By: Kirat Sandhu former ItsOnUs Student Advisory Committee.
On June 14, the White House will convene people from around the world for the United State of Women, a large-scale effort to both celebrate how far women and girls have come and highlight all that still remains to be done. This post is part of a series leading up to the event that will discuss the challenges that remain ahead of us — and what we can do to overcome them. Visit here for more.
In recent years, there has been a significant increase in news coverage and activism regarding sexual assault, and more importantly, sexual assault prevention. What was once considered an unspeakable and shameful thing to discuss, even behind closed doors, has now become a mass movement across the nation, with campaigns like It’s On Us at the forefront.
It’s On Us aims to fundamentally change the way college campuses think about sexual assault. This past year, I had the privilege of being a part of the campaign’s inaugural Student Advisory Committee — a group of students at various college and high school campuses across the country, all dedicated to ending sexual assault. In this rape culture in which we live, especially prevalent on college campuses, people are so prone to disregard stories of sexual violence as fictitious — but stop and think for a second about what incentive anyone would have to speak out and identify as a survivor. It’s not glamorous to have people pity you and doubt you; to have people trivialize and stigmatize your lived reality. Trust me, I know.
In February of this year, I had the opportunity of a lifetime to stand on stage with Lady Gaga and 50 other survivor-activists at the Oscars 88th Academy Awards. Lady Gaga performed her nominated song “Til It Happens to You,” and I stood on that stage with her in solidarity, defiance, and a renewed call to action for the world. People never wanted to hear my story until I went to the Oscars, and I don’t resent that they want to listen to it now, but it just reminds me that there are thousands of other survivors whose stories have never gotten that chance. It is up to each and every one of us to make sure that these stories are heard, and more importantly, that by hearing them, we are learning from them. That we are building a culture where these kinds of things never have the chance to happen again.
Kirat Sandhu (far left) joined by Lady Gaga and other survivors of sexual violence after the Oscars performance.
Sexual violence is not inevitable, it’s not something that must remain an unfortunate but expected reality, it’s not “boys will be boys” and “she was asking for it.” Sexual violence is complex and it affects so many different types of people. My hope for our generation is that we stop waiting for the horrific statistics to come in and start taking action sooner.
So don’t pity survivors of sexual assault, don’t tell us you can’t imagine what it must be like. Instead, take what voice you have and use it. Use that voice because I want a world where I don’t have to explain to people why the It’s On Us campaign and others like it are necessary. I want a world where survivors do not have to ask themselves what they did wrong because the fact of the matter is that we did absolutely nothing wrong. I want a world where gender-based violence is not considered an inevitable part of life, disproportionately so for women.
I also write today for all the young women of color who have been taught to bear the weight of our stories silently, as if we have no value. I write to say that every voice matters in this fight. That is why it is so important that this issue will be discussed head on at the United State of Women Summit. The movement is growing, our voices are rising, and the time for change is now. Join us as we continue fighting for a world free of sexual violence.
You can join us too, on June 14th. Tune in to watch the day’s events at https://www.theunitedstateofwomen.org/livestream, or raise your voice on social media about the issues that mean most to you using #StateofWomen.
This story is a guest blog by It’s On Us Student Advisory Committee Member Kirat Sandhu, a recent graduate of Indiana University — Purdue University Indianapolis. Kirat is a proud second-generation Punjabi-American. She is passionate about addressing root causes and utilizing feminist methodologies to end gender-based violence.
The views and opinions expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the White House and the White House does not endorse all content herein. Nothing in this post shall constitute an endorsement of any products, companies, or organizations.