Joe Biden, Lady Gaga tour aims to stop sexual assaults on campus

Lady Gaga and Joe Biden have a mutual interest in preventing sexual assault and rape on US college campuses. They are touring together to bring the White House's "It's on Us" initiative. 

Jeremy Papasso/AP
University of Colorado students take cell phone photographs of Vice President Joe Biden after his speech about sexual violence on campus as part of the "It's On Us" campaign on Friday at the University of Colorado campus in Boulder, Colo.

In any other circumstances, Vice President Joe Biden and pop singer Lady Gaga would make an unlikely pair. During the “It’s On Us” tour to end sexual violence, it could be argued that the two complement each other perfectly.

The two are touring the country, speaking at college campuses about sexual violence and the White House’s “It’s On Us” campaign to discuss the causes of rape and assault. The campaign aims to address student apathy and cultural and gender norms on campus that are seen as contributing to the problem. 

Mr. Biden first introduced Lady Gaga at this year’s Oscar ceremony, where she performed surrounded by sexual assault survivors. The singer and songwriter has spoken about her own past experiences with sexual assault before.

"Imagine the courage it takes for her to speak out and then imagine the courage it takes for her to sing a song, 'Til It Happens to You,'” said Biden, introducing Lady Gaga at the University of Las Vegas, Nevada, “that is branded in her heart,” the Associated Press reported.

Biden has been involved in the fight against sexual violence since he wrote the Violence Against Women Act, 22 years ago. In November 2015, he wrote a moving opinion piece on sexual assault for the “It’s On Us” campaign, which appears on the White House website.

Biden spoke to the need to stop asking the wrong questions about what a victim did that caused rape or assault to happen, but rather ask questions about what makes perpetrators think that rape is ok.

“We have to ask the right questions – What made him think that he could do what he did without my consent? Why on Earth did no one stop him instead of standing by? What can we do to make sure everyone has the courage,” wrote Biden, “to speak up, intervene, prevent and end sexual assault once and for all?”

Several colleges and universities also printed Biden’s piece in their campus newspapers. 

At Thursday’s event in Las Vegas, Biden spoke for forty minutes about the problems surrounding sexual assault.

After Biden’s talk, Lady Gaga performed ‘Til it Happens to You.” The two have spoken and performed together at three campuses this week, as part of the “It’s On Us” Week of Action, including the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Colorado, Boulder.

At every appearance, Biden asks attending students to make a pledge to be active in the fight against sexual violence. As of November, over 250,000 students had taken the pledge. The “It’s On Us” website features videos by celebrities like Jon Hamm who have also taken the pledge. The campaign says that more than 300 campuses have hosted over 1,000 "It’s On Us" events.

What can students do? Biden writes:

  • To intervene instead of being a bystander.
  • To recognize that any time consent is not – or cannot – be given, it is sexual assault and it is a crime.
  • To do everything you can to create an environment where sexual assault is unacceptable, and all survivors are supported.

Has the “It’s On Us” campaign made a difference? It may be too early to tell. Critics of the program say that although it has garnered many celebrity sponsors, it has done little to generate real dialogue.

Biden and Lady Gaga are making the rounds to college campuses as campus rape cases continue to abound. On Friday, former Vanderbilt football player Corey Batey was found guilty of raping an unconscious student on the university’s campus.  

The victim says that while she does not remember the rape, she does remember waking up confused in an unknown room. She was dating another football player, Brandon Vandenberg, at the time. Vandenberg was also accused of rape.

According to the Associated Press, this case is unusual in that it features film and photograph evidence of the crime generated by the perpetrators.

The AP also noted that this trial "once again raised questions about bystanders in campus sexual assaults. At least five student athletes saw the unconscious woman in a state of distress but did not call for help, including several who testified that they saw her lying partially nude in a dorm hallway."

The Christian Science Monitor reported that new research shows that "women who experienced incapacitated rape before college were six times more likely to experience that again in college and four times more likely to be forcibly raped than women who had not been previously raped while incapacitated."

Colleges have been criticized, for instance, for focusing too much effort on teaching young women to avoid certain situations at parties.

“We need to really reframe how we think about risk reduction ... and focus more on who are the perpetrators and why are they ‘seizing the opportunity’ of vulnerable populations,” says Jane Stapleton, co-director of UNH’s Prevention Innovations: Research and Practices for Ending Violence Against Women.

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