Back in 2013 Swift was at a meet and greet event backstage when American DJ David Mueller, almost 30 years her senior, put his hand up her skirt and groped her while they were having a photo taken. She described feeling “violated” in a way she’d never experienced.
“[He] grabbed my ass underneath my skirt” and “stayed latched on to my bare ass cheek as I moved away from him, visibly uncomfortable,” Swift said.
At the time Swift didn’t publicly accuse him of this, in part because she didn’t want it to overshadow her life.
Instead she informed Mueller’s employer, a radio station for whom he was backstage, who fired him two days later.
In 2015 he launched legal proceedings against Swift, suing her for $3 million for loss of income for an incident he alleged did not happen. Swift countersued him for $1.
That dollar is mighty symbolic. Swift refused to settle – not because she couldn’t spare $3 million or because she had nothing better to do than pursue litigation - but because she refused to let him get away with it.
She was determined to use the privileges she enjoys to take a stand: to stare down a man who dared to violate her and then dared to exploit her afterwards.
From all reports Swift was cool, calm and utterly undeterred during cross-examination.
She refused to entertain the idea that anyone other than Mueller was responsible for his conduct.
Was she critical of her bodyguard for failing to protect her?
“I’m critical of your client sticking his hand under my skirt and grabbing my ass,” she said.
If you were so distraught you could have taken a break from the meet and greet?
“And your client could have taken a normal photo with me,” Swift countered.
Did she feel guilty when he was fired?
“I am not going to allow your client to make me feel like it is any way my fault, because it isn’t,” she said. “I am being blamed for the unfortunate events of his life that are a product of his decisions and not mine.”
It is difficult to imagine the courage this required.
Afterwards Swift thanked the jury and the judge and acknowledged the women before her who have endured an assault and been shamed into silence.
"I want to thank Judge William J Martinez and the jury for their careful consideration, my attorneys... for fighting for me and anyone who feels silenced by a sexual assault, and especially anyone who offered their support throughout this four-year ordeal and two-year long trial process," the statement read. "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."
Publicly accusing someone of sexual assault very rarely ends well for the person pointing the finger.
Pursuing perpetrators is a cost - in time, money and emotions - that few victims of sexual assault are willing or able to cover.
Swift had some distinct advantages that many other plaintiffs, or would-be plaintiffs, don’t have: power, money and fame. These things did not guarantee Swift a successful outcome and they don’t render the violation itself any easier to accept.
But it gave Swift an ability to pursue Mueller. He attempted to assert power over her when he put his hand up her skirt, but rather than acquiesce, she fought back. And because she had power her fighting back counted.
I am not going to allow your client to make me feel like it is any way my fault, because it isn’t
If Mueller had put his hand up the skirt of a 23-year-old publicist or Swift fan or technician who was backstage that day, and then complained to his employer, would they have had him fired? It’s hard to know.
But it makes Swift’s visible refusal to accept it all the more powerful.
If Swift inspires a single 23-year old girl to speak up when she is indecently assaulted that is a victory. If she inspires any person of any age or any gender, to counter an abuse of power that is a victory.
There aren’t many victories for people who have been assaulted but Swift has delivered.