How Taylor Swift's victory could affect sexual assault cases

Advocates of sexual assault victims say Swift's victory may change conversations

ByABC News
August 15, 2017, 4:59 PM

— -- Taylor Swift was awarded exactly $1 for her victory in civil court Monday, but the award could represent much more for victims of sexual assault.

After a Denver jury found that a preponderance of evidence showed that former radio DJ David Mueller had groped the pop star, Swift said in a statement that her four-year ordeal, which included a two-year-long trial process, was for "anyone who feels silenced by a sexual assault."

"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," the 27-year-old singer said in a statement obtained by ABC News. "My hope is to help those whose voices should also be heard. Therefore, I will be making donations in the near future to multiple organizations that help sexual assault victims defend themselves."

Two organizations working with victims of assault told ABC News that they have already benefited from Swift taking on Mueller in court.

The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, or RAINN, reported that its national hotline saw a 35 percent increase in use from Friday to Monday.

Swift's victory is "a great demonstration to other victims that there is strength in coming forward and pursing justice," RAINN's president Scott Berkowitz told ABC News.

While acknowledging that Swift had the resources to pursue a civil case in court, Berkowitz said one of the biggest challenges for victims of sexual violence is not financial, it's their reluctance to tell anyone that they've been assaulted.

"So seeing someone that they respect, that they identify with [state they've been assaulted], has a big impact," he said. "I think that will encourage others to come forward."

Changing the idea that sexual assault is associated with shame could also be a positive result of the ruling.

"We try to convey the message that there is nothing to be ashamed of," Berkowitz added, "that the victim of assault is never the one who is at fault."

Swift did not appear to show fear or shame when she took the stand last week, in one of the highlights of the trial. She was at turns sarcastic, defiant and funny, but never wavering in her testimony that Mueller groped her.

Berkowitz calls Swift the "hero" of the case for her unabashed testimony and the positive outcome that resulted.

"I think this could have a long-term impact and help shape the conversation," he said. "While the circumstances of assault are different, [Swift] can still serve as a symbol for sexual assault -- that you don't have to take it."

Mike Domitrz, founder of The Date Safe Project, whose mission is to "create a culture of consent and respect," told ABC News that Swift is broadening the conversation about what constitutes assault.

"What she did on the stand is to help people realize the gravity, that touching someone against their will, is a big deal," he said. "That’s what she made very clear -- this is outrageous and horrifying."

When The Date Safe Project first posted about the case on its Facebook page, Domitrz said they received dozens of responses from people who said, in their experiences working in bars and restaurants, these kind of groping incidents are not uncommon.

He expects more people to be talking about the issue when he begins visiting college campuses in the fall.

"People are going to debate, 'Is this sexual assault or is that just someone trying to be boorish?'" he said. "This is the definition of sexual assault -- touching someone sexually without their consent. When we can get to that conversation, it opens up a whole new realm."

Mueller first sued Swift in 2015, claiming that she falsely accused him of grabbing her backside at a 2013 meet-and-greet, causing him to lose his job. The pop star then filed a countersuit for assault and battery, claiming that Mueller "took his hand and put it up my dress," according to court documents obtained by ABC News.

On Monday, the Denver jury, comprised of six women and two men, also found that the singer's mother, Andrea Swift, and her radio manager, Frank Bell, did not intentionally interfere with Mueller's contract and were not responsible for his firing after the 2013 incident.

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