When allegations of sexual assault came out against Conor Oberst (of Bright Eyes fame), I was crushed. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that his music got me through some rough patches in my life, and I couldn’t believe that someone who had written such sensitive lyrics and seemed so attuned to human emotions could do something that disregarded and destroyed them so viciously. How could I ever have related to this abuser? Of course, I knew he was deeply flawed - anyone who listens to his lyrics must know that. But his vulnerability in his music, combined with his vehement denial of these accusations was confusing and upsetting to me - Oberst readily admits to some pretty vile feelings and thoughts in his music, but this was unforgivable.
I immediately sympathized with the alleged victim, Joanie Faircloth, when her story came out. In her comment on an XOJane article relating to sexual assault, she claimed to have been an adoring fan, and that the encounter had occurred after she went to his concert. When reading Faircloth’s (fabricated) account, I flashed back to when I went to a Bright Eyes concert in high school and forced my sister to come to the venue with me hours early so that we could get up in the front row. It was a hot day. I had forgotten my water bottle. I was obviously very devoted. And now those memories were tainted, because Oberst had apparently taken advantage of the very kind of adoration that I, and so many others like myself, had felt so strongly. I felt betrayed, disgusted, and hopelessly naïve.
Now I feel a different kind of betrayal. I didn’t know Faircloth, but I related to her. I believed her, like one should always believe the victim, and I supported her. When recanting her original statements, Faircloth said:
The statements I made and repeated online and elsewhere over the past six months accusing Conor Oberst of raping me are 100 percent false...I made up those lies about him to get attention while I was going through a difficult period in my life and trying to cope with my son's illness. I publicly retract my statements about Conor Oberst and sincerely apologize to him, his family and his fans for writing such awful things about him. I realize that my actions were wrong and could undermine the claims of actual sexual assault victims and for that I also apologize. I'm truly sorry for all the pain that I caused.
While her reasons for creating this story are understandable, it remains that for the simple purpose of gaining attention, Faircloth made the extremely serious issue of sexual assault that much less serious in the public eye. She provided just one more high-profile case for people to point to when making claims about how false rape accusations are much more common than they actually are. Of course, I’m also saddened by the struggle that Oberst went through, being accused of a heinous crime, but his grief, to me, is not the most compelling part of this story.
If anything, the lesson I’ve taken from this ordeal is not to be more skeptical of any and all allegations of rape, but a certain type of allegation. Eventually, digging into Faircloth's history revealed her unreliability with the truth, and that investigation was and is necessary. While it is a crime to rape, it is also a crime to lie. But I remain proud of the way that many came to the defense of the victim, instead of immediately poking holes in her story, because that's the way that victims should be treated when they first tell their stories. In a court of law, I wholeheartedly agree with the doctrine of "innocent until proven guilty," but when a victim tries to tell their story, I'm still going to give them the benefit of the doubt. While I’m glad to know that one of my teen idols didn’t commit the crime I thought he did, I’ve learned not to put any public figures on a pedestal. No matter how deep their lyrics (or their chocolate brown eyes) are.
Photo via Rolling Stone