On Friday afternoon, a judge ruled against Kesha’s request to be released from her contract with Sony. That contract commits the 28-year-old pop star to making six more albums with the company, and thus links her to a producer she says sexually assaulted her.
In 2014, Kesha filed a lawsuit against producer Dr. Luke (Lukasz Gottwald), whose production company is part of Sony. According to Billboard, the lawsuit detailed Kesha’s claims that Dr. Luke had abused her for years, forcing her to snort drugs, giving her “sober pills” and raping her. Since then, she has been in a protracted legal battle with the producer, trying to extricate herself from her contract with him.
Kesha is a wealthy, beautiful, white celebrity working at the upper echelons of an elite industry. Yet, even these privileges don’t set her apart from other victims of sexual abuse who face a justice system that often doesn’t protect them. Her story sheds light on why rape remains one of the most grossly underreported crimes.
Women (and men) often wait years to speak up about sexual abuse. Consider Bill Cosby’s victims, some of whom didn’t feel safe coming forward until multiple decades had passed. Still, that fact doesn’t stop people from questioning why victims don’t come forward sooner and suggesting their hesitance makes them liars.
The truth is that there are few incentives to coming forward with an allegation of sexual assault. It means having to recount a trauma over and over again, to people who may not even believe that what you say happened actually happened. It means facing the judgments of those closest to you, and in Kesha’s case, the judgments of the public who determine the success of her career. It means being picked apart, as people try to find just how “perfect” a victim you are. It may mean dealing with law enforcement officials and members of a jury who have been socialized to believe myths about rape.
“You’ve already been violated,” Madonna told Howard Stern last year when he asked why she never reported a violent assault to the police in the late 1970s. “It’s just not worth it. It’s too much humiliation.”
And most of the time, even after all of that “humiliation,” an abuser will never see the inside of a jail cell. According to RAINN, just 2 percent of rapists serve jail time, and though it’s somewhat easier to win a civil suit than a criminal one, nothing is guaranteed.
At least in 2016, the court of public opinion can provide some support to women and men who come forward with sexual assault allegations. Today the hashtags #FreeKesha and #SonySupportsRape were trending, with people all over the world using their Internet voices to speak out on Kesha’s behalf. Of course, these hashtags won’t change the outcome of her case.
Kesha came forward with her allegations. She made them public. She has been put through the wringer — emotionally, physically and professionally. But the distance she desires from her alleged abuser is still out of her reach.
This sends a message to victims that coming forward means running the risk of losing a lot and gaining little. What kind of “justice” is that?