Here's What Made Vice President Joe Biden's Oscars Speech On Sexual Assault So Powerful

Photo: REX/Shutterstock.
Vice President Joe Biden made a surprise speech at the Oscars last night to introduce Lady Gaga's performance of "Til It Happens to You," the Oscar-nominated song the artist co-wrote for The Hunting Ground, a documentary on campus sexual assault. After charming attending celebrities and the 34 million normals watching the ceremony with a self-deprecating intro — "No, no, no, no, no... I'm the least qualified man here tonight," Biden insisted as he tried to quiet the crowd — our veep launched into a brief but powerful statement on sexual assault.

"Despite significant progress over the last few years, too many women and men on and off college campuses are still victims of sexual abuse," he began, "and tonight, I’m asking you to join millions of Americans…to take the pledge: a pledge that says that I will intervene in situations when consent has not or cannot be given. Let's change the culture."

Biden continued, "We must and we can change the culture so that no abused woman or man like the survivors that you see tonight will have to ask themselves, 'What did I do?' They did nothing wrong. Take the pledge at ItsOnUs.org."

In a few sentences, Biden made clear that every one of us bears the responsibility — and possesses the power — to dismantle American rape culture, in which sexual violence is pervasive and normalized. Sexual assault is an epidemic in this country: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that one in five women and one in 71 men will be raped in his or her lifetime, while the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network reports that every 107 seconds, another American is sexually assaulted.

Largely due to the stigma attached to experiencing abuse, though, 68% of sexual assaults aren't reported to the police. All too often, sexual assault seems like someone else's problem, and statements like these are common: "I would never rape someone; no one I know would, either; I don't even know anyone who's been raped."

Guess what? You do know someone who has been sexually assaulted, and you probably also know someone who has done the assaulting. And whether or not you have committed or could commit or will commit assault, you're responsible for reversing the normalization of sexual violence — whether that means physically preventing a rape from taking place or questioning a buddy's "harmless" rape jokes.

We can't stop rape without destroying rape culture — and everyone has a role to play in doing so. No one is exempt from Biden's call to action; to stem the national tide of sexual violence, no one can be.
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