We’ve always been able to count on Taylor Swift to keep things reasonably family-friendly. While other singers have mounted wrecking balls and worn leather bondage suits, Taylor just has that good girl, classic thing that so many people adore. But in early August, Swift uttered a phrase that no one ever expected to hear: “He grabbed my bare ass.” This break in character was, of course, with good reason: she was defending herself in court against David Mueller, former KYGO radio show host who was suing for false accusation.
Mueller met Swift at a meet and greet before a 2013 concert in Denver. He and his girlfriend posed for a picture with the singer, but according to Taylor, right before it was taken, he reached up her skirt to grab her behind. Swift, 23 at the time, and her mother, reported the incident to the radio station. Soon after, Mueller was dismissed from his job. In 2015, he sued Swift for falsely accusing him of groping her, and subsequently ruining his career. In response, Taylor countersued Mueller for assault and battery. However, while Mueller sued Swift for $3 million in damages, Swift only asked for a single dollar (which she won). She stated that her intention was not to bankrupt Mueller, but to prove an important point for women.
There have been many sexual assault cases in the news lately, including that of Brock Turner, the Stanford swimmer, last summer. Despite sexually assaulting an unconscious woman, he served only three months behind bars. One key theme in these cases is that the defense often tries to question the authority of the victim. Usually, this is done by asking about what the person was wearing, or if they had been drinking. Mueller’s lawyer, Gabe McFarland, tried to the same tactic with Swift, but she did not crack.
McFarland stated that if she was really traumatized during the encounter, Swift could have immediately stopped the meet and greet. She fired back, “your client could have taken a normal photo with me”, and that she didn’t want to disappoint her fans. McFarland also asked Taylor if she had any feelings about Mueller losing his job, apparently trying to make her feel bad about the toll it had taken on him and his family. Her response was one of the most powerful statements of the trial: “”I’m not going to let you or your client make me feel in any way that this is my fault…I’m being blamed for the unfortunate events of his life that are the product of his decisions—not mine.”
The blunt and direct way that Swift responded to these questions is what made this case truly remarkable, and the hope is that it will set a precedent for future cases. Her ability to talk this way comes, of course, from being one of the most powerful celebrities in the world. But it also stems from her strong desire to change the narrative of how sexual assault cases are handled.
Yet, not everyone can answer with that much confidence. Swift acknowledged this fact, saying that her privilege allowed her case to be heard, funded, and won. However, she made clear that with this case, her “hope is to help those whose voices should also be heard”, and she has pledged to make a donation an organization that helps survivors of sexual assault.
Despite her privilege, the fact that someone of her status was still fearful that she would not win, despite having an incredible legal team, should not be overlooked. No matter how rich and famous you are, being a woman still sets you at a disadvantage in circumstances like this.
Although I feel terrible admitting it, when I first heard about the case, I was skeptical. I consider myself a Swiftie, but I also know that Taylor has a history of public feuds with other celebrities which get her a lot of media attention. I started to wonder if this trial was simply another case of a celebrity overreacting. But then, I realized the thought process I had was reminiscent of how society reacts to nearly every woman who speaks out about her sexual assault. It is assumed that women are asking for attention, or in search of money. What they don’t realize is how painful it is for people to repeatedly, publicly, speak about their assault, and that they certainly wouldn’t do it if they felt they had any other options. There is no doubt in my mind that Taylor became involved in this case because she wanted “to show women…you can say no”.
As college women, this is a particularly important message. Universities as a whole don’t have a great history of helping students in cases of rape or sexual assault – as shown in the documentary The Hunting Ground. According to a companion piece to the documentary, the statistic that one in five college women experience sexual assault is still accurate.
We are lucky enough to attend a school that is working hard to lower those statistics, though. Last year, Denison’s campus took the It’s On Us pledge to change the way we think and talk about sexual assault. We also have the SHARE program, which is a network of confidential advocates available to support survivors and provide information.
Taylor’s win is no doubt a step in the right direction, and it has given many people hope. However, it’s important to remember the people who she was fighting for with her lawsuit. There is still much work to do when it comes to cases of sexual assault in the United States, and around the world.