Image from www.latimes.com
Content warning: discusses sexual assault
As I’m sure you are aware Taylor Swift has recently been involved in a sexual assault court case with former radio DJ David Mueller. Just like in almost every sexual assault court case before this, the offender’s attorney attempted to shame, blame and belittle the victim. But -Taylor was having none of it.
If you’re not up to speed with the deets, here they are:
David Mueller groped Taylor Swift in a meet and greet photo shoot before a concert in 2013. At the time he was 51 and she was 23. Reluctant to disappoint her fans, Swift continued the event after the incident. And not wanting this moment to define her life, she chose not to seek legal action, instead Taylor informed the man’s employer of the assault. Mueller was subsequently fired, prompting him to sue Swift for $3 million for his “ruined career”. Boss lady Taylor counter-sued for sexual assault seeking a total of $1, (Yes $1). Spoiler: she won.
GIF from www.giphy.com
This may seem like an obvious outcome, but if you consider the long history of legal systems continuously failing survivors of sexual assault, it’s an important result. Time and time again, we see abusers get away with a light sentence despite committing serious crimes (i.e: Brock Turner). On the other side, there is a long list of victims who are re-traumatised in the courtroom, or not even making it to the courtroom at all for fear of not being believed; a fear that is completely valid and understandable when you consider the history.
The Swift vs. Mueller case has the potential to give power back to people who have been abused.
Here are five important things to take away from the Swift vs. Mueller case:
1. Swift was confident and direct when talking about the assault.
As is common in sexual assault cases, the perpetrator’s lawyers attempted to fault Swift’s story with assumptions, accusations and victim blaming. Swift refused the be swayed by these tactics and kept bringing the case back to this simple fact; Mueller assaulted her.
When Mueller’s attorney, Gabriel McFarland, suggested that it was an accidental and brief encounter Swift insisted that, “It was a definite grab. A very long grab”. When he asked why the front of her skirt wasn’t ruffled or showing visible evidence of groping in the photo taken during the alleged assault, Swift replied, “Because my ass is located on the back of my body”. And when Farland suggested that maybe it wasn’t Mueller who assaulted her, Swift confidently stated “He had a handful of my ass. I know it was him”, shattering any doubt.
2. The sadly relatable nature of the assault and the events that followed.
Mueller’s attorney questioned Swift about her immediate reaction to the assault and why she did not report the occurrence, or stop the event or appear visibly upset. To which she replied, “After this happened, a light switched off in my personality…I just said in a monotone voice, ‘Thank you for coming.’” The attorney attempted to use this information as a way to discredit Swift’s story, failing to realise that this is actually quite a common and natural reaction to sexual assault.
During the court case McFarland questioned whether Swift’s smiling face in the photo looks like “the face of someone who’s in shock, who is upset?”. No, she remained composed and professional and continued with the task at hand, being the successful business woman that she is. Had she stopped working, or confronted Mueller she most likely would have been told to “calm down”, that “it was just a joke” and to “stop being hysterical”.
GIF from www.tumblr.com
3. The gendered nature of Swift and Mueller’s contrasting reactions.
Swift’s response to the attack was a common one. But it’s worth noting why this is so. She did not want to make a scene or cause a fuss. She was polite. Though she experienced shock, discomfort and probably simmering rage, she reformed to society’s expectation of women. When Swift’s mother Andrea was on the stand she said something that will resonate with women everywhere; “[it] made me, as a parent, question why I taught her to be so polite.” We are conditioned to smooth over tensions, be the diplomat and not cause a fuss, for fear of being called ‘hysterical’ or ‘difficult’. This is not only in work situations, but also in our interactions with strangers on the street and with people in our extended social network. This is not a criticism of Swift’s response to the assault, but rather of the patriarchal system that makes this response so common.
Mueller’s response to the events that followed the attack was also very typical of men in this position; “why am I being punished? I should be allowed to grope whoever I want without consequence!” (disclaimer: not his exact words but may as well have been). The judge ruled that his firing was not a direct result of Swift’s complaint to Mueller’s management, but rather of his own actions. Men need to understand that their actions have real consequences, and workplaces should not tolerate it. In Australia there was a similar case occurring online, when Clem Ford contacted the employer of a man who harassed her online. He was consequently fired before crying “waah why me?!”. Any form of harassment or abuse (whether online, inappropriate touching, or worse) should not be tolerated by any workplace or anywhere for that matter.
GIF from www.danysalternate.tumblr.com
4. Swift refused to be blamed for Mueller’s mistakes.
When Mueller’s legal team tried to make Swift feel guilty for his job loss, she replied “I am not going to allow your client to make me feel like it is anyway my fault because it isn’t.” This is one of the most powerful quotes to come out of the whole case. So often the vulnerability of victims is taken advantage of and the shame is turned into guilt. Swift refused to be victim-blamed.
Swift is not only adamant that she is not to blame for Mueller’s firing, but that he is 100% to blame for the assault and he should pay the consequences. When Mueller’s attorney tried to switch the blame onto anyone but Mueller by asking if Swift was critical of her bodyguards for not stepping in, she replied, “I’m critical of your client sticking his hand under my skirt and grabbing my ass.” By plainly stating what happened (again and again) there is little room for vagueness and shifting of blame.
5. The hope it raises for other victims of assault.
It must be noted, and Swift acknowledged this herself, that she is in a unique position of privilege; being a famous, white, straight, wealthy woman who can afford to pay for these legal proceedings. But the way she held her ground in court was moving. This was a first for sexual assault cases and we can all take inspiration from it. Swift released a statement saying after the trial; “My hope is to help those whose voices should also be heard.” She was not doing this for attention (she’s got plenty already) or money, as her lawyer stated she was only seeking “a single symbolic dollar, the value of which is immeasurable to all women in this situation”.
To all the victims of sexual harassment, abuse and assault out there: we believe you. You matter. You’re not alone.
For more information about sexual assault click here.
If this post was triggering or upsetting click here for support services.
Maddy regularly writes for Rosie, and is passionate about music, history, art and gender equality.