Taylor Swift's testimony in court today painted a most disturbing picture of what men think they can get away with—if they even think twice in the first place about whether how and where they touch a woman matters.
While the fight for female empowerment and equal treatment has become one of the foremost sociopolitical issues of the day, it's actually easier than ever to get complacent, to think, particularly if you're already in a place of privilege, well, we've got this, the problem is being solved, look at all the powerful women out there. It's getting better.
One look at social media on any given day should set anybody straight on that point.
With rampant sexism in the workplace (and all over the place) still more the norm than the exception, every voice that's raised in objection to accepting unacceptable treatment should be heard. Which is not to say that every case is a simple matter of right vs. wrong, good woman vs. bad man, or male perpetrator vs. female victim. The issues of harassment and assault are full of gray areas, and the people who are actually tasked with sorting these matters out—such as the jury now hearing Mueller v. Swift in Denver, or the judges who've been hearing the various motions firing back and forth between Kesha and Dr. Luke for the last three years, or the jury that recently couldn't agree on 2004-era sexual assault allegations against Bill Cosby—could have widely divergent takes on the same set of information.
Lawsuits are a dime a dozen, but it's not every day when someone of Taylor Swift's celebrity stature is in a courtroom, much less on the witness stand, in a civil case. Yesterday her mother Andrea Swift tearfully testified about her family's initial response to her daughter's alleged experience: that former KYGO radio DJ David Mueller, during a meet-and-greet before a Swift concert at Pepsi Center in Denver in 2013, grabbed the singer's bare behind while he was posing for a photo with Swift and his girlfriend at the time, Shannon Melcher.
There doesn't appear to be any photographic evidence taken from the rear view (ironically, if this had happened out in public, a 360-degree ring of paparazzi might have seen something), so it comes down to Swift's word versus Mueller's. Meanwhile, TMZ published the leaked photo last year, and it shows Swift in the middle, leaning more closely toward Melcher. There's more space between her and Mueller, whose hand, going by the angle of his arm, could conceivably be on her butt. His side has argued that the photo proves that he did not reach under her skirt to grab her bare butt, as the bottom of her dress appears to be in place.
"I knew what happened, I heard it from her, I heard it from my daughter's mouth," Andrea Swift, who was said to not be feeling well and therefore wasn't in court today, testified Wednesday. "He sexually assaulted her, right there, that guy." She pointed at Mueller.
Asked why they didn't report him to authorities, she explained, "I did not want her to have to live through the endless memes and GIFs and anything else that tabloid media or trolls would be able to come up with...making her relive this awful moment over and over again." However, they didn't want to remain entirely silent. Andrea continued, "We felt it was imperative to let his employers know what happened."
So if you're now wondering, then how did everyone end up in court, here's how:
Mueller sued the Grammy winner and her mother in September 2015 for interference with contractual obligations and prospective business relations, claiming she falsely accused him of groping her, security escorted him and his girlfriend out of the arena straightaway and KYGO-FM subsequently fired him from his $150,000-a-year job.
A month later, Swift counter-sued, alleging assault and battery and stating in her lawsuit that he put his hand under her skirt during the photo op and grabbed her butt.
Andrea recalled on the stand Taylor telling her, "'Mom, a guy just grabbed my ass in the meet-and-greet.'"
Swift's suit maintains, however, that they did not instruct or otherwise encourage the station to fire Mueller. She's asking for $1 in damages.
And sure enough, the concerns Andrea Swift voiced earlier that led them to not reporting Mueller to police were indeed valid.
"For those commenting 'who cares?' You should care. You should care that certain men still think it's okay to grab women without their consent. This needs to stop. It's not okay," commented a Facebook user in response to an unfortunate amount of skeptical and apathetic comments posted under a story about Andrea's testimony. Some people also missed the point about the symbolic dollar, asking, "If she only wants a buck, how serious was the incident?"
Still others lamented it was a shame how much attention this incident was getting "just because it's Taylor Swift," when countless other women were victims of sexual assault or harassment every day and remained voiceless.
While hearts may be in the vicinity of the right place with that one, it also says a lot about the mass upturn of the nose toward Taylor Swift, her critics wondering what the ever-polished Ms. Perfect has to really complain about.
Yet up until the trial started, this case—despite being years in the making—wasn't getting all that much attention. Legal filings and concrete action being taken have made headlines since 2015, but Swift certainly wasn't using the opportunity as a soapbox. When she donated $250,000 to Kesha last year as the "Tik Tok" artist languished in legal limbo with Dr. Luke, the constructively private Swift did not invoke her own experience as her passport into "understanding" what Kesha was going through (not even when she was then criticized for throwing money at a problem rather than...doing something? Tweeting more? What?).
True, the presence of the recently elusive Swift, in the flesh, has everything to do with the number of media outlets swarming the federal courthouse in downtown Denver, not to mention the young fans angling for one of the few spots in court available to the public, lining up for the dispersal of lucky numbers as if they were concert tickets. Westword called it "the largest celebrity trial that Denver has seen since Michael Jackson's plagiarism case in 1994." And she does have endless supporters on social media as well, women and men who are applauding her for speaking up, taking the opportunity to remind us that incidents like the one Taylor alleges happened to her do happen. Scarily a lot.
But none of that changes the legalities involved in her case. Mueller said on the stand Tuesday, "It's a humiliating experience to be accused of something that despicable." He has flatly denied intentionally touching Swift inappropriately, testifying this week that his hand "didn't start out at rear end level. It started higher...I slid across and it came into contact with her ribs." He did not mistake her behind for her ribs, he said.
But if that's not how it went down, Swift's level of fame doesn't disqualify her from the amount of justice deserving of anybody who's been wronged in such a way.
And hasn't the public learned by now that Swift, whatever she divulges in song form, doesn't actually say all that much unless it's of pertinent importance to the situation at hand?
"It was a definite grab. A very long grab," she testified Thursday while being questioned by Mueller's attorney, Gabriel McFarland. Asked "how long" the alleged grab took place, Swift replied, "I don't think it would be wise to estimate time in court, but I know it was long enough for me to be completely sure that it was intentional."
Swift further described the incident when McFarland asked if his client touched her "bare bottom": "He stayed latched on to my bare ass cheek... I felt him grab onto my ass cheek underneath my skirt. The first couple of milliseconds I thought it must be a mistake, so I moved to the side very quickly so that his side would be removed from my ass cheek, but it didn't let go."
McFarland asked if she tried to get away.
"It was a very shocking thing that has never happened to me before," Swift said. "This was not something I had ever dealt with. I got as far away from him as I possibly could."
Still in the middle of the meet-and-greet, she reported the incident to the radio station the second she didn't have a fan right there with her, she recalled in court. Asked why her bodyguard Greg Dent didn't do anything, if he saw the incident go down as they claimed, Swift said Mueller's action was "very intentional and the location was very intentional and it happened very quickly," and she wasn't going to "blame Greg Dent for something Mr. Mueller did."
Swift also said on the stand, regarding Mueller's firing, "I am not going to allow you or your client in any way to make me feel like this was my fault, because it isn't. I am being blamed for the unfortunate events of his life that are a product of his decisions, not mine."
In many ways that was a textbook exchange when it comes to what women have to put up with when they accuse a man of harassment or assault. Could you be mistaken? Why didn't you do more to get away? Why didn't you say something immediately? Did you intend to ruin this man's career? What could you have done differently in the moment?
Swift's attorney noted that, in his pretrial deposition, Mueller had described Swift as being "cold and standoffish to him" while she was quite friendly to his girlfriend, who was the one Taylor first asked about taking a picture with though he was the one who had said he was from KYGO radio.
The jury is composed of six men and two women. Any judgment in her favor would be the victory that Swift set out to win.
Though as the paperwork trail shows, she didn't set out to win anything, originally. She was defending herself.