We Believe You

Lady Gaga at the Oscars

Andrew with Lady Gaga and other survivors of sexual assault on the stage of the Oscars (photo credit: Patrick T. Fallon for The New York Times)

These past two weeks have been emotional ones for our family.

It began when Andrew called us while on his way home from a singing gig about 10 days ago.  He had been asked to be on stage at the Academy Awards in Los Angeles with Lady Gaga as she sang her Oscar-nominated song “‘Till It Happens to You” from the film The Hunting Ground

A survivor of a sexual assault while a freshman in college, Andrew’s story was included in the film and in media such as the Huffington Post. Andrew has bravely stepped forward over the past few years to talk about his experience and to help others with similar experiences.  And now, he had a chance to stand with other survivors on the national stage. 

Fast forward to late last week.  Andrew had flown to LA and spent the first night with a family friend before connecting with his sister Claire (who was back in her apartment after a multi-day retreat).  We spoke with him on Friday evening and could tell by the tone of his voice that he and the other participants were part of an incredibly important healing experience. Andrew indicated that social media posts about the upcoming performance were forbidden by the producers, so when we mentioned Andrew’s journey discretely to a few friends, we always added the caveat that they couldn’t tell anyone until after Sunday evening.  We heard from him again on Saturday, after the dress rehearsal.  Our anticipation grew. And then Sunday evening we turned on the Oscars to wait for the performance.

As she entered on the red carpet, Lady Gaga mentioned that 1 in 5 young women would be sexually assaulted by the time they graduated from college.  For young men, the number is 1 in 16.  Those odds took our breath away.  However, it turns out that when we’ve talked to friends and colleagues, the percentage that have been sexually assaulted or have a family member who has been assaulted is frighteningly high. It breaks your heart.

Shortly after 11 p.m. on the east coast, Vice President Joe Biden came onstage at the Dolby Theater. We had not heard that the VP was introducing Lady Gaga’s performance, but found out later that he was the author of the Violence Against Women Act in 1994, with a long history of advocacy on issues of sexual assault.  He urged the audience to join in a crusade against sexual assault by joining the “It’s On Us” campaign.

Andrew with the VP

Andrew with Vice President Joe Biden following the Oscars

Then Lady Gaga began “‘Til It Happens to You,” pouring her pain as a survivor into the emotional performance.  Halfway through the song, Andrew and 50 other survivors emerged from the background and came to surround Gaga’s piano – each supporting the other.  The survivors had phrases written on their arms – Andrew’s was the title of this post:  “We Believe You.”

Andrew and Lady Gaga

Andrew with Lady Gaga at the Oscars

Andrew and Candice’s Facebook pages quickly filled with comments.  Almost 700 friends liked his photos and posts about the evening. To take it from here, I’m turning to Andrew’s own words.  First, from Facebook:

Yesterday was the most important moment of my healing since September 5, 2011. I’m so humbled by the openness, resilience, and radical love we have shared over three days. Thank you to Lady Gaga for her beautiful soul and breathtaking performance (she gifted the song, as did Diane Warren!). An incredible thanks to Vice President Biden and all of the passionate, deeply empathetic work he has done through the decades on empowering survivors, most notably as the original author of the Violence Against Women Act. And thank you to our fifty-one survivors, my great friends in heart and soul. I could never have had the strength without all of you. We are love, we believe you, and you are not alone.

When he returned home, a classmate from St. Albans School arranged for Andrew to speak to AOL about his experience. He described how Lady Gaga gathered the survivors together for a heartfelt prayer before heading on stage, as recounted by the AOL reporter:

“She just sort of said: ‘To the creator — whoever whatever created the universe — thank you for bringing us here, for giving us this story to tell and this message to give.’ And then after the prayer she said, ‘Gonna go out there and sing the shit out of it!’ ” Andrew Brown, a survivor featured in the performance and in “The Hunting Ground,” told AOL.

But his perspective on the weekend has remained the same as when he was included in The Hunting Ground or featured in national media such as The Huffington Post:

A weekend with Lady Gaga. Hugs from Brie Larson and Kate Winslet. Handshake from Jason Segel. Conversation with Joe Biden. Well wishes from Jared Leto, Leo DiCaprio, Alicia Vikander, Whoopi Goldberg, and Chris Rock. Truly a blessing.

But I would still give it all back. That’s always been true.

Candice and I would give anything to have kept Andrew from having to go through all the hell that he has experienced as a result of the assault. But we don’t have that option. So we love him unconditionally (as we always have). We support him the best we know how. We are proud of how he has taken an awful experience and turned it to good for others. And we marvel at his personal love and resilience.

“We Believe You” means so much more to us than just we think your story is true.  In every way possible, it means we love and support Andrew – and his wonderful sister who carried this news with Andrew well before his mother and I learned of the trauma.

Thank you, Andrew.  Thank you, Lady Gaga.  Thank you, Joe Biden. Thank you to the 50 other survivors on the stage.  We need you more than ever.

More to come…