One by one, the women came forward and said they believed her.
She had said he sexually, physically, and verbally abused her for a decade. That he drugged her, and that these actions led to a serious eating disorder which eventually landed her in a rehabilitation facility.
They worked together. He was her boss, and she was contractually obligated to make music with only his company.
She did all (or at least, some) of the things you’re supposed to do in these circumstances. She reported the assaults and she sued him in 2014. He countersued. Just last month, the judge denied Kesha an injunction which would have allowed her to record new music without Sony as the court process unfolds, and without producer Dr. Luke (real name Lukasz Gottwald). The judge said the contract had to be honoured, and Sony has largely been pretending nothing is happening.
But women, other famous women who, unlike Kesha, are free to make great music right now, are using their own spotlight to defend her, and to raise awareness about sexual assault. Taylor Swift donated money to help with her court fees. Adele used her platform at the Brit Awards to publicly support her. Lady Gaga put on a performance at the Oscars to draw attention to the sexual assault epidemic, and she continues to speak out in support of Kesha. Lena Dunham wrote about it in her newsletter, Lenny.
If the system won’t punish abusers of women, the industry needs to set an example and find its own ways to do so.
And, finally, so is Sony. Reports are coming out that the label is going to drop Dr. Luke one year before his contract is up. (A legal rep for Dr. Luke says the producer is on great terms with the company, Sony says "no comment").
In a way, this could be seen as a victory. The purported wrongdoing has (maybe) been acknowledged, and there is at least a hint of a suggestion that women should be believed.
On the other hand, the way is happening leaves much to be desired. Luke, for example, would likely be paid off to leave quietly without making a fuss. If so, he is getting rewarded with money and no real punishment, seeing as how the contract was going to expire anyway. He isn’t likely to face any meaningful legal recourse, if what we’ve seen of sexual assault trials involving public figures is any indication.
What’s more, if the reports that Sony is dropping Dr. Luke are true, it seems the company is acting out of embarrassment rather than morality. A source apparently told The Wrap Sony “can’t afford the Adeles of the world out in the streets calling the label unsupportive.”
It took both the Adeles and the everyday people who are concerned about the ongoing state of incessant violence against women to get the company to (maybe) do something. As far back as 2013, Kesha’s fans made a petition to “free” her from Dr. Luke. They came together both in IRL protests and with #FreeKesha to urge Sony to get rid of this guy.
This situation isn’t only about Kesha. If she cannot expect to be believed, who can?
But this situation isn’t only about Kesha. If she cannot expect to be believed, who can? Other women met the same fate in Canada recently, when they came forward to police and publicly accused broadcaster Jian Ghomeshi of being an abuser. The police charged him with several counts of sexual assault and one of choking to overcome resistance. As the case travelled through court, though, the defense made a mockery of the women, who had virtually no recourse. And though the verdict has yet to be announced, it seems their credibility has been sufficiently destroyed to let him off. The system, then, is designed to honour the necessary innocent-until-proven-guilty rule, but it is also set up to attack women who report sexual assault.
To get rid of the men in power committing these crimes is no simple feat, due in part to the fact that it’s so hard to “prove” these crimes. Music publicist Heathcliff Berru’s downstepping, for example, came only after much public pressure and raging, when it became clear the story wouldn't just go away.
And often, people accused of sexual assault simply brush it off as though the accuser is clearly just on a quest for attention. Swans’ Michael Gira, for example, called Larkin Grimm’s report that he was a rapist a “slanderous lie.” Later, he issued a statement that called what transpired between them “an awkward mistake.” (She later released a song for sexual assault survivors called "I Don't Believe You.")
So what do these events and the way they unfold say about the safety of other women in the industry, and for survivors in general?
Smaller scenes are wrestling with the same questions. I was at a gathering on Tuesday held to discuss scene safety in Toronto, and the person who runs one downtown venue said he often feels conflicted about booking artists.
“You know, I’m there and I’ve heard half a rumour about someone. Someone tugs their collar and says, ‘You might wanna watch out for them…’ So do I confront the musician, or no?’”
The answer isn’t always clear. The gift of operating within a smaller scene, though, is that it’s easier to keep tabs on who’s who, and to spread the message of who is safe to be around and who isn’t. That same DIY ethos is the only support women at any level are getting, though, and it’s not sufficient.
Rape and sexual assault are still being seen as women’s issues, as opposed to crimes men need to stop doing. And according to one study, online harassment of women is poised to become the norm. (Anyone who is a woman on the internet knows this is already the case. If you’re not a believer, please see the verdict in Canada’s first Twitter harassment trial). These things are true despite the power (and trendiness) of this newfound fourth wave of feminism, which was born on the internet and headed up by formerly disenfranchised voices, mainly women of colour and queer folks.
More and more people are doing the work and being vocal about it. But the institutions we’re operating within have not caught up to us. And if the system won’t punish abusers of women, the industry needs to set an example and find its own ways to do so.