Paul Callan: Women who walk down the street know the humiliating catcalls of men who don't get that it's demeaning
He says in her assault case, Taylor Swift is delivering a message to men everywhere: "Get your groping hands off us"
Editor’s Note: Paul Callan is a CNN legal analyst, a former New York homicide prosecutor and currently is of counsel at the New York law firm of Edelman & Edelman PC, focusing on wrongful conviction and civil rights cases. Follow him on Twitter @paulcallan. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own.
Upon leaving CNN studios in New York around lunchtime Wednesday after a busy few days providing on-air commentary on White House stories, I found myself walking behind a professionally attired young woman on 57th Street.
As New Yorkers know, that street, known as “Billionaire’s Row,” is now lined with construction sites and crowded with construction workers as a colossal wall of skyscrapers is added to Manhattan’s skyline.
Traversing such sites is a routine part of life for pedestrians in the city. Males rarely think about it. For women it presents a very different situation. They would not be surprised by the catcalls the young woman in front of me had to endure. She handled the situation with aplomb, never turning her head, and pretending not to hear the calls and whistles, but I imagine her stomach must have been churning.
One would think that particularly in liberal and “progressive” Manhattan this sort of offensive and demeaning behavior would no longer exist. But this is not reality for women in America and in much of the world.
Which brings us to Taylor Swift, who took the witness stand Thursday in her assault and battery case against Denver DJ David Mueller, who, she alleges in a complaint, reached under her skirt and grabbed her buttocks before a concert at Denver’s Pepsi Center in June 2013.
She says she is not suing for money, but rather to convey a warning on behalf of all American women about sexual assault, and is hoping that a favorable verdict by a Denver jury of six women and two men will send the message of “get your groping hands off us” to men across the nation and around the world.
Mueller adamantly denies improperly touching Swift. In fact, he started the whole Denver court battle by filing a lawsuit asserting that Swift’s groping claim is false and caused him to lose his job.
The pop star denied Mueller’s complaint and countered with an assault and battery claim of her own seeking only $1 in damages in Denver Federal Court.
Mueller claims that Swift’s mother and possibly members of her management team told his employer, KYGO, a CNN affiliate, about the incident. Two days later, Mueller was fired from his $150,000 job — his “dream job,” he said – as a radio DJ.
Swift has stated that she filed the suit to “serve as an example to other women who may resist publicly reliving similar outrageous and humiliating acts.”
Taylor Swift’s claims are, of course, far more serious than catcalls on a public street: She is asserting actual offensive touching, which the jury could view as an assault and battery. If the Mueller touching can be shown to be “accidental,” and not as offensive as described by Swift, he may win the case. Both sides have presented evidence to be evaluated by the jury.
Swift has offered in evidence a picture of the photo shoot, which was leaked last year, but has been sealed from public view by the court. According to her lawyer, it depicts a grin on Mueller’s face and the positioning of his hand directly behind her buttocks, clearly suggestive of an improper and humiliating touching.
Mueller denies this, saying any accidental touching happened when he was rushing to get into the photo and was nothing like that described by Taylor Swift. He has also told the jury that his girlfriend was present at the photo shoot and that he would not touch another woman in a sexual way in her presence. He further asserts that the improper groping described by Swift may have been done by someone else.
Mueller’s position may have been weakened considerably by his claims in court to have “accidentally” destroyed portions of a taped conversation in which he said he described an entirely innocent version of the Swift encounter to his boss shortly before being fired.
According to Swift’s attorneys, the boss claims Mueller changed his story in such a fundamental way during multiple descriptions of what happened after the alleged incident that he thought Mueller was lying.
And in a “dog ate my homework” moment, Mueller claimed he spilled coffee on his laptop, “frying” it, and that although copies were on at least two other devices, those devices mysteriously malfunctioned. The angry federal trial judge described Mueller’s conduct as “sanctionable” and allowed Swift’s lawyer to cross examine regarding this alleged destruction of key evidence.
What’s more, in court Thursday Mueller’s attorney got body-slammed by the pop star when he violated the cardinal rule of cross examination: Never ask a question if you don’t know how the witness will answer. While looking at a critical photo allegedly taken at the moment of the grope, Mueller’s attorney asked Swift why the front of her skirt did not appear to be lifted.
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“Because my ass is located in the back of my body,” Swift said.
My bet? Six women on the jury will have a few stories to tell the two men on the jury about what women have to endure at work and when walking, say, by a construction site in cities across the country. Further, I’m guessing that they and even the men will believe Taylor Swift and award her a dollar and a message that will be heard across the country.
After losing the case, perhaps Mueller will find employment in the construction industry, though, in truth, with juries you never know.