Taylor Swift & Why It’s Important We Talk About Sexual Assault
In the last week, the term groping has been used repeatedly across the media as singer Taylor Swift testifies in court against DJ David Mueller.
Swift claims that the DJ sexually assaulted her by groping her from behind as they posed for a photo backstage in 2015. Upon reporting the incident to KYGO radio station, where the DJ worked, Mueller sued the singer for $3million claiming that her accusations had caused him to lose his job.
Swift countersued for just $1, determined not to back down and instead to be a “visible example of strength to other women who have experienced a demoralising sexual violation” (Slate.com).
Undoubtedly, Swift has privileges which most women across the world do not, including the financial resources to carry out such a court case, and the time to do so. Her fame intrinsically means that Swift has countless individuals who support her, immediately validating her experience. In contrast, many victims of sexual assault may feel unsupported, and may blame themselves for what happened.
However, regardless of Swift’s privileged position, her decision to countersue and speak openly about her own personal and emotional reaction has been admired by many. In a world where in addition to their die-hard fans, female celebrities receive an immeasurable amount of online (and real-life) abuse, Swift’s choice to make her claims public mean that she is, in a way, putting herself in the spotlight and will undeniably receive questions, criticism and attention around the issue for a long time to come.
Her openness about the “horrifying, shocking” realisation that the DJ had reached under her skirt and “had a handful of my ass” brings attention to the sickening reality for many women who experience sexual assault, and reaffirms its seriousness in the eye of the public.
In society and across the media, sexual assault is often downplayed by using the term ‘groping’, in such cases as Taylor Swift’s, ‘inappropriate touching’ or ‘fondling’.
Trivialising sexual assault can have a very real effect – victims may feel unable to come forward, worried they will not be taken seriously.
Alison Swift, Taylor’s mother, spoke about her daughter’s initial response to what happened: “She couldn’t believe that after he grabbed her, that she thanked them for being there,” she said. “It was just destroying her that she said that…as a parent it made me question why I taught her to be so polite in that moment.”
Only 15% of female victims of the most serious cases of sexual offences told the police about what happened (Crime Survey for England and Wales).
Respondents to the Crime Survey 2012/13 reported their reasons for not reporting to the police as believing it was ‘too trivial/not worth reporting’ and ‘embarrassing’.
Women and girls in particular experience sexual assault and harassment to an invasive extent. For many women and girls, this behaviour has become an expectation in their daily lives, in the workplace, at school and university, and in places such as pubs and nightclubs.
This sense of ‘normalcy’ means that victims of sexual assault may be less likely to report what happened. Equally, perpetrators may lack awareness around the severity of their actions, as it is downplayed as ‘just a bit of fun’ and part of ‘lad culture’.
However, we must be clear: groping, fondling or ‘inappropriate touching’ are forms of sexual assault. It is an offense which is never acceptable, and only the fault of the perpetrator. Everyone has the right to consent, and without your consent, it is sexual assault.
“I am not going to allow your client to make me feel like it is any way my fault, because it isn’t,” Swift said. Later, she continued: “I am being blamed for the unfortunate events of his life that are a product of his decisions and not mine.”
Sexual assault is a crime, and if you or someone you know experiences any form of it, you should feel able to report and speak about it. Hopefully, for young and old fans alike, Swift’s statements bring about a sense of confidence when speaking about the issue.
During the writing of this article, it has been reported that Swift has won her court case, saying:
“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.”
We must all work to end trivialisation of sexual assault and victim blaming, by pointing it out when we notice it. We must let victims of sexual assault know that it does matter, they will and should be taken seriously, and that it is not normal.
Each of us can make a difference by sharing resources and speaking openly about these issues, to break down the stigma and silence which many victims experience.
If somebody you know confides in you about experiencing sexual assault, listen and let them know that you believe them. You can refer them to a national specialist helpline such as Rape Crisis (see details below) who can offer guidance and support.
Rape Crisis helpline England and Wales
0808 802 9999 | rapecrisis.org.uk
Rape Crisis Scotland
08088 01 03 02 | rapecrisisscotland.org.uk