The System That Failed Kesha (And Us All)

#FreeKesha: people online stand united in protest against the unfair, sexist policies and views that leave women like Kesha bound by law in abusive relationships.

For any fan of bubbly pop anthems, Kesha’s music will be undoubtedly familiar: hits like “Tik Tok”, “Die Young” and “Timber” have peppered radio stations and high school dance playlists over the past few years. But recently, Kesha has been in the media for another reason — her lawsuit against producer Dr. Luke and Sony Music, which she filed in Oct. 2014, has been denied at the preliminary injunction level. As a result, she will continue to be trapped in her contract with Sony Music and Dr. Luke (real name Lukasz Gottwald), despite her accusations that he physically, emotionally, and sexually abused her.

Fans and fellow celebrities have taken to Twitter to protest and stand in support of Kesha, who sobbed in the courtroom upon hearing the decision. Lorde and Demi Lovato are just a few of the famous faces who have condemned the verdict, both on the part of the judge and Sony Music’s refusal to void the contract themselves. Taylor Swift even donated $250,000 USD to assist with Kesha’s financial needs during this time.

Lady Gaga, one of Kesha’s staunchest supporters, has dedicated herself to speaking up about the epidemic of “rape culture” (the idea that rape is the victim’s fault) that is embedded in Hollywood’s psyche. “The very reason women don’t speak up for years is the fear that no one will believe them, or their abuser has threatened their life, the life of their loved ones or their livelihood in order to keep their victim quiet and under control,” Gaga said in an interview with The Independent. Lady Gaga’s recent outpouring of support for Kesha and other rape victims stems from her personal experience — like Kesha, she also asserts that she was trapped in an abusive relationship with a person in the music industry though she has not identified her abuser.

Unfortunately, Hollywood is no stranger to these kinds of abuse and rape accusations. In an industry where men hold the power, young women with big dreams often find themselves being exploited for their natural looks and talents. When these women dare to speak up — often at the risk of their careers and public image — it is almost too easy for the male power figures of Hollywood to shut them down and cover up their claims with bribery, threats, or with a clever public relations maneuver. For example, in America, rape and abuse victims are frequently labeled as liars, and so their abusers get away without punishment. Although rape cases are notoriously difficult to handle—often, it’s not much more than a gridlock of he-said-she-said — the generally accepted statistic is that two to ten percent of rape accusations are provably false. This statistic alone indicates the dire predicament rape and abuse victims face.

Kesha’s accusations against Dr. Luke are many—rape, emotional, and mental abuse is the just the tip of the iceberg. She claims he forced her to take drugs and drink alcohol on a plane, and raped her after he drugged her multiple times, including once where she had no memory of what happened due to the drugs. However, Dr. Luke consistently maintains that he did not rape or abuse Kesha, claiming his own innocence in angry terms over Twitter. In addition, his lawyers have painted a negative picture of Kesha in the courtroom—one where Kesha is making an excuse to get out of her contract and into one where she’ll make more money. Kesha has protested this vigorously, as have her many supporters and fans, saying that she just wants to make music in a safe environment without fear of abuse or danger. As a form of gratitude — and also, a subtle protest — Kesha has released a clip of her singing a new song (“Animals”) to her fans. With just a piano and Kesha’s voice, the song is a poignant expression of her gratitude, while also expressing her need for support.

Kesha’s case has been considered by many feminists to be a landmark in high-profile rape cases. Many are disappointed in the judge’s apparent disregard for Kesha’s safety and dignity. Although the preliminary injunction was denied, there is still hope to move the lawsuit forward in the courts. The judge herself acknowledged that despite Kesha’s requirement to remain in her contract, the decision stems from an economic and commercial point of view. The judge passed no judgement on the validity of Kesha’s claims in and of themselves. In addition, Dr. Luke’s lawyers pointed out that Kesha’s contract gives her the freedom to record and produce music with others besides her abuser. This move by the lawyers was intended to discredit Kesha before the judge, but it does give Kesha a bit of freedom that she will undoubtedly exercise.

Though Kesha’s case is full of both setbacks and hope for the future, many feminists are dismayed by how the lawsuit has gone so far. Women who accuse powerful men of rape or abuse have typically fared poorly, judged both by society and by a jury. Lives are ruined and careers destroyed after the negative publicity accusations can bring. Many people, posting online with the hashtag #FreeKesha, stand united in protest against the unfair, sexist policies and views that leave women like Kesha bound by law in abusive relationships. The immorality of the way societies treat this case clearly highlights victims of rape and abuse, and feminists all over the world have eyes on Kesha and how the law handles her. After all, the eventual results of the lawsuit will set a precedent for future cases of rape allegations in Hollywood. Either the system will remain bogged down by sexist and profit-motivated policies, or the legal and cultural systems will move toward more supportive, open-minded policies focusing on the safety of women like Kesha.

This article was written by Savannah Billman. Please send an email to to get in touch.
Photo Credit: Arshaun Darabnia

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