On Monday, the jury returned the verdict on Taylor Swift’s sexual assault case: David Mueller was guilty.
We’re thrilled for Taylor, we really are. We just can’t celebrate.
Don’t get us wrong — getting justice for any victim of a sexual assault is always a victory. But the truth is, Swift had everything in place to win. Swift is an upper-class, powerful, white woman who had photographic evidence of the crime in question. If she can’t win an assault case, nobody can.
And just the fact that Swift was able to bring charges at all, or even feel comfortable going to the police, is a stark contrast to many women. It’s estimated that approximately 80% of sexual assaults go unreported in the United States. And the breakdown by race is even more appalling. Only 14% of black women are likely to report the crime, compared to 40% of white women (according to a 2015 study by the DOJ).
Of course, some of the reasons that women of color, particularly black women, are unlikely to report the crime are similar to those of white women — the fear of shame, of not being believed, of facing the stigma that goes along with rape are all very present. But for black women, there can also exist a distrust of police, and for good reason. Writer Hannah Giorgis points out, “the police themselves commit assault with impunity; often, they target black women in particular, knowing our existence at the intersections of racism and misogyny make crimes against us far less likely to be investigated.” And for lower-class women, the lack of financial resources can prevent them from getting justice as well. Rape crisis counselors who work with communities of color often have to spend more money on dissemination of information than they would otherwise, leaving less money for the actual trial itself (Kimberle Crenshaw). With all these factors at play, sometimes simultaneously, it’s no wonder that many women cannot report their crimes in the first place. It’s not a choice, it’s survival.
And we would be remiss if we ignored the historical context for black women and rape. Rape and sexual assault were widely accepted between slave owners and their slaves. It was part of the culture. And this was often perpetuated in the court system. A 1859 ruling in Mississippi declared that rape against a female slave was not possible because she is a hypersexual being and “she deserves it.” It may be more than 150 years later, but these stereotypes and excuses for rape culture still persist.
We’re glad that Taylor Swift can get some justice, and hopefully some peace, but we can’t help but be reminded of the many, many women who will never have their day in court. Until then, we cannot declare victory.