Taylor Swift‘s allegation that a former morning radio host reached under her skirt and grabbed her backside during a photo op is bringing attention to a common but largely hidden outrage for many women, one that few report.
A 2014 survey found nearly 1 in 4 women in the United States had been groped or brushed up against in a public place by a stranger at least once.
But many never talked about it, let alone went to the police. A 2015 survey of more than 16,000 people globally found more than half of the respondents outside the U.S. had been fondled or groped.
The then-girlfriend of former DJ David Mueller, who was standing with Mueller and Swift when the singer says he groped her, even testified that a co-worker had grabbed her backside at another concert.
Mueller denies groping Swift and sued the singer, saying he was fired because of her false allegation.
Late Friday, just as closing arguments were set to begin, the judge threw out Mueller’s claims against Swift — saying after he’d heard all of the evidence that Mueller could not prove Swift had anything to do with his losing his job. U.S. District Judge William Martinez also said there was no indication that Swift had made up her story.
Even before that ruling, women around the world, not all of them fans of Swift’s music, had been cheering the pop superstar for confronting the issue in federal court and keeping an unflinching attitude on the witness stand.
On social media, some are using a teal ribbon that represents opposition to sexual violence and praising Swift as an example for other women.
Paige Brasington, 21, a Swift fan from The Woodlands, Texas, said she was groped on public transportation while studying abroad and was glad Swift was giving attention to the issue with the same honesty she brings to her music.
The University of Georgia student was stunned the first time it happened to her on a crowded tram in Budapest, thinking there must have been an object pressed against her. After she reached down, she found a man’s hand on her butt. He exited at the next stop. When she told a male friend, he asked if she had enjoyed it.
“The most important thing about this trial is it gets people talking about this issue,” Brasington said. “It forces them to confront that it is wrong and should never happen.”
Holly Kearl, founder and director of Stop Street Harassment, which commissioned the 2014 U.S. survey, said women who speak out face not being believed or being blamed for groping, something many women have reported in sharing their stories on the group’s website.
Sometimes they do not know their rights or what the law says, or lack the time or energy to report it. However, sharing those stories online, especially through video, is helping show victims it is not uncommon and proves to others it is a problem, she said.
Kearl was standing outside a house after leaving a party in college when a group of men ran by and one of them grabbed her crotch.
Even though she was a domestic violence advocate and well-versed in women’s issues, Kearl said she froze as the men left laughing, and she never reported it.
“It’s just something that happens in our society, and if we don’t challenge it, it’s going to keep happening,” she said.
Swift did not go to the police either. Her mother, Andrea Swift, testified they had hoped to keep the matter private and did not want it to define the singer’s life.
As a star, Swift had another way to take action. Andrea Swift and other members of Swift’s team pushed for Mueller to be fired, which led to his lawsuit against Swift and her representatives.
Mueller’s ex-girlfriend, Shannon Melcher, testified Friday that she saw nothing happen during the brief encounter at the photo session at a Denver arena in 2013 before a Swift performance.
Swift and her legal team have pointedly framed what Mueller allegedly did to her as a sexual assault, not “inappropriate touching” as Mueller’s lawyer, Gabriel McFarland, refers to it.
In Colorado, what Swift alleges is considered unlawful sexual contact or harassment, a misdemeanor, which victims have five years to report to police to prompt an investigation, said Karen Steinhauser, a former chief deputy prosecutor for the Denver District Attorney’s Office. It is unclear if Swift would reconsider pursuing a criminal charge.
On the witness stand, the singer defiantly told McFarland that she was not going to let him or his client make her feel that what happened was her fault.
Swift is countersuing Mueller, alleging assault and battery, and seeking a symbolic $1 judgment holding him responsible. Jurors will still get to decide that, along with whether Swift’s mother and radio liaison interfered with Mueller’s career.
Even though she’s not a fan of Swift’s music, Samaria Alli, 21, lined up for a spot inside federal court to show to her support for Swift’s stand. Alli, a musician, said women often are harassed in her male-dominated field, then face a backlash for complaining about it.
“I just want to see how this plays out for the sake of women anywhere,” she said.
Swift has a somewhat complicated history with feminism. She is known for her “squad,” a group of famous girlfriends that includes Lena Dunham and Selena Gomez, showing off her female friendships in the entertainment industry. And she has posted music from rising female singers on her social media pages, giving them extra exposure.
But Swift also has had a high-profile dispute with fellow female performer Katy Perry. And Swift was criticized by some when she tweeted about the Women’s March hours before it began in January because she did not personally attend, despite other celebrities showing up.
Swift was supportive of fellow singer Kesha, who is at war with her former mentor and producer, Dr. Luke. Kesha claims Dr. Luke drugged, sexually abused and psychologically tormented her. He denies the allegations.
Swift donated $250,000 to Kesha in a “show of support” to help in her legal fight. Adele, Lady Gaga and others also offered support to Kesha.