What We Can Learn From Taylor Swift’s Assault Trial

Yesterday, Taylor Swift won her case against DJ Davie Mueller, who she accused of groping her during a meet-and-greet back in June 2013. For the last week, the singer had testified against the man who, on top of grabbing her ass, claimed he’d been fired from his job at the Denver-based radio station 98.5 KYGO and filed a countersuit accordingly. (That case was thrown out on August 11, by the way, for insufficient evidence.)

“I want to thank Judge William J. Martinez and the jury for their careful consideration, my attorneys Doug Baldridge, Danielle Foley, Jay Schaudies, and Katie Wright for fighting for me and anyone who feels silenced by sexual assault, and especially anyone who offered their support through this four-year ordeal and two-year long trial process,” Swift said in a statement to Us Weekly. “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,” she continued. “Therefore, I will be making donations in the near future to multiple organizations that help sexual assault victims defend themselves.”

Which is, on all counts, a good statement to make. It is good that Taylor Swift intends to donate to organizations that will help bring justice for sexual assault victims. It is good that Taylor Swift has recognized the privilege she lives with and can use to bring a case like this to trial. It is good that the $1 she was awarded was symbolic; that it and the trial existed to take a stand for “all women.” All of this is good. Even if you are not a big fan of Taylor Swift (and lord knows I have certainly written about a million words on why I am not), this process mattered. Because if being awarded a fucking dollar takes this much work for one of the most powerful people in music, guess what it’s like for everybody else.

Spoiler alert: it’s shit for everyone else. As evidenced by Kesha’s three years in court (or by men like Jian Ghomeshi or Brock Turner or the Steubenville rapists, or, or, or) the system is rigged for the accused to benefit. We’ve watched as victims of sexual assault have had their sexual pasts or clothing choices or number of drinks consumed paraded in front of judges and juries, displayed as though any of the above justified being violated by some dude who believes that because he can, he should (and it will all be fine). We’ve all been on the receiving end of harassment and assault ourselves, stopped dead in our tracks while as it’s happening we question whether it’s really happening, whether it’s actually really fucking happening right now in this minute, and holy shit, why aren’t we saying or doing the things we always thought we would be when it happened. We have all felt powerless and then gone back to revisit everything we said and did, wondering whether or not any of it constituted as consent. And then we wonder what to do next, with many of us thinking, “Ugh, fuck it” because the idea of our lives being uncovered and paraded and dissected as a means to undermine what we know happened to us is exhausting and terrifying and all-consuming and, and, and. I don’t know a single woman, including myself, who hasn’t been harassed or groped or accosted or worse. And I know very few who’ve taken anyone to trial because it’s a fucking nightmare.

The thing is, even as women, we can still stoke the fire. We can — and do — form our own biases. When Taylor Swift’s trial was covered last week, I paused for a long-ass minute to wonder why she would even bother doing any of it; why, as a famous multi-billionaire, she would go after a DJ who groped her — an act I know a lot of us became accustomed to the same age we morphed into “women,” courtesy of boys who said they were friends, or guys at clubs showing their appreciation for the way our bodies looked in skirts and dresses, or complete strangers. I remember thinking a grope is a grope, what did it matter, what was the point, why not just slap him hard across the face the way I watched my best friend did to a guy in a club one night. (It was magnificent.)

Because that’s the norm. Because we don’t go through the process, we don’t want to relive it, remember it, drudge it back up again. Because we know how it turns out. Because we’ve seen too many offenders get off — literally and figuratively — and bask in their male privilege. Because Taylor Swift has the means to take some DJ to trial because he violated her body, and has made an example of him: touch us without our consent, and we’ll come after you.

And when it comes to this shit, every person, every case, and every $1 settlement is a small step. Taylor Swift didn’t single-handedly change the justice system, and she certainly didn’t fix rape culture, but she used her profile to draw attention to the realities that dictate the way assault trials tend to evolve. And if that meant a few more people sat up and thought, “Wow, the defence’s line of questioning seems unreasonable,” welcome to the party. This has been the norm since the judicial system came into play, we’ve just got a celebrity finally drawing a little more attention to it.

You still don’t need to be a Taylor Swift fan. (I mean, obviously not. I don’t care who you do, and do not, like or listen to.) But if you have privilege like she does, this is the shit you use it for. Let’s just hope that going forward, she begins extending hers to situations and circumstances outside of her own point of reference. Especially now. I don’t think I’m the only one who remembers her lack of voice in the wake of the 2016 Presidential election.

But that’s a conversation for another day.



Tags: Anne T. Donahue, topstory

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