teens

"We need to stop teaching our daughters to be polite and to just 'shake it off'."

Like most Australian women, I read the media coverage of Taylor Swift and DJ David Mueller’s duelling lawsuits with great interest. Probably even more closely because I’m a lawyer.

In case you’ve been living under a rock this past week here is a bit of a summary:  In his lawsuit, David Mueller claimed that Taylor Swift and her team had him fired from his job after claiming that he had groped Swift under her skirt during a photo opportunity alongside his girlfriend.  He sued for $3million USD for loss of income.

Swift counter sued for sexual assault, claiming that the grope did indeed take place and provided witnesses and photographic evidence to support her case.  She requested damages of $1 USD. I love that she did that, it was obviously about the principle and not about the cash. David Mueller had obviously been hoping she’d just decide to follow her own advice and “Shake it Off”.

Well I’m glad she didn’t. She fought and she won and women everywhere, including myself, were thrilled when Mueller’s suit was dismissed and the judge found in favour of Swift.

In pursuing her case against David Mueller, Taylor sent clear and incredibly powerful messages to women all around the world: no woman should ever have to tolerate this behaviour and no woman should ever feel ashamed to speak out against the perpetrator.

In the extensive media coverage that has ensued, there was one particular tid-bit of information that struck a deep personal chord with me and that was the testimony of Taylor’s mother Andrea Swift.

taylor swift look what you made me do
"Taylor sent clear and incredibly powerful messages to women all around the world."(Via Getty)

Andrea Swift said that despite being sick to her stomach when she learned of her daughter’s assault, she decided against calling the police. As a mother, and as a member of her daughter’s management team, she wanted to protect her daughter from the huge public scrutiny that this sort of accusation would bring to someone with Taylor’s international fame.

Andrea also told the court that she was reduced to tears when her daughter expressed ‘bewilderment’ at why she had ‘thanked’ the DJ and his girlfriend for the photo, just moments after the assault took place and asked herself “Why did I teach her to be so polite?”

And that, right there is what got me.  “Why did I teach her to be so polite?”

You see I’m a mother of two daughters, but I’m also a lawyer who works with survivors of sexual assault every single day. I know just how prevalent sexual assault is in our society today. And it scares me.

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I know the statistics that tell me that between my two daughters and I, one of us is likely to have something happen to us one day. And whilst to date I have not experienced an assault, I know that doesn’t mean it might never happen. I, like all women live with a real fear of walking alone at night or in isolated locations. I know how quickly a dangerous and life-changing situation can unfold. It has made me hyper aware of risk minimisation for both myself and my two daughters.

Our eldest daughter is 18 and at university in another city.  To protect her we’ve found accommodation with a security gate, a private room that is accessible only by security code and its own private ensuite. Next year when she moves into an apartment we will ensure that it has an inside laundry and lock up garage.  We’ve purchased a brand-new car for her instead of a cheaper second hand car, to minimise the risk of her ending up broken-down on the side of the road at night.

I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve counselled my girls against wearing certain clothing in case it attracts ‘the wrong attention’. I’ve spent so much time worrying about teaching my daughters how to be ‘safe’ and prioritising risk-minimisation, that I now worry that I’ve overlooked the importance of giving my girls the confidence to take a stand and assert themselves should they ever find themselves in a situation like Taylor Swift.

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In the midst of all the Taylor Swift media coverage last week, Fifi Box recalled her own assault in her mid-20’s, at the hands of (an unnamed), very famous celebrity. This man, in his 50’s at the time, grabbed and stroked Fifi’s leg and later shoved her head into his crotch. This incident took place in a radio studio, in full view of her colleagues and more shockingly, in front of her boss, who later asked this celeb to pose for a happy snap.

Both Fifi and her co-host at the time Byron Cooke said they were shocked by what happened, but the inaction of their superiors left both of these young and impressionable people with the view that ‘maybe what happened is fine.’Both have said it was a valuable lesson and something that neither would ever accept today. And at the end of the day, that’s what this is really all about:  acceptance.

Taylor Swift stood up and said “I’m not going to accept what happened to me” and Fifi Box also stood up and said “No-one should ever accept what happened to me.” And that is the message that I need to get across to my daughters.

I won’t advocate for them to disregard the advice I’ve previously given about their own safety – after all, the sad fact is that although it is unacceptable, sexual harassment and sexual assault exists. It is very, very, real. But in all future discussions, I need to focus much more on ensuring that if either of my daughters ever find themselves in a position where they are being victimised, that they have the confidence to stand up for themselves, and hold the perpetrator to account.

In line with Taylor’s Mum, I think I need to teach them to be much less ‘polite’.

Lisa Kinder is a special counsel at Donaldson Law and an accredited personal injury specialist with more than 20 years in the legal profession.  In recent years Lisa has been at the forefront in working with institutions to develop collaborative processes that deliver more meaningful outcomes for survivors of sexual abuse and assault.

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