Robbie Woodsum of Portland stood on stage at the Oscars Sunday night, in front of an estimated 34 million TV viewers and a crowd of Hollywood elite, to put a face to the problem of sexual assault.

Woodsum, 26, was among 50 survivors of campus sexual assault who stood on stage at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood while pop star Lady Gaga performed her Oscar-nominated song “Til It Happens to You.” Gaga wrote the song with Diane Warren for the film “The Hunting Ground,” a documentary about the pervasiveness of sexual assaults on American college campuses.

Woodsum said Monday he felt “triumphant” in the moment but also “terrified.”

“The whole world was watching, and I was one of many sharing our most vulnerable moment. I was in awe of the audience. It’s not every day you get a standing ovation from so many influential people,” Woodsum wrote in an e-mail Monday, while flying back from Los Angeles. “I cried, but I’m OK with that. It was emotional, powerful, and triumphant for all of us.”

Robbie Woodsum with Lady Gaga after her performance at the Oscar ceremony Sunday night. Photo courtesy WCSH

Robbie Woodsum with Lady Gaga after her performance at the Oscar ceremony Sunday night. Photo courtesy WCSH-TV

Woodsum and others on stage Sunday were previously interviewed about their assaults for “The Hunting Ground.” He talks in the movie about how “it’s different as a man” to be a victim of sexual assault, how people are less used to hearing of men as assault victims. He said the interview in the film was more about his survival afterwards, and not the attack itself. Woodsum said he was date-raped while a student at George Mason University in Virginia, when he was 21.

There was no prosecution, but Woodsum said the university’s sexual assault center “saved my life.”

“They made sure I had proper medical attention and offered counseling. When I failed my classes, they reached out to my professors to give me another chance. They even paid for my therapist,” Woodsum said in his e-mail.

Gradually he told others of the assault. He hates sympathy but appreciates support and love. He said he hasn’t “come to grips” with the assault and is not sure he ever will.

At the Oscars Sunday, Lady Gaga was first seen on stage alone, dressed in white, playing and singing at a white piano with darkness all around. About halfway through the song, a lighted door frame appeared behind her and the survivors started to walk through it. They all stood around her and her piano, raising their arms to show messages written on them. Woodsum, who was in the front row wearing glasses and a gray shirt, had “It happened to me” as his message.

Woodsum said, when he first met Lady Gaga at a rehearsal Friday, she hugged him and they both cried. Woodsum said Lady Gaga thanked the survivors for their courage. He said she talked to them minutes before the performance, reminding them that the performance was not about fame or attention, but about “using our creativity” to enact a change toward sexual assault.

The performance got a standing ovation from the crowd, including many who shed tears, but did not win in the best original song category. That honor went to Sam Smith’s “Writing’s On the Wall” from the James Bond film “Spectre.”

Woodsum, who works for a construction management company and is studying for an master’s in business administration, said he hopes that what he and other survivors did Sunday night will give other victims the courage to share their stories.

“We were just 50 faces, but there are countless others,” Woodsum said.


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