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"Till it Happens to You"

Mar 02, 2016

090220-oscar-statue-02.jpgSunday night was a night for survivors. Between the film “Spotlight” winning the best picture Oscar and Lady Gaga’s heartbreakingly beautiful and moving performance of, “Till it happens to You,” the focus was on survivors of sexual abuse—in a strong and honoring way.

Lady Gaga’s song was not just a musical performance, it was a clear depiction of each individual survivor’s unique and agonizing struggle in the wake of sexual assault which came straight from her own heart and experience. It’s impossible to know what was more chillingly impactful—was it Lady Gaga’s tearful and heartfelt singing, or was it the individual survivors who slowly walked out of the shadows and onto the stage to stand with dignity and strength? I am certain that I was not alone in feeling the waves of sorrow wash through me as I witnessed this beautiful tribute to every man and woman who has born the pain and the shame of sexual abuse.

The movie “Spotlight’s” telling of the story of the Boston Globe’s investigation into the depths of the Catholic Church’s cover up of the clergy abuse scandal is not less poignant and truthful. Not only is the story told well enough to earn an Oscar, it is faithful to the story itself and to the thousands of survivors whose lives are represented in this film. The investigation took place because of the courageous persistence of a handful of individuals who had been abused by Catholic priests in the Boston area.

And that is the point. Sexual abuse is not an issue or a story or a terrible event. It is an act of violence and violation that happens to individuals. For each story of sexual abuse or assault, there is a life that is changed forever. Whether the act of abuse happens to a child too young and frightened to speak up, or an adult who is too traumatized and shamed to tell, each and every one of these innocent human beings bears an unbearable burden.

As the sexual abuse of one individual, be they a child or adult, profoundly affects that individual’s life, safety will only come as each individual opens their minds and hearts to the reality of sexual abuse. In his introduction to Lady Gaga’s song on Sunday evening, Vice President Joe Biden spoke of the need to disempower the culture of sexual assault in which sexual violence is tolerated and asked individuals to “intervene in situations when consent has not or cannot be given.” Vice President Biden’s message was clear, “changing the culture of sexual abuse is everyone’s responsibility.”

It is my deepest hope that this one night of focus on survivors will bring about lasting change. The bright lights will fade, but the lasting imprint of sexual abuse will not. Let each one of us commit to becoming a part of the generation that dares to speak up and bring the reality of sexual abuse out of the shadows and into the light of healing.

~Janice Palm, MA, LMHC