If you are reading this post, please be aware there is triggering language because this post is in part about language.
Justin Bieber was accused on Saturday by a woman called Danielle wrote on social media that she met Justin Bieber in March 2014. She has since deleted her tweet but if you want to read the details, check the tweet below. She is very specific about what happened during their alleged encounter:
Anonymous woman accuses Justin Bieber of sexually assaulting her at the Four Seasons in 2014, Bieberâ€™s camp deny the claims and say he was staying at an Airbnb on that date. pic.twitter.com/nXMSQMqmpi— Pop Crave (@PopCrave) June 21, 2020
What Danielle is describing is rape. In headlines about this story though, media outlets have referred to the incident as “sexual assault”. Rape is sexual assault, of course. Perhaps the media is using “sexual assault” instead of “rape” to minimise triggers and protect those who’ve been victims of sexual assault from further pain. Or is it that “sexual assault” is just more… um… palatable than “rape”. And I want to be clear that sexual assault, the act of it, is NOT palatable. I’m talking about the discussions around sexual assault. How we talk about it. This is about how we hear things, how we process terminology. The New York Times did a piece on sexual assault terminology in the media in 2017 and since we try to analyse media in this space, this is why I’m bringing this to you. Because Danielle is accusing Justin Bieber of raping her. But since he’s so famous, and this story is being covered everywhere, if the headlines instead read “Justin Bieber accused of rape”, would it hit differently? And if so, is that why so many of the headlines are using “sexual assault”?
JB responded to Danielle’s allegations on Twitter. I’m not going to embed his tweets here but they’re still up and they’ve been screenshotted all over the place. In summary: he calls Danielle’s accusations “factually impossible” and says that he’s taking legal action because instances like this do a disservice to victims of sexual assault. Then he posted screenshots of photos and tweets and hotel receipts to support his claim that there’s no way he could have met Danielle the night in question. He also mentions Selena Gomez multiple times because he was with her that night and so she’s now been dragged into this.
And then there’s the second allegation.
Kadi, so far, has not deleted her tweets and continues to stand by her accusations in support of Danielle. JB has not spoken about Kadi’s accusations. As you might expect, JB’s fans came at both women hard. Which is a reminder of why women are hesitant to come forward. Victims of sexual assault have already been traumatised and being attacked for their credibility retraumatises them even further. Despite his “receipts”, however, not everyone believes JB. Here is someone with an incredible amount of influence and he also has resources. He says he’s willing to go through the legal process and that’s fine, but also we should remember that the legal process often does not serve victims of sexual assault and it often benefits those with deep pockets. On top of that, the other problem is that to proclaim his innocence Justin used Selena Gomez.
The backstory there, as you know, is long and complicated. Selena has shared that she felt betrayed by Justin. That he has been a significant source of pain in her life. And now that source of pain is making her his alibi. It’s a sh-tty position to be in and there’s no indication that she consented to it. But even if she did, it’s asking someone to perform the labour of vouching for you. This is an issue that’s been highlighted in other f-ckup situations both related to and not related to sexual assault. Like when a man trots out his wife and kids after being accused of inappropriate conduct or worse. Or when someone writes some racist sh-t and calls out to their Black friends and associates to prove their cred. I wrote about this yesterday in my apology post, about the collateral damage that happens when a person is exposed. So while Selena was quietly doing her thing, and trying to move even farther away from the JB era, suddenly she’s found herself right back in the conversation. The situation with Justin Bieber will be ongoing, as more information becomes available and if legal action is pursued. If that’s the case, Selena’s involvement will also be prolonged. It’s unfair to her. And of course, most importantly, so much of how we process sexual assault is the most unfair to victims. We’re not even done addressing the celebrity aspect of it. That’s coming up in the next post.