Taylor Swift: DON’T ‘Shake It Off’

A Single Dollar

A single dollar was awarded to Taylor Swift in a recent legal case. While that might not sound like much in terms of a victory, that dollar was worth so more than its monetary value. But why?

In December of 2013, before performing in Denver, Taylor Swift attended a promotional photoshoot—a local meet and greet with her fans. David Mueller, a local radio personality, attended the promotion and appeared in pictures with Taylor Swift. During these photographs, Mueller slid his hand under Taylor Swift’s skirt and grabbed her butt.

The next day, Taylor Swift’s agent contacted the radio station filing a complaint; the complaint contained the photographs and Taylor’s account of the sexual assault. After a short investigation of the allegation, the radio station fired David Mueller. Two years later in 2015, Mueller sued Taylor Swift for $3 million dollars in lost wages. Taylor’s response?

She countersued him… for a single dollar. She alleged that David Mueller sexually assaulted her by groping her during the photoshoot, and she sued for the total damages of one, single dollar. It was never about the money; it was always about something more. And, she won.

The court dismissed David Mueller’s case against her, and the court ruled in Taylor Swift’s favor.

If Only It Didn’t Have to be Taylor Swift

We should admire Taylor Swift for the way she handled this court case, but we shouldn’t feel comfortable with a world of systems and assumptions which require the victim to explain why they ‘ruined’ someone’s life. And, we shouldn’t feel comfortable with the fact that it took someone with popstar status and money to overcome victim shaming.

After the case, Mueller commented that he is planning on paying the settlement with a Sacagawea dollar, because: “I mean this is all about women’s rights… it’s a little poke at them, a little bit. I mean I think they made this into a publicity stunt, and this is my life.” Mueller’s comment—while certainly abrasive—is partially right: this is his life. BUT, his comment misses a more important problem: this is also Taylor’s life, and this was Taylor’s body.

The court transcripts and public comments are disturbing to read, because the burden of proof seemed to rest upon Taylor Swift. She had to present a case demonstrating that she was in fact sexually assaulted—evidence, witnesses, testimony, and cross-examination required just to explain that she was the victim. Taylor’s mother was called to testify about Taylor’s comments and demeanor on the evening she was groped. Taylor Swift’s bodyguard was also called to testify. He affirmed her story: “I know I saw… a violation of her body.”

Taylor herself had to testify, and when Mueller’s attorney attempted to imply that the grope might have been an “accidental brush” perhaps of her “ribs,” Taylor responded sharply:

“He did not touch my ribs. He did not touch my arm. He did not touch my hand. He grabbed my bare ass.”

“Right as the moment came for us to pose for the photo, he took his hand and put it up my dress and grabbed onto my ass cheek, and no matter how much I scooted over, it was still there. It was completely intentional… It was definitely a grab. A very long grab.”

At one point during the trial, she produced a photograph which clearly shows Mueller’s hand below her waist. Then—because it does not show Mueller explicitly gripping her—the attorney accused her of lying about the photograph. Taylor responded, “The only person who would have a direct eye line is someone laying underneath my skirt, and we did not have anyone positioned there.”

It sounds disrespectful for someone on the witness stand to include sarcasm or to say the word “ass” so many times, until the reality settles in: Why is she the one on trial? Wasn’t she the victim?

***

Taylor Swift endured a shaming which is all too common for women and victims of sexual assault. Though she was the victim, she was painted as the person responsible for Mueller’s financial problems. Taylor responded courageously to this, and she even succinctly captured the hypocrisy of the situation: “I’m being blamed for the unfortunate events of his life that are a product of his decisions. Not mine.”

Taylor Swift has the advantage of being a successful singer and performer, and she recognizes that position:

“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.”

This entire incident and trial should lead us to admire Taylor Swift for being so brave, but it should also accuse us: Why did it have to be Taylor Swift? What about all the other victims of sexual assault?  What about those women and assault victims who don’t have the resources for a legal defense or prosecution? What about those victims who experience shaming? What happens to them?

DON’T “Shake It Off”

Taylor Swift didn’t “shake it off” like the lyrics of her famous song. She stood up for what she believed, and bravely fought not simply to win but to make a difference. She won a single dollar, but Taylor exposed the way victims are treated—which is worth so much more for future victims. She did not accept the shame they tried to put on her, and her sharp responses only shamed them for their callousness. As her attorney claimed: “that dollar, that single dollar, is of immeasurable value in this ever-going fight to figure out where the lines are, what’s right and what’s wrong.”

The next step falls on us to not shake off the power of that single dollar, or the power of her stand and fight. It is up to us to be bothered by these sort of occurrences. It is up to us to assist those around us by creating a world in which a victim of sexual assault doesn’t need exceptional bravery, strength, or power simply to tell the truth of what happened to them. We need to create a world where the victim is not on trial.

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The cover image is featured courtesy of Eva Rinaldi of the Flickr CC. 

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