Last month everyone was talking about Taylor Swift and her empowering and inspiring testimony regarding a meet and greet with a former DJ, David Mueller, who inappropriately and inexcusably grabbed her bare ass under her skirt. No one was talking about the (nearly simultaneous) empowering and inspiring testimony of a 16-year-old girl regarding a thirty-something pedophile who inappropriately and inexcusably squeezed her behind while she was shopping at the mall. But the similarities between the two stories were plentiful.
When the touching itself first occurred, both victims went into shock. No one naturally expects to have their body violated, and any such violation is certain to be a shock to the system. Ms. Swift knew instantly of her violation, yet her body and mind betrayed her inner feelings of disgust when she thanked her perpetrator for coming, like a polite robot. The younger victim was less sure of what had happened. Was that an accident? Surely he didn't mean to grab her bottom. He was a grown man and she had just turned 15. He walked away casually but soon made pointed eye contact with her, as if to taunt her. Her uneasiness grew as she realized she had felt the tightness of his fingers squeeze into her bottom and she knew with certainty, it was not an accident.
Both girls were sickened. Taylor described feelings of having "a light go out on her personality." The younger girl described a darkness and terrible fear.
As mothers and teachers we tell our children that no one has the right to touch their body without their consent. We teach them that if anyone touches their body in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable, they must tell someone. It doesn't matter if that person is a relative, a coach, or a stranger, you tell someone. Both of these girls listened. They told. They used their voices. Taylor told her managers, her bodyguard, her photographer, and her mother. The other girl told a friend, the store employees, security, her mom, and the police. From here, the two stories take different paths, only to meet again down the road.
Taylor's perpetrator is ultimately fired from his job, and apparently struggles to find another due to his poor decision to assault another human being. He feels sorry for himself and sues Taylor for the loss of his job, which he says is her fault. Taylor counter-sues him for sexual assault and seeks $1 in symbolic damages. After a long period of time, a trial is scheduled and she knows she will have to testify. The young girl's perpetrator is arrested and taken to jail. It was more than a year later that she learned he was a registered sex offender and had been wearing an ankle bracelet and was on probation when the incident happened. After a long period of time, a trial is scheduled and she knows she will have to testify.
As the trials finally grew closer I have to believe both victims were reminded of and revisited the sick feeling that filled their stomachs. I have to believe both victims shared anxiety. I also believe both victims shared a sense of empowerment, knowing they were doing the right thing.
Taylor's testimony benefitted from maturity and years of being in the public eye. It was sharp, unwavering, and powerful. Nevertheless, she was told that perhaps she was mistaken, that it was simply a misfortunate and messy placing of his hand on her body. But Taylor was quite adamant that she knew what it felt like to have her bare ass grabbed. The younger girl's testimony began as tearful and shaky, and somehow gained confidence as she continued. She fearlessly looked her perpetrator in the eye and identified him. Nevertheless, she was told that perhaps she was mistaken, that it was merely an accidental brushing of his hand on her body. But she was quite adamant that she knew the difference between an accidental brush and a purposeful grab. Once their stories were told, each in very different manners, the result was the same.
All charges against Taylor Swift were dismissed. She was awarded her requested $1 in damages as the offending DJ was found guilty of sexual assault against her. The verdict in Taylor's case did so much more than put a dollar in her pocket. It spoke to the world. It confirmed to women everywhere that they cannot be touched without their consent. Men and women alike had clear instruction from a jury and a court of law that an unwanted touch is in fact sexual assault. I hope our President was listening.
The younger girl's perpetrator was sentenced to five years in San Quentin. She stood and watched as he was handcuffed and removed from the courtroom to be escorted to his new home. The verdict in her case did so much more than put a man in prison. It saved other girls. Had she not used her voice to tell someone what happened and to testify against him, there is very little doubt that other young girls would have been subjected to unwanted touching, or worse, from a sick adult man with a long record of doing just that.
One experience was very public and the other very private. Both girls were brave. Both were BOLD and badass. And both made the world a better place.
So thank you to Taylor Swift, to the young girl in this story, and to every single girl who uses her voice. It all matters; every touch, every story, every voice.
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photo credit: GIF