Should Taylor Swift Speak Up About Her Alleged Assault?

Taylor Swift may be one of the world's preeminent pop stars, who enjoys all the privileges that coincide with that fact. But not even extreme wealth and constant security kept her from becoming an assault statistic. Three years ago, the singer was in the midst of a pre-concert meet-and-greet when a Denver-based radio DJ named David Mueller allegedly groped her. "Right as the moment came for us to pose for the photo, he 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," Swift said in a video deposition, taped in July of this year. "It was completely intentional. I've never been so sure of anything in my life." After that went down, Swift and her security team called out Mueller, who was let go from his job a few days later. He soon filed suit against the singer, claiming that it was actually his boss who fondled her; she countersued Mueller for assault and battery, saying that she knew exactly who grabbed her ass, and promising to donate any funds won to a charitable organization that works to protect women from sexual assault. Which brings us to the present: Last week, a judge approved a request from Swift's legal team that the photo of the alleged groping be sealed from evidence, due to the fact that it would likely wind up being used for "scandalous and prurient interests." That's likely true — and yet, I can't help but weigh the costs and benefits to having a photo like that one, particularly of someone as high-profile as Taylor Swift, out in the world. Is it possible that it could do some good for other women? Don't mistake this line of thought as an argument calling for her to release the pics — it's not, and I would never suggest that a person share something private and personal that they didn't want to. The justification for not sharing doesn't have to be more complicated than that. But I do think that, because Taylor Swift is who she is, she is uniquely capable of moving the needle when it comes to depictions of sexually-motivated assault today — if only because what she claims happened to her is so disturbingly ordinary.

By coming forward Swift would be helping to reframe the conversation about what we think of as assault.

Because here is the thing: Most women have been inappropriately touched by someone they don't know, in a way they didn't consent to, under circumstances beyond their control. Swift's assault allegation is the kind that often gets brushed off because it's easy to say that it was an accident, or that no one really got "hurt." By coming forward — either with the photo, or with taking points about what actually happened that day — Swift would be helping to reframe the conversation about what we think of as assault, and how even seemingly "minor" transgressions should be treated seriously. While an unwanted ass grab is clearly not the same thing as rape, that doesn't mean an assailant should be able to squirm off the hook. It's humiliating and many survivors carry around a sense of powerlessness after the fact — just ask any of the women who have stepped forward with accusations about Donald Trump. Inappropriate touch isn't just the first step toward sexual assault: It is sexual assault. And when we don't acknowledge that fact, it makes survivors second-guess their own experiences, or wonder if somehow they co-signed what happened. It also creates a safe grey area for perpetrators. That's rape culture, in a nutshell. Swift has an opportunity here to talk about why letting the little things go isn't something that survivors have to accept. I'm hopeful that once the lawsuit is settled, she'll take the opportunity to do just that. It's a chance for her to leverage her celebrity and draw a line in the sand between what women should and should not have to put up with — and to help take back the narrative about what constitutes sexual assault. With great power (and millions of social media followers) comes great responsibility. Perhaps, when this is all said and done, Taylor Swift's experience itself could wind up positively impacting the way we talk about assault. While I wish her the best in court, reshaping the conversation is what I would call the bigger win.

More from Pop Culture

R29 Original Series