By Rachel Moss (Lifestyle Writer at HuffPost UK
I was in school and had barely hit puberty the first time I was sexually assaulted. A bunch of older lads were sitting underneath the stairwell, trying to see girls’ underwear as they walked up in their skirts. Encouraged by his mates, one of the boys approached me from behind and put his hand up my kilt.
My instinct was to shove him backwards and mutter “fuck off” in my squeaky, 13-year-old voice, which the group found hilarious. And sadly, rather than feeling proud of myself for making a stand, I felt embarrassed and didn’t tell anyone.
And here lies the problem. Groping is normalised in society, from schoolboys passing off physical assault as “banter” to fully grown men refusing to take “no” for an answer in clubs. And somehow, women are made to feel ashamed when it happens, like we are the guilty ones.
But all that could be set to change thanks to Taylor Swift.
The singer has just won a sexual assault case against former American DJ David Mueller after he was found guilty of putting his hand up her skirt and grabbing her bum at a meet-and-greet.
Swift was awarded $1 in damages by the Colorado court and while the payout may be small, its symbolic significance is huge. This court case demonstrates once and for all that a woman is never to blame when a man touches her body without her permission.
Mueller had originally tried to sue the singer, as opposed to the other way around, after the assault came to light and he lost his job. That lawsuit was thrown out by a judge last week and when asked about her role in Mueller’s firing in court, Swift clapped back at any attempt to villainise her.
“I am not going to allow your client to make me feel like it is any way my fault because it isn’t,” she reportedly said, adding, “he and you are suing me and I’m being blamed for the unfortunate events of his life that are a product of his decisions, not mine.”
In delegitimising Mueller’s lawsuit, Swift has reminded the world to call bullshit on the horrendous culture of victim-blaming that continues to prevail, both within courts and wider society. Just as she played no part in Mueller’s firing, no woman can ever blamed when a man assaults her, regardless of what she is wearing or how much she has drank.
Her unflinching testimony is also a reminder that standing up to sexual assault is nothing to be ashamed of. I have lost count of the amount of times I’ve been groped on a night out – both by complete strangers and men in my own friendship group – but felt under pressure to laugh it off like one of the lads. When it happens, there’s a split second when you must decide whether to hit back and risk being labelled as an “angry feminist”, or try to forget about it and enjoy your night. Like Mueller, there are men who will try to make you feel guilty for standing up to groping, but there is no shame in calling out sexism.
Sadly, I know men who think grabbing a woman’s ass after a drink or two is “no big deal”, but Swift’s court case is a sign that the powers that be are finally taking it seriously. Groping isn’t something to be taken lightly and is part of a wider issue of how women are seen and treated in society. When a man forces himself upon you, he is failing to see you as an equal being. When he beelines for your ass or breasts, he’s buying into the agenda that a woman’s only value is her sexualised body. When he touches you without your permission, he is perpetuating the fear that women feel Every. Damn. Day.
A third of British women have been groped in public and the vast majority of us will not get to see justice like Taylor Swift has. But the singer’s final statement on the case highlights that this isn’t just a victory for her, it’s an important step for women everywhere.
“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,” she said.
“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.”
The fact that it is Taylor Swift making this statement – rather than any other celeb – is also crucial. Her fans are largely made up of young girls, who will learn that they have a right to be mad when someone gropes them and that they have the power to demand respect. Perhaps if I’d had a role model like Swift back in school, I would have felt empowered to tell a teacher when I was first assaulted.
Of course, the onus should not be on women to report assault, but instead, should be on men to stop assaulting women. So as well as being a victory for women and girls, let’s hope this court case provides a lesson for men that groping is not okay.
Follow Rachel Moss on Twitter: www.twitter.com/rachelmoss_