and they could call me” — and as someone who is contemplating single parenthood myself, I know that is the level of support system I’m gonna need. But it takes a mountain of effort to build and maintain 20 strong friendships, and to open yourself up to 20 friends’ worth of middle-of-the-night calls. I should know: In the past few months I’ve taken several late-night calls, and I’ve made some, too.

At times I’ve felt overwhelmed by the demands of balancing many close friendships. Once I failed to respond to a faraway friend’s email about her sick partner when I was consumed by caring for a single friend with cancer, and afterward I felt too guilty about it to pick up the thread. Another time I had to defend myself to a partnered friend who told me that caring for people with life-threatening illnesses was beyond the appropriate bounds of friendship because “that’s what lovers are supposed to do for each other.” (He failed to explain what those of us without lovers were supposed to do.) At its best, having many close friendships can feel like having an army of guardian angels ready to mobilize within minutes. At its worst, it can feel like the world’s most invisible form of emotional labor.

Related: I Feel Destined to Be Single, and That’s Okay

Because single women often put friendship at the center of our lives, it can be hard for us to be friends with people who see friendship as peripheral, as many partnered people do. A close friend once told me that her priorities were her kid, her partner, her work, her friends, in that order, like suits in a deck of cards. In her life, a kid thing would always trump a partner thing; a work thing would always trump a friend thing. This was the best way she knew of trying to impose some order on life’s complexity, but to me it seemed like a terribly reductive way to think about human relationships — plus, it was no fun to know that I would always be the lowest priority in her life. Our friendship didn’t last.

Even when both people make the relationship a priority, friendship across the lines of marital status takes work. One of my closest friends, Jean, married the love of her life the exact same month that I was dumped by the love of mine, and over the past decade our paths have continued to diverge. She’s steadily ticked off all the socially sanctioned boxes of “adulthood” — getting married, having kids, getting a “real job,” buying a house. She even wrote a book. Meanwhile, I’ve done none of these things. At times our differences have stretched us both to our limit, but our friendship has lasted because of our refusal to project the stereotypes of smug married motherhood or carefree/pathetic single childlessness onto each other. We’re both allowed to complain about our lives; we’re both allowed to revel in them. Fourteen years in, our friendship is as stable and precious as anything in my life, but we’re both aware of the ways it could become fraught. When Jean gave me Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend this Christmas, she said earnestly, “I want you to know that I’m giving this book to you because I think you’ll love it and I really want to talk to you about it! Not because the friendship in the book reminds me of us!” There’s often a thin layer of anxiety on top of the bedrock of our love.

I think it’s this layering of love and anxiety that motivates me to celebrate my friendships with such fervor: because I know they are fragile as well as durable; because I know they can survive love and loss and remain Thelma-and-Louise strong right up to the edge of death, but they can also be shattered by work stress or political disagreements or a single text that should never have been sent. At a reading recently, the novelist Hanya Yanagihara said, “Friendship is the most underrated relationship in our lives … It remains the one relation not bound by law, blood, or money — but an unspoken agreement of love.” She makes friendship sound awfully romantic, and it is, but the fact remains that it’s hard and scary to go through life knowing that your most important relationships are chronically underrated and legally nonexistent. Which is why I light my Golden Girls candle every night and invite my friends over for Galentine’s cake, and why I try not to leave my love unspoken. In a world where friendship is often difficult or invisible, I am trying to bake and write and speak and pray my friendships into the future.

More from The Cut:

Single Women Are Now Our Most Potent Political Force
25 Famous Women on the Best Advice They’ve Ever Given — or Received
The Best, Worst, and Sparkliest Oscars Looks
Walking Away From My Soul Mate Was the Best Thing I’ve Ever Done
Winning the Breakup in the Age of Instagram

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