Bright Eyes Frontman Conor Oberst Accused Of Sexual Assault

Click to find out about the rape accusations an anonymous user wrote about Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes.

Photo: Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images

Recently, XOJane posted an incredibly sad “It Happened To Me” story about a woman who dated a famous musician asshole called “I Dated A Famous Rock Star & All I Got Was Punched In The Face.” In the comment section, a woman posted the following comment accusing indie musician Conor Oberst of rape 10 years ago, which has since been deleted:

“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.”

Whoa. Whoa. Now, I don’t know about the rest of you, but I listened to quite a bit of Bright Eyes during middle and high school, and approximately half my friends wanted to marry him someday. He was (and is) seen as an indie music icon, sex symbol, and moody boyfriend material. His songs ranged from grumpy sad to angry sad to desperate sad to drunk sad to moderately happy but still sad, which we apparently loved at the time (and I admittedly still listen to now on road trips and rough weekends). The revelation that such a huge music figure may have abused an underage girl is horrifying.

The anonymous commenter’s story is both frightening and familiar to anybody who’s been abused, particularly by somebody older, then experienced zero support upon discussing the abuse:

“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.”

After a flood of commenters responded to her assertion against Oberst, the user wound up addressing the issue in a since-deleted Tumblr post under the username “XOJaneCommenter.” This is it, in full (which I would not normally post the entirety of, but you can’t go to the original to check it out anymore):

“Look, I didn’t intend for any of this to happen. I was a somewhat regular commenter on xojane and felt safe there. Call it dumb, naive, etc but when I hit that post button, I did not think my comment would be anything more than an exchange with one or two other commenters sharing their stories. Was I stupid to think that making an accusation about Conor like this was just going to remain some blip in the comment section of a feminist website? Obviously. But I didn’t realize that Conor was still *that* popular, to be honest. I guess I felt too safe in that community. I had no intention for this to be all over the place, I really did not.

I am not looking for my 15 minutes of fame or to sue or to let anyone else make money off of this situation (though some are already trying), I am not looking for anything. I am not trying to ruin this man (and that isn’t going to happen regardless). All I was looking for when I made the comment with my story was support from the ladies on that forum that I felt safe opening up to. But now this has been spread all over everywhere and I feel like I need to speak up for the facts, for my character and for my intent (or lack there of).

I wish I could say I was really brave and I was speaking out for the benefit of other victims of rape who may feel discounted in their experiences and alone. But I am not that brave. I am speaking now because everyone else is speaking for me and a lot of it isn’t accurate. But now that it’s out there, if anyone can relate to it and not feel so alone or needs any support, I’m here for that.

I do not expect anyone to coddle me or hate him or to believe me. That’s your choice and has no bearing on my life, but I do expect people to treat me with dignity and respect-this was and is very painful for me. It’s really hard to have my experience smeared everywhere and picked apart, over analyzed, people criticizing me who know nothing of it, etc. But I made the stupid mistake that opened these flood gates so, I will deal with it. But please just try to be respectful-that shouldn’t be so hard. Please refrain from telling me what I could’ve/would’ve/should’ve done. That is highly offensive to any victim of anything and not your place. Please respect my privacy for the safety of my family.

Thank you.”

Unfortunately, even when you simply want support from people regarding sexual assault and abuse, your words can often be scrutinized, spread and critiqued. It’s exhausting and frustrating–particularly if all you had hoped was to get it off your chest. Whether people believe you or not (though especially if it’s the latter), sharing your story can come with painful consequences.

As for Oberst, his rep released this statement:

Usually we wouldn’t feel the urge to comment on spurious blog chatter but the recent allegations made about Conor Oberst by an anonymous commenter on the xoJane website are flagrant enough to demand our response. This individual’s accusations are absolutely, unequivocally false. 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 behavior attributed to him by this individual is in direct opposition to his principles. Conor is consulting with a libel attorney regarding this matter.

Did he rape somebody? I do not know. I have a hard time imagining somebody would falsely accuse a famous person of rape on a very popular site using Disqus, from which anybody with access to the back end of the site can access your IP address, but regardless, we have no idea what happened and it would be deeply unfair to pre-convict him without knowing the full story.

However. If this does prove to be true, that would be incredibly alarming given the amount of access he has had to underage fans throughout his career. What I assume is going to happen is that all of his musician friends and famous supporters (as well as plenty of non-celebs) will come out of the woodwork to support him to the press, insisting his accuser couldn’t be telling the truth or else she would’ve already said something non-anonymously and that he is incapable of harming anybody in such a way. But while I would never claim to know Oberst “got away” with anything illegal, in the event he did, it would not be the first time a famous person has done so. It would also not be the second, third or fourth, and so on.

I worry about the alleged victim because (A) in the digital age, anyone can find out virtually anything about you and (B) accusing a famous person, or even a non-famous person, of sexual assault or abuse almost universally ends up with messy media consequences.

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    • Lindsey Conklin

      Aw, I worry about her, too. I feel like rather than support she’s going to wind up getting backlash. I don’t know if he raped her or not, but like you I wonder what motive one would have to make something like that up on Disqus comment….

    • OhOk

      Oof, that’s awful. Unfortunately, she really may end up defending herself against a libel suit. In short, truth is an affirmative defense, but it sounds like she can’t prove anything. If this is true, and I’m having a hard time dismissing it for the same reasons you are, the next stages of this may well retraumatize her. Awful all around.

      • A Lawyer

        I was about to post the same – glad I saw this. Yes, it’s unfortunate, but without proof, he’s already won. This is a clear case of defamation/libel, and the only defense is the truth which I doubt she has proof of if she couldn’t even convince her own mother at the time it happened.

    • Yup

      It would only be libel if she were to release her name. There’s nothing to sue. But there are things to prove. Conor getting a lawyer only solidifies that these claims are true. The idiot.

      • Nope

        Really? So if someone was posting horrible accusations about you on a huge social media site using YOUR real name, you would just sit back and take it? You idiot.

      • OhOk

        What? No. No, no, no. She used his name and accused him of a violent crime; he’ll be claiming that he’s the victim. As Samantha noted, they can track down her name with her IP address, which his attorneys will do by requesting that the court subpoena XOJane’s records. You can’t protect yourself with anonymity, especially if you aren’t really anonymous. It’s certainly defamation per se because it’s such a serious accusation, but because he’s a public figure he will have to demonstrate that she knowingly or recklessly disregarded the truth. That may sound good for her in theory, but in reality probably not. If she had proof, it sounds like she would have shown it to her doubting mother at the time. Again, horrible all around because even if he doesn’t win, she’s going to get dragged through the mud very, very publicly.

        Also, we don’t convict people in this country because they retain legal counsel (and he didn’t even hire a criminal defense attorney, he hired a defamation specialist).

      • wrong

        It constantly amazes me how much trust people have in online anonymity. It also amazes me how little of an understanding you have of the legal system. So you can do whatever you want as long as you don’t sign your name? If somebody burns down a house but doesn’t leave a confessionary note on their lawn is the perpetrator free of responsibility?

    • Diana

      Not sure how seriously to take anon comments. She could be the proverbial 80 year old man in panties for all we know. Or someone with a hate-on for emo folk. Its not the first time a celebrity has had their reputation ruined over a spurious charge ( people still think Fatty Arbuckle was guilty) Then again… Lostprophets had their detractors too and no one listened to them until it was too late… Mmmm. I think if she’s real the best advice to her would be to go to the police instead of undermining her own case by posting online.

      • Lydia

        Except it’s way too far past the fact for her to get justice on a criminal level. She’s not undermining her own case by talking about it online, she’s reclaiming her voice and her power. She was a child when this happened, many minor victims of sexual assault aren’t able to talk about it until much later in their lives. Especially if they think they won’t be believed. Everything she said in her initial statements sounds like the kind of doubtful negative self talk a lot of victims have. I’m not saying this is true, we have no idea. But condemning her for coming forward now is doing nothing but telling other victims they won’t be believed either.

      • KarenMS

        I don’t see any reasons for the down votes. This was a very very valid comment. An anonymous comment could be literally anyone. Having doubts about the validity of the charge goes beyond doubting the story, it’s literally doubting the identity of the accuser. I’ve seen people post to baby boards that they’ve lost babies who have then been proven to be hoaxes. There is no level too low for Internet commenters.

    • Gangle

      Whether or not this event actually happened (and to be honest, I couldn’t possibly ‘pick a side’ based on some comments made on the interwebz), either way my heart goes out to the commenter. She is obviously in some considerable amount of pain and anguish and needs comfort and support.

      • C.

        Except that if the event never happened he/she has just accused an innocent person of rape. This would make him/her the worst kind of troll.

      • Gangle

        I guess that is a possibility, but not necessarily so. I went to school with someone who did this. She falsely accused the father of one of my friends of sexual assault. I won’t go into the details, but it ended up that the dates etc that it was meant to occur on and the locations of the people involved didn’t match up at all, and she ended up admitting she made the whole thing up and it was thrown out of court. Of course, this was shocking and terrible for the father accused and his family, and they totally did not deserve that pain. But it turned out much later on that the ‘victim’ was suffering from mental illness, and had in fact been abused in her short life.. just not by the man accused. I am not sure of the thought-process or events that lead her to falsely accusing an innocent man instead of her actual attacker/s, but she was a victim, and she was in need of compassion and support. That of course does not make her actions right in any way, but at the same time she wasn’t exactly a ‘troll’ either. Just a very very messed up young girl who had many problems and warning signs that should have been picked up on a long time ago.
        What makes me particularly sad about this anonymous commenter is that if it had actually happened she didn’t feel safe enough or supported enough to contact the police at the time. That makes me very scared.

    • adamfox

      Speculation from insensitive commenters and sensationalist media outlets does nothing but confuse the court of public opinion. Everyone needs to eat some humble fucking pie and get behind the complex and difficult process of the law, due diligence and common sense. That is the only way the truth will out. Great article!

    • aemccarthy

      I think what bothers me is our predisposition to just assume that rape victims are lying, for whatever reasons. We can think of one million reasons to explain away this girl’s story – she’s looking for attention, she’s not actually a woman and is just trying to stir up shit on XOjane, or whatever – but very few of us are willing to confront the fact that our heroes (and Conor Oberst is certainly not one of mine, but he is for many people) are capable of this kind of behavior.

      What exactly does a rape victim have to do, how does she have to act, in order for people to buy her story at face value. If someone comes up to you and tells you that they were robbed, you believe them almost unequivocally. Sexual assault, as we know, is perhaps the only crime that isn’t true for.

      • Samantha_Escobar

        Agreed. Like I said, I have a damn hard time imagining anybody would falsely accuse a wealthy famous person with a huge following. Historically, anybody who accuses powerful men of sexual assault are subjected to horrible consequences like being publicly ostracized, scrutinized to a horrifying extent, threatened, intimidated, and ridiculed.

        Despite what MRAs and the like often claim about women who discuss being raped, it is significantly more likely that the person is telling the truth–often at a huge personal cost–than not. There aren’t really any benefits to accusing a famous person of raping you besides hopefully getting some closure and hopefully preventing that person from ever harming another again.

      • robbedbyoprah

        No, people assume that anonymous online commenters are generally full of shit. I don’t automatically assume this anonymous person’s story is true just like I’d assume you wouldn’t believe me if I told you that I was robbed by Oprah Winfrey.

        I believe people I trust at face value. If I don’t know you, I need proof.

      • Ross Robbins

        Yeah, but she was lying.

    • Anna

      If this is true it is doubtful she is the only victim. There will be more. Glawyer and talking about libel is a great way to scare them from coming out.

      • Ross Robbins

        Whaddaya know, it was bullshit. Shame on you people with your witch hunt mentality.

    • Charmless

      I don’t think I would be brave enough to handle the backlash if I was raped or assaulted by a celebrity. I’d need to be sequestered from the Internet. If I went online and saw things like “Mmm. I’d let **CELEB** rape me anytime!” or “BEAT ME, **CELEB!**” it would make the situation significantly more traumatic.

      The Chris Brown fans were foul. Oberst’s army of angst-ridden kids with asymmetrical haircuts (haven’t we grown up enough to be over him by now?) are going to jump to his defense because how could a sweet little puppy like him hurt anybody (except his lyrics about sex were always pretty gross), and that’s bad enough, but, because I’m fucking sick, I often wonder what would happen if one of the major tweeners attacked somebody. The media attention would be one thing, but those fanbases are terrifying. Mobilize them against someone who is threatening to discredit their reason for living and it would get so ugly so quickly.

    • C.

      I wouldnt be surprised since most celebrities are awful people. Unfortunately he’s innocent until proven guilty (of anything other than shitty music) so the actual fact is that we’ll probaby never know. I feel horrible for survivors of rape by people in power. They are in a terrible position. But imagine for a moment that this poster is one of those MRA guys who post fake rape claims to discredit women. (Could be, we don’t know after all and they’ve done it before). Then what? Are we excused for speculation about a celebrity. Or have we put him in danger and/or destroyed his reputation ?

      I’m inclined to think he did it. Purely because he gives me the creeps and I think he’s too bizarre a choice for a faker. But that won’t stand up in court … for a reason. Now who wants to drive to Omaha with me and burn his house down?

      (NB if his lawyers reading that last part was a joke)

      • Ross Robbins

        Yeah, unfortunate that we didn’t just execute him, eh? What with the fact that she was LYING.

    • Cari

      Police or whoever would be wise to look into it properly. They’re investigating a few UK police forces now to see if they dropped the ball following Ian Watkins (Lostprophets) being done for paedophelia. He started out with underage (location depending) fans, from the reports of the case.

    • Alexandra

      I am NOT NOT NOT saying she’s lying, I promise, but as for your comment that you cannot believe someone would accuse a famous person of rape on a popular website using Disqus, I mean, people do things for attention all the time. Most recently, the waitress who posted a picture of a fake receipt purported to be gay-bashing – which turned out to be false. You’d think – why would someone do this when it can be so easily disproven? Some people need that attention and either don’t understand what the consequences of their actions will be, or don’t care.
      That said, I would hope that this isn’t true. At this late date, after SOL have expired on this crime, and with a he said/she said situation against a famous rich person, she does not have an easy road ahead.

    • Diana

      Well she WAS lying and admitted it and he dropped the libel suit which is more than I would have done. I hope you jackasses feel sorry for spreading this crap around the web. http://arts.nationalpost.com/2014/07/22/conor-oberst-drops-libel-lawsuit-against-woman-who-accused-him-of-rape-after-her-admission-that-claims-were-a-lie/