Kesha (full name: Kesha Rose Sebert), the pop musician best known for songs like “Your Love is My Drug” and “Tik Tok”, has been embroiled with court cases since fall of 2014. If you haven’t been following her case, now might be the time to start, because her hearing date is coming up, and for those who profess to stand with survivors of sexual violence, it’s a big deal.
What, exactly, is going on? In October of 2014, Kesha filed against her producer, Dr. Luke (Lukasz Gottwald) in Los Angeles Superior Court. Her suit alleged that Dr. Luke drugged and raped her, and that she was the subject of significant emotional abuse at his hands. The 28-page complaint was the talk of the music industry for days, but unfortunately it has proven to be just the beginning of Kesha’s legal journey. The goal of her suit was to be freed from her contract, which has prevented her from producing music with anyone but Dr. Luke; Dr. Luke proceeded to file a counter-suit against Kesha, her mother, and her manager, alleging that they are attempting to exort him in order to free her of her contract.
The initial response opened a slew of questions all too familiar in the sexual violence advocacy world: why didn’t Kesha report the assault to the police? Why choose a civil suit as opposed to a criminal action? Why is there no rape kit? Her attorney, Mark Geragos, has handled these questions reasonably well, arguing that a civil suit allows for greater discovery by Kesha’s legal team, and that fear of her abuser has made additional action difficult.
I’ll go further, though, and say this: there are any number of reasons why rape survivors do not report to the police. They may feel pressured not to create criminal consequences for their attackers. They may not feel emotionally able of dealing with a criminal trial. Rape kits, while useful, can also feel invasive and have to be completed relatively quickly after an individual is attacked; any action, including peeing, can diminish the evidence available through a SANE (sexual assault nurse examiner) exam. On top of that, a civil suit may offer not only additional opportunity to gain evidence, but may also offer greater likelihood of a positive outcome for the complainant, since civil suits rely on a preponderance of the evidence as their standard (meaning it is more likely than not that an action was committed), as opposed to criminal cases, which require that a person be proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
But most of all, the implication that a person might just be making up their assault because they have not involved the police is simply false, and the response to Kesha’s suit is just another example of survivors not being taken seriously because they don’t fit the mold of the “perfect survivor”.
In March of 2015, the judge in charge of the New York cases determined that the suit initially filed in California should be determined first, meaning that Dr. Luke’s counter-suit against Kesha would be tabled until after her case against him had been heard. Unfortunately, this was later undone by a California judge halting her case in June of 2015, because her record contract with Dr. Luke required her to settle in New York.
Her lawyers commented: Kesha now faces an abysmal decision: Work with her alleged abuser…or idly and passively wait as her career tick-tocks away. Kesha’s window of opportunity is nearly shut: She has not been recording, touring or able to market merchandise for nearly a year — an eternity in the industry. If Kesha is not permitted to resume working immediately with the backing of a major record label, her window will forever close.”
Her court case WAS set for Tuesday, January 24 of 2016; unfortunately, it was further delayed as a result of the recent snowstorm, leaving Kesha to continue to wait. Her case is now set for Friday, February 19, when the singer and her fans hope that she will be released from her contract and able to take back her career. The February 19th court date is an injunction hearing, a request by the singer that she be allowed to begin producing music without Dr. Luke, since her forced hiatus has caused damage to her music career.
The allegations included in Kesha’s suit are heartbreaking, dating back to shortly after she left high school in Nashville and moved to Los Angeles to pursue music as a career. It’s easy enough for opponents to claim that she is making up these allegations to get out of her contract, but her conversations with her record label, Sony, from October of 2015 reveal that she is willing to record a new album under their label, as long as she does not have to work with Dr. Luke; the record label refused this, insisting that the exclusivity clause that pairs her with Dr. Luke is still in effect, and forcing her to continue her hiatus from recording and touring.
A culture that too-often paints survivors of abuse and sexual assault as liars sets up individuals like Kesha who have a lot to lose to be seen as making things up to get something they want, and watchng that happen so publicly is miserable. The reality is that as much as skeptics may want to claim that Kesha stands to gain from severing her contract with Dr. Luke, he has perhaps even more to gain by denying all allegations and insisting that she fulfill the full six-album obligation of her current agreement. And in any case, Kesha has lost out significantly through her case, as a result of her determination not to be forced to work with a man who has so mistreated her, and her experience is one that deserves support and solidarity.