Every day, women are subjected to sexual assault and harassment that others categorise as ‘just’ – just a squeeze, just a touch, just an accident.
And when we have our thighs surreptitiously stroked by the man sat next to us on the train, when the stranger on the dance floor grabs our hips and starts to grind, when we suspect the guy in the park just took a picture, we often don’t report it. It happens too often and it costs money and time and we’ve had a lifetime of being told that it’s nothing, it’s minor, it’s ‘just’.
But Taylor Swift has a public platform and financial means. So when a man groped her under her skirt while they posed together for a picture, she decided to use her voice – and on Monday (14 August) won her sexual assault case against former radio host David Mueller.
Speaking in a statement following the ruling, which awarded her a symbolic $1 in damages, Swift said she hoped her experience would encourage others in similar situations
After thanking her legal team “for fighting for me and anyone who feels silenced by a sexual assault”, she said: “I acknowledge the privilege that I benefit from in life, in society and in my ability to shoulder the enormous cost of defending myself in a trial like this.
“My hope is to help those whose voices should also be heard. Therefore, I will be making donations in the near future to multiple organisations that help sexual assault victims defend themselves.”
The assault took place in Denver in 2013, during a pre-show meet-and-greet event for her Red tour. As Swift posed for a picture with Mueller and his then-girlfriend, Swift said Mueller had grabbed her “bare ass cheek” under the skirt of her dress in a “devious and sneaky act” as the photographer took a picture. Mueller denied the accusation and said he had accidentally touched her arms and ribs. The jury agreed with Swift’s version of events.
Following the 2013 assault, her team contacted the radio station, KYGO, where he worked and he was fired days later. Testifying in court, KYGO manager Robert Call said he had sacked Mueller because the DJ’s account of the incident had changed and because the photo showed that Mueller’s hand was “not where it was supposed to be.”
The singer had not contacted police. However two years later Mueller launched a legal case against Swift, her mother Andrea Swift and radio promotions director Frank Bell, seeking up to $3 million (£2.3 million) for damage to his career and reputation.
Swift countersued and won the single dollar, which her lawyer, Douglas Baldridge, said was of “immeasurable” value “to all women in this situation.”
In what appeared to be endorsing the prevalent idea that some sexual assault doesn’t deserve consequences, during court proceedings Mueller’s legal team asked Swift how she felt about the fact he’d lost his job over the incident, to which she forcefully replied: “I’m not going to let you or your client make me feel in any way that this is my fault.
“Here we are years later, and I’m being blamed for the unfortunate events of his life that are the product of his decisions – not mine.”
His team also tried to suggest that Swift not stopping the meet-and-greet event indicated she was not distressed, to which she replied that she didn’t want to ruin the experience for other fans already in the room. She added that – like many other victims of assault – she was stunned by the incident, saying: “A light switched off in my personality. I just said in a monotone voice, ‘Thank you for coming.’”
The ‘freeze’ response is common in sexual assault victims – many of whom find themselves defending their reactions, clothing and time it takes to report the event – and is an involuntary, biological response to threat.
Yes, Swift’s experience lasted seconds, and yes, worse things happen, but each instance of assault leaves a person humiliated, angry, violated and upset – and contributes to a larger societal perception that women’s bodies are public property. That women’s wants, needs and comforts are not as important as men’s, that their wish not to be touched or catcalled or harassed is just not worth listening to.
If you have been subject to sexual assault, call 999 to report it to police.
If you need to report assault or harassment on public transport, British Transport Police urges victims of sexual assault to report the crime as soon as possible, by approaching a police officer or station staff, calling 0800 40 50 40 or texting 61016.
Images: Rex Features