Last Thursday morning, Taylor Swift appeared in court to testify against former DJ David Mueller. Mueller is suing Swift for $3 million, as he claims that she cost him his job for a sexual assault that never happened. In return, Swift is asking for just $1—not as a move to bankrupt Mueller, but to prove a point. That groping is a form a sexual assault, and it’s not okay.
In order to understand the full scope of things, it’s important to understand the incident that happened back in 2013. During her Red Tour in 2013, Swift made a stop at Denver’s Pepsi Center arena, where she met up with Mueller for a photo op. Mueller, at the time, was a DJ for the 98.5 KYGO-FM morning show.
While posing for photos, Swift said that Mueller “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…I have never been more sure of anything in my life.” After informing her mother and manager of what occurred, Mueller was asked to leave the arena and barred from Swift’s future events.
Swift then informed the radio station where Mueller worked of the event, and after a brief investigation, Mueller was fired several days later for violating a morality clause. It should be noted, however, that Swift did not specifically ask for Mueller to be fired; her representatives simply brought the incident to the radio station.
Mueller filed a lawsuit in 2015 against Swift, claiming that she and her management cost him his job and forced him to miss out on business ventures. He claims that her accusations against him are untrue and fabricated the story in order to get him fired from his job. As a part of the suit, he asked for $3 million to cover his lost salary and other damages he accrued due to the incident. Additionally, he wants to clear his name, as he said “It’s humiliating to be accused of something so despicable.”
In response to Mueller’s suit, Swift filed a countersuit for just $1, and asked for a trial with a jury against the former DJ. The trial, which started in 2015, officially began this past week. Swift already had an advantage in the case, as Mueller had previously been accused of destroying evidence of a phone call with his boss on the day he was fired. His boss, Robert Call, said that Mueller was inconsistent about his version of the events of that day and that was the reason he was terminated. Though Mueller originally sent the tapes to his lawyers, he ultimately destroyed the evidence, which significantly hurts his case.
Additionally, a photo of the incident was inevitably leaked, a photo that Swift didn’t want the public to see because she believed it would encourage this kind of behavior. The leak of this photo begins to get at the larger problem that haunts sexual assault cases in the United States.
Sexual Assault and Sexism
Taylor Swift’s case reveals a lot about the way sexual assault cases are handled in the United States—from the way the media handles it to the way it’s handled in the courts. In this case, they all reveal one thing: sexism is alive and well.
Let’s first examine the language used surrounding Swift’s case. In almost all of the articles describing the case, the words “alleged” and “claimed” are almost always used when describing Swift’s accusations against Mueller. While the language used can be attributed to the fact that the case is ongoing, this kind of language is quite often used to discuss cases of sexual assault; it’s used to create sympathy for the perpetrator and to place blame on the victim.
We see this sympathy for the perpetrator in almost all prominent sexual assault cases. One of the best examples being the case of Brock Turner, not to mention the fact that we now have a president who has been accused of sexual assault on multiple occasions. Time and time again, we see that society has sympathy for the man accused, and found guilty of, sexual assault. For example, Brock Turner was sentenced to only 6 months jail time and three years probation for raping an unconscious woman, because the judge was concerned about “the adverse collateral consequences on the defendant’s life from the felony conviction,” citing them as “severe.”
The message that this sends to women is that a man’s reputation is more important than their well-being, more important than their need to feel safe and heal from a traumatic incident. Those accused and found guilty of sexual assault often don’t face negative consequences for their actions, and are quite often painted as the victim, much like Mueller tries to do in the case against Taylor Swift.
Swift, however, it having none of it. For Swift, her case against Mueller is more symbolic than anything else. Though society expects Swift to have sympathy for Mueller, she is standing her ground. As she said in her testimony: “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.”
That’s the key takeaway. When a man commits sexual assault, women are blamed for the consequences; they were “asking for it.” Taylor Swift is doing her best to act against these negative stigmas in society and in the media. While it’s a small step, and Swift comes from a place of privilege, it’s an important step nonetheless. As we watch the case unfold over the coming weeks, one can only hope that a victory for Swift might create a small shift in the way that we deal with cases of sexual assault.