Swift win, but slow progress

You don’t have to be a Swifty to know she’s been in court recently, but in case you missed the news: earlier this week, Taylor Swift won a lawsuit against a radio host who groped her during a meet-and-greet event. Swift reported the incident to his employers, who fired him, so he sued her for getting him fired. She responded by countersuing him for damages relating to the original assault.

If the sleazy radio host had won his lawsuit against Swift, it would’ve been a travesty. It would have signalled that if you aren’t sure you can prove something happened, you could actually end up paying damages to your attacker. That would have been a setback on the already slow-moving front that is justice in sex crimes.

But he didn’t win his lawsuit; Swift won hers. On Monday, a jury awarded the pop star $1, a symbolic amount that requires the court to decide who was right and wrong but could hardly be called a cash grab. Although her big win has been heralded as the turn of the tide for sexual assault victims, I’m not quite sure the impacts of her win correlate to the potential damage that could have been done by his.

Swift acknowledged her own fortunate access to resources in a statement released shortly after leaving the courtroom, and she committed to donating to organizations that help less privileged women in court. And money is definitely an issue when it comes to reporting an assault and pursuing charges. Even in the criminal system, time lost at work, lawyers, counselling, even parking costs can add up. So yes, money will help.

But before they need funds, women need the security of knowing that speaking up won’t be a wrecking ball to their lives. That it won’t give anyone, much less everyone, the right to weigh in on their character and motivations. We definitely haven’t seen that in the case of Taylor Swift’s assault. If anything, we’ve felt more free to pass our judgements. It’s entertainment news.

Swift, no matter how much she donates, probably can’t change these realities facing victims, including her. I don’t think that a court’s belief in a well-spoken millionaire is going to revolutionize the world for all women, either.

The bulk of the power to make real changes in whether women report sexual assaults lies with all of us, and in the conversations we have around dinner tables, at work places, and on social media.

In fact, I don’t think we can have a win for women until those discussions are all but over. Until only the most extraordinary of cases are an invitation for people to share their own perspectives on the details of a crime they were neither party nor witness to. Until the overwhelming sentiment regarding alleged assaults is simply, “I don’t know.”

There is no other category of crime that is so universally and detrimentally open to public scrutiny. That is what needs to change, and it’s why Taylor Swift’s ruling doesn’t mean we can tick the box marked “fix justice system” quite yet.

Originally published in Our London on August 17, 2017.