Taylor Swift groping trial grips America

Girl-power: In 2015 Forbes listed Swift as the world’s sixth most powerful woman. © Getty

A trial between Taylor Swift and a DJ she accuses of groping her has caught the USA’s attention. She hopes to be an example to other victims of sexual assault, but can she make a difference?

In 2013, pop megastar Taylor Swift was in the midst of her Red Tour. Before a concert in Denver, Colorado she hosted a meet-and-greet with her fans. There, she encountered a DJ called David Mueller and his girlfriend. A photo was taken of the three of them. Four years later, Mueller and Swift have faced off in court.

Why? Swift says that Mueller “reached up under my skirt and grabbed my ass right when I was having to pose for a photo.” Mueller denied it.

The photograph shows Mueller’s hand near Swift’s rear, although he claims that he is touching her ribs.

Swift had her security team eject Mueller and ban him from attending any concerts. She also notified Mueller’s radio station, KYCO, who fired him two days later.

Mueller then sued the star for $3m, saying she cost him his job. Swift countersued the DJ, seeking a symbolic $1 in damages, which she says she will donate to charity. It is not about money for her; she wants to “serve as an example to other women who may resist publicly reliving similar outrageous and humiliating acts.”

While taking the stand in court on Thursday, Swift said that she was “being blamed for the unfortunate events of his life that are a product of his decisions, and not mine.” Mueller’s claim against Swift was dismissed, and last night the jury ruled in favour of Swift. Additionally, her mother and a member of her management team were found not liable for his firing.

The case is bringing what Colleen Slevin calls “a common but largely hidden outrage” into the public eye. A survey in 2014 found that nearly 1 in 4 women in the USA had been groped or brushed up against in a public place by a stranger.

Holly Kearl, founder and director of Stop Street Harassment, said women who speak out risk not being believed or being blamed for what happened.

For many, the hassle of reporting such incidents to the police, and the difficulty of getting prosecutions in “my word against yours” cases, mean that thousands of assaults go unreported. Will Taylor Swift help to change this?

Don’t shake it off

“This has to be a tipping point,” say some. It requires a super-famous person like Taylor Swift to bring a depressingly common crime to the public’s attention. By staying “cool, calm and composed”, in the words of one journalist, she can make reporting an assault a more natural and socially acceptable step.

“This is far too optimistic,” reply others. Taylor Swift has access to expensive lawyers, and the public’s attention, and even for her the court case has been an ordeal. Most women are not so lucky. On an individual level, it will always be easier not to report an assault. The answer is to change attitudes among men.

You Decide

  1. Will this trial change public attitudes towards sexual assault?
  2. Should sentences for sexual assault be increased?

Activities

  1. Design a banner encouraging women to report sexual assaults.
  2. Think of a time you were influenced by someone famous. Describe it in 300 words.

Some People Say...

“Those accused of sexual assault should be guilty until proven innocent.”

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
The photograph in question shows Swift, Mueller, and Mueller’s ex-girlfriend posing in 2013. All three are smiling, and Swift is leaning away from Mueller, whose hand appears to be far below her ribs. The skirt of her dress looks undisturbed from the front — but this, she said in court last week, is “because my ass is located in the back of my body.” She scored a significant victory over the weekend when the judge threw out Mueller’s lawsuit against her personally, and last night the court ruled in Swift’s favour, also clearing her mother and a member of her team of any wrongdoing.
What do we not know?
It is impossible to know whether this case will successfully change attitudes among women in general toward sexual assault.

Word Watch

Taylor Swift
Born in Reading, Pennsylvania, 27 year-old Taylor Swift is one of the world’s most popular singer-songwriters. She is estimated to be worth $280m. The music videos of her songs Shake It Off and Blank Space are the seventh and twelfth most watched videos on YouTube respectively, both with over two billion views.
Nearly 1 in 4 women
Another report in 2011 found that one in five women had experienced rape or attempted rape, while one in six had been stalked.
Holly Kearl
Kearl was standing outside a house after leaving a party while at university when a group of men ran by. One of them grabbed her crotch. Despite being a domestic violence advocate, Kearl said she “froze” as the men left laughing, and she never reported it.
My word against yours
A situation when there is no evidence to go on except what the two people involved say happened — and when their accounts differ.

Subjects

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