One of the most important and controversial sexual assault cases in recent years has many music fans and feminists in an outcry over the United States’ flawed and problematic justice system. As previously discussed in an Arts & Entertainment article in the Nov. 6, 2015 issue of The Lamron, pop singer Kesha is still fighting a losing battle against her producer and alleged sexual assaulter Lukasz “Dr. Luke” Gottwald.
Kesha filed a lawsuit against Gottwald in October 2014 seeking to void contracts with the producer and Sony Music, which would allow the singer to record independently with other labels. The singer claims Gottwald sexually and emotionally abused her throughout the 10+ years they worked together.
The New York Supreme Court denied the injunction on Friday Feb. 19, finding Kesha to be “free” to record independently—even under her current Sony Music contracts. New York Supreme Court Justice Shirley Kornreich said she would “do the commercially reasonable thing” in supporting the music industry with her ruling. After the ruling, Gottwald’s attorney claimed Kesha’s sexual assault accusations were untrue attempts to publicly defame the producer.
This case’s ruling sets a dangerous precedent for women in the music industry and for all future sexual assault cases. Not only does the ruling explicitly state that the music industry’s interest should come before the safety of an alleged victim of sexual assault, but the alleged abuser’s attorney also publicly shamed the alleged victim. These cases are serious issues when multi-million dollar contracts are at stake, but in no way should an alleged victim’s safety and mental health be compromised in favor of their alleged abuser’s career and reputation.
Kornreich’s claim that Kesha is “free” to record independently under her current contracts can be contested. Kesha’s attorney Mark Geragos claimed that under her current contracts, Kesha could technically produce music without Gottwald, but two of the producer’s companies would directly profit off her music. No matter whom Kesha works with, Gottwald would still have an influence and affiliation with her career and profits under the current contracts. Kesha does not want to be affiliated with her alleged abuser in any way.
This is a textbook case of how rape culture permeates our institutions and makes it nearly impossible for alleged sexual assault victims to be believed. One of the most troubling claims from Gottwald’s attorney is how the lack of physical evidence and initial report of rape somehow proves Kesha is lying. Sexual assault is seriously underreported because of fear, power dynamics with abusers, personal shame and the high potential of victim-blaming. The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network notes that 68 percent of sexual assaults are not reported to police and that 98 percent of rapists will never serve time in prison or jail.
Kesha’s alleged abuser is a rich and powerful figure in the music industry; how could she build a case against someone who controls her career and reputation and had this influence on her from a young age? As we now see after the ruling, Kesha cannot compete against the music industry’s giants.
This case is complicated and goes deeper than just one person. The court ruled in favor of a capitalist and exploitative industry at the expense of an alleged victim—in turn supporting the case of an attorney who publicly defamed and blamed the alleged victim. This case also addresses the complexity of a victim needing forensic evidence for undeniable proof of assault.
The support that Kesha has received from fans and fellow celebrities is encouraging, but the ruling has already set our country back decades on the road to help sexual assault victims. Hopefully, the next step in the process will see justice for Kesha against cruel and unmerited institutions that want to silence victims.