When Lady Gaga got a matching tattoo with the 50+ sexual assault survivors she performed with onstage at the 88th Academy Awards this past February, she hoped it would unite the men and women who had suffered at the hands of their abusers. Little did she know, the permanent ink would spark an international sexual violence campaign in Ireland, with temporary transfers of Lady Gaga’s unity tattoo handed out to students at third-level campuses around Cork city.
Lady Gaga’s performance at the Oscars included a haunting rendition of “Til It Happens to You,” a nominated song the pop star co-wrote with Diane Warren for “The Hunting Ground,” a CNN documentary that highlighted the issue of sexual assault and rape on college campuses across the United States. The Hollywood stars gathered inside the Kodak Theater were moved to tears by Gaga’s performance, which included 49 other sexual assault survivors, male and female, many of whom also got matching unity tattoos following one of the rehearsals.
The director of the Cork Sexual Violence Centre in Ireland, Mary Crilly, got permission to use the unity tattoo design from Jacqueline Lin, one of the sexual assault survivors who shared the stage with Lady Gaga at the Academy Awards. According to Lin, the tattoo is “made for and dedicated to survivors,” and the design incorporates an infinity symbol and a white rose, Lady Gaga’s favorite flower. Gaga’s tattoo was inked by David Allen, tattoo artist at the Pioneer Tattoo shop in Chicago, Illinois.
It was only after Lady Gaga performed at the Academy Awards that her fans, friends and family members realized that Gaga herself had been a victim of sexual assault, and had kept it a secret. Despite Gaga’s revelation, and despite attempts in the U.S. and other countries to more openly discuss the issue of sexual assault and rape on college campuses, Crilly says the “it couldn’t happen to me” belief still prevails among young women, many of whom don’t realize that 80% of rapes are carried out by someone they know.
In creating temporary tattoo versions of Lady Gaga’s unity ink and distributing the tats to thousands of students at UCC, St. John’s College, CIT, the College of Commerce, and Coláiste Stiofáin Naofa, Crilly hopes to “raise awareness about sexual assault, and the message we want to get out to survivors is, ‘Don’t feel isolated, there is help out there.’”