Indie rocker Conor Oberst, best known for his performances in the band Bright Eyes, is suing a woman for claiming he raped her in the comments section of a confessional xoJane article. In three separate comments on a December 2013 post titled "It Happened to Me: I Dated a Famous Rock Star & All I Got Was Punched In the Face," a woman allegedly claimed that Oberst raped her at a concert when she was 16. She allegedly made similar claims on her Tumblr page. Allegedly because, if these claims existed, they've been deleted. Oberst denies ever physically meeting her and announced Thursday that he's suing for defamation.
The woman allegedly wrote, "Conor took a lot from me including my virginity, my dignity, and self-esteem." She claimed the alleged assault happened over 10 years ago at a North Carolina concert. Allegedly Oberst's older brother was the woman's English teacher, and he introduced the two as a 16th birthday present to her.
Oberst denies all the allegations. Here's the statement from his camp released Wednesday:
Today Conor Oberst filed a libel lawsuit in a New York federal court against [the woman], a resident of North Carolina, who falsely accused him of rape in the comments section of the xoJane website in December of 2013 and again, some days later, on her Tumblr page. The suit counters [her] baseless allegations and states that Oberst never had any physical contact with her, either at the concert in Durham, NC at which she claims the attack took place, or at any other time. The only connection between Oberst and [the woman] was one of artist and fan – a fan who has posted laudatory comments about Oberst elsewhere online, including describing attending his band’s concert as the “Best memory ever!”
... Through his attorneys, Oberst requested that [the woman] recant her false accusations, but she ignored the requests. Oberst has thus been forced to proceed with this libel suit in order to set the record straight and to clear his name. Oberst is seeking to promote the truth and repair the distress this has brought upon him and his family. Oberst intends to donate the proceeds of this suit to charities benefitting the victims of violence against women.
The suit is interesting given the place where the claims originated. The xoJane comment section, much like the comment sections of other prominent women's blogs, is a community of sorts for semi-anonymous feminist-leaning 20- and 30-somethings. There is a lot of group-therapy-like sharing that goes on on the site, and the focus is more on feeling than fact. The post that the woman commented on was by an anonymous author. (Full disclosure: I freelanced some articles for xoJane in college.)
xoJane's editors encourage readers to share — and they do. Articles rack up hundreds, even thousands of comments, which is good for page-views as much as it is for feminist community. Commenters up- and down- vote each other in a battle for visibility, and the discussions often deviate wildly from the topic of the original post. Some commenters say they've found true friends in this online community. But Oberst's lawsuit shows that while the system may be helpful, it isn't failsafe. Women may feel like they can talk freely about sensitive experiences, including rape, incest, and assault, but xoJane doesn't protect them from being accused of libel.
An editor at xoJane did not respond to requests for comment.