Recently, Lady Gaga released a raw, graphic video intended to empower College and University students to speak up and report their incidences’ of sexual assault on campus. The Hunting Ground, is an emotionally unsettling documentary that illustrates the reality of sexual assault and rape that occurs on campus, and the grave impacts it can have on a person.
The first time I watched the video I had to pause it numerous times. When I saw the images and heard the song lyrics, my body instantly became cold. As goose bumps trickled down my arms, my stomach started to turn in disease; overall, I felt nauseated, dizzy and cold. The video struck a memory which unexpectedly led me to recalling my own experience of sexual assault.
In 2011, while pursuing my post-graduate studies, I was sexually harassed by my graduate school supervisor. Although I was only directly in the situation for eleven months, the weight and the effects caused by the incident lasted much longer.
The song in the documentary, which was recorded by Lady Gaga and composed by Diane Warren, is entitled Til It Happens To You (#TIHTY) and in my opinion, the lyrics details the painful truth of how a survivor of sexual assault feels after such incidents’, and reveals the emotional trauma victims are left to deal with.
Although I saw a counsellor—on a weekly basis—for nearly a year after my experience, I continued to feel worthless, unworthy, dirty, and undeserving. As happy as I may have seemed to the onlooker, years after I continued to bleed from the inside. As I detail in my testimony in the Passion Over Past book project:
“… I would unexpectedly burst into tears and found myself unable to stop. I felt bruised and beaten, though I had not been physically touched. I was constantly nauseated but had no signs or symptoms of illness. Above all, I feared everyone – always questioning my intelligence, my actions and my reason for being.”
Creating the Passion Over Past book project was not only a step toward my own healing, but I wanted to create a platform that would provide women the opportunity to openly share their experiences’ of abuse and feel a community of support and strength from other survivors, because as the lyric say, “Til it happens to you, you won’t know how it feels.”
Very few survivors report sexual assault incidents because most feel that others won’t believe them. In my case, I eventually reached a breaking point and unlike most, I got the courage to report the incident to the Director of my department; however, instead of receiving assistance, I was threatened. I was put into a room with the Dean and the Vice-Dean of my Faculty. I was already terrified and deeply concerned about coming forward and expressing the events of the last 11 months but instead of receiving support, the Dean articulated the consequences of me reporting such behaviour. He indicated that I could be expelled from the school and legally charged with defamation—saying communication of a false nature that could harm the reputation of an individual—for reporting “untrue” information about a highly regarded member of the University. The response of the University authorities led me to take action in my own way. I temporarily dropped my studies and with the assistance of an independent Human Rights Representative, I conducted a formal investigation. I spent months gathering all the necessary legal documentation in order to build a case against this Professor. In the end, my case was dismissed since the Investigator was an employee at the University— a huge conflict of interest— and at that time, I was too exhausted to explore other legal options.
Looking back, I am very proud of myself for coming forward in spite of the results. For one, the incident led me to discovering my purpose in life; I am now an empowering writer, life-coach and motivation speaker who assists others to Live PASSIONately OVER their PAST Experiences (#PassionOverPast).
Through this incident, I’ve come to recognize where there is forgiveness there is a chance for peace. While I’m grateful where this journey has led me, I do believe we should not shy away from such a serious issue. After conducting my investigation, and connecting with former graduate students who were also supervised by this Professor, I learned that I was just one of his many victims. While I have chosen to take the emotional impact I faced from this experience and invest that energy into a positive project, ie. the Passion Over Past book, in the coming months I plan to return to the Source of the incident because I believe this Professor is capable of change.
For those currently dealing with the impacts and effects of sexual assault, know that YOU ARE NOT ALONE. I advise you to contact the Ombudsperson at your institution, student council representatives, school counsellors or the campus police for assistance.
You are worthy. You are deserving. You are NOT your experiences.
For those interested, I have attached the video below. A raw take on a serious issue, I warn that it may be emotionally unsettling for some.
Laska is a Canadian Writer currently living in Nepal. For details about her book project “Passion Over Past: Transforming the world together, one testimony at a time”, check out the BOOKS page on her website. Additionally, Laska invites you to join the movement of those choosing to Live PASSIONately OVER their PAST Experiences by hashtagging #PassionOverPast via Instagram, Twitter, Facebook.