The recent rape allegations against Conor Oberst of the band Bright Eyes hit really, uncomfortably close to home for me.
In the past few weeks, it’s come to light that an anonymous xoJane commenter confessed in a comment in a post thread that when she was 16, a decade ago, she had some inappropriate sexual contact with Oberst, who was in his mid-twenties at the time. The comments have since been deleted but a rape allegation was made; the commenter wrote that her husband had encouraged her to “out” Oberst as a means of empowerment.
As per College Candy, this is the first comment on the xoJane post by the anonymous woman:
I was raped by a “rock star” myself. I was 16 years old, he was in his 20s. No one believed me (he wasn’t even that famous then). No one believed me because I had been his biggest fan for several years at that point, his pictures covered my locker, etc. I guess when I made the accusation, everyone thought it was some sick & twisted way to get… I don’t know, closer to him? My own mother didn’t believe me until recently and it’s 10 years later now. This guy is the poster boy for what was known as “emo” back in the day, everyone thinks he’s so sweet and sensitive and sad, that he could never be the vicious monster he was that night. It makes me sick. I want to out him so bad. Every time I hear his name, I want to tell people what he did. I think people deserve to know. But due to how shit went down with my own friends&family at the time of the assault, the backlash terrifies me. It hurts to constantly see the way people fawn over him as if he’s a God. It’s really hard dealing with your attacker being famous or popular when you know the truth about them but feel no one will listen.
Anyway, I am so sorry that this happened to you but so glad you finally got out.
Again via College Candy, this is the xoJane comment where she identified Conor Oberst directly:
I am not the author [of the xoJane post] but as I said in a previous comment, I was raped by a “rock star” when I was 16 years old and he was in his 20s. My husband suggests I may feel some empowerment by outing my rapist. It was Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes (and several other bands/side projects he fronts, bright eyes being the most popular). I hope you are right about helping the next girl but I’m waiting for the backlash. Thanks for the courage, even if you weren’t directing it at me.
Once the comment began attracting attention on the Internet, the woman responded and expanded her comments in a Tumblr post. In it, she claims she was introduced to Conor Oberst because her former English teacher was his brother. The post quickly went viral. It has since been taken down but you can read it in full on BuzzFeed, from which I offer this quote:
Conor definitely took advantage of my teenage crush on him. At first, I was flattered when he was playing with my hair and had his hand on my leg. It was like my dream come true at that point. But then he clearly wanted to go further and I made it very clear and told him I was a virgin and wasn’t prepared to change that right then but he didn’t stop.
Yesterday, Oberst’s attorney issued a statement to AbsolutePunk stating that the allegations are “absolutely, unequivocally false.” It said:
Unfortunately, the internet allows for groundless statements like this to travel the world before the truth has any time to surface. This is a particularly serious and sickening allegation, and there is no truth to it. Conor has nothing but abhorrence for the perpetrators of such crimes of sexual violence. The behaviour attributed to him by this individual is in direct opposition to his principles.
If this story is not on your radar, it may be because you weren’t an introspective, angsty teenage superfan of his early 2000s band Bright Eyes and subsequent post-punk political project, Desaparecidos. Let me tell you, to an adolescent, hyper-literate high school sophomore, Oberst was the be-all, end-all of celebrity crushes. He was more poetic than other emo bands like Brand New or Taking Back Sunday and more intellectual than Dashboard Confessional or Saves The Day. His music seemed cerebral, tortured and sexy, and so did he.
Regardless of what allegedly transpired 10 years ago with this anonymous woman, the whole situation serves as an interesting study in the treatment of alleged rape victims. As with many accusations against famous men, there are the usual complaints about the accuser’s motives. What’s exceptional about this situation is that Oberst was semi-famous at best at the height of his celebrity and so the victim wanting compensation or notoriety seems unlikely. It’s understandable why the alleged victim — in this case and other cases — would want to keep her identity anonymous. But preserving her anonymity, unsurprisingly, has made some internet voices echo that if the rape really did take place, the victim would have come forward and filed a report.
I err on the victim’s side and I’ll tell you why. See, something very similar to these alleged accusations happened to me.
Ten years ago, when I was 16 (and, incidentally, Oberst-obsessed), I broke a bone and was ordered to go to physical therapy for a couple months. My 24-year-old surfer-hot physician Doug* was so good-looking that it made my mom and me giggle. After the first visit with my mother present in the room, Mom took to reading in the waiting room while I had my sessions.
During one visit, Doug had music playing in the background, including Dashboard Confessional and some other music I thought was just too cool. Over the next few visits, he gave me music suggestions for indie bands I was a bit too young to be familiar with (think Superchunk and Sunny Day Real Estate) and also opened up to me in a way that I knew seemed inappropriate, but made me feel more adult. For example, during one physical therapy visit, Doug somehow (unthinkably) brought up how when he was in college, a classmate forced herself on him and raped him. Even now I don’t really understand the point of his story. To shock me? To be titillating? To see how the concept of rape registered with me?
Doug told me that he usually only did physical therapy on older women who hit on him, and how he wished someone young and hot would come in and make out with him. I had a feeling he was talking about me. But I pretended not to notice while presumably turning 15 different shades of red. Any desire I may have had to take him up on his offer was completely overpowered by the fact that I was virginal and terrified.
Doug knew I ran track. He offered multiple times to go running with me one-on-one and help me “train,” which even then seemed kind of off. Why would a hot, older physical therapist want to hang out with 16-year-old me? Though I was attracted to him, flattered by his obvious attraction to me and felt more adult during our interactions, I was still a kid and I couldn’t process what was going on. I was too young to make a move on him or to tell him to fuck off for his inappropriateness.
I see myself in the Oberst allegations not only because of the uncanny age similarity between the alleged victim and myself and the inappropriate older men, but also the confusion and discomfort of being attracted to the person causing you harm. It really makes everything blurry, especially at a young age. The anonymous woman wrote in her xoJane comment that she was Oberst’s biggest fan, covering her locker with his pictures. Her own mother didn’t believe that he hurt her! At age 16, I didn’t want to rock the boat by telling anyone about what my physical therapist was saying. If I had been in a similar situation as the one alleged with Conor Oberst and overwhelmed by his fame and a years-long crush, I’m not sure what would have happened. But I don’t think it would have been good.
I was lucky. My physical therapist must have noticed my discomfort. During one session, I distinctly remember him asking, “You don’t want to come here anymore, huh?” At which point I shook my head “no” and I never did go back.
It’s scary to think now that my treatment may have not been complete at that point or — maybe more distressing — that it had been for a while. I really don’t know what he was doing with me; I’m only grateful he stopped before it escalated further. But the fact that it escalated at all between an older man and a teen girl is a reminder of the unbalanced power dynamic present in both mine and Oberst’s alleged victim’s stories.
My situation comes nowhere near the xoJane commenter’s in severity. But in the spirit of solidarity, 10 years later and behind a computer screen, just like her, I am able to come out and hopefully make a case for why we should believe her.
S.W. Kiley is a writer in Portland, Oregon.
[Image via Getty]