De-escalation, minimizing and acquiescing may not be words every woman can define, but are most definitely skills that almost every woman have mastered by their early adulthood. We have learned how to minimize situations that make us uncomfortable, laugh off unwanted advances, avoid endangering ourselves by angering a man, ignore catcalls and whistles when we’re outside and bite our tongue when things were “mansplained” to us.
We also know women who are assaulted or harassed face not being believed if they speak up. We have generations of women who have grown up in a culture that has minimized or ignored sexual assault which is why up to 97% of assaults are never reported to police. Many survivors don’t even feel comfortable enough to tell a friend of family member.
So when popstar Taylor Swift bravely sat on the stand this week in the midst of a sexual assault trial against a former radio host, we applauded her. We applauded her for standing up against a culture that frequently chooses not to believe a survivor. We applauded her for exposing a culture that believes women should feel bad for the consequences a man faces when he assaults her. We applauded her for showing people who think that women are overreacting when they’re catcalled, groped or harassed that it is not okay.
Her testimony illustrated flaws in sexual assault trials where lawyers try to blame the survivor, question their character and question why they didn’t react in a specific way. When the lawyer for the plaintiff asked Taylor why she continued with the meet and greet after she was sexually assaulted and why she didn’t take a break, Taylor responded “your client could have taken a normal photo with me.”
The real purpose of the lawyer’s line of questioning is to demonstrate that because Taylor didn’t follow a specific behavioral code deemed acceptable for survivors of sexual assault,she must OBVIOUSLY be lying. It’s such a common reaction from law enforcement officials, lawyers and the public that is survivors aren’t immediately upset after an assault happens, it means it wasn’t that serious or it didn’t happen. Part of creating a system where survivors feel supported and comfortable coming forward begins with believing. While Taylor stands up for herself in her sexual assault trial, we know there is so much work that needs to be done to eliminate sexual assault and to create a fair and equitable system for all.