What Kesha Taught Me About Justice
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Politics and Activism

What Kesha Taught Me About Justice

In response to Brendan O'Neill's "The New Ivy League Lynch Mobs."

What Kesha Taught Me About Justice
Ed Rhee

It’s been four months since the New York Supreme Court threw out the charges that Kesha Sebert filed against her music producer, Lukasz Sebastian Gottwald, or better known in the music industry as Dr. Luke, for sexually assaulting her. The judge presiding over the case, Justice Shirley Werner Kornreich, said that since the alleged crime was committed 10 years before and outside New York State, the case couldn’t move forward.

In November of 2015, Kesha’s request to make an album without Dr. Luke was denied by Sony, her music label. Part of her original contract stated she would work exclusively with Dr. Luke. The ongoing court case that alleged Dr. Luke’s sexual assault of Kesha was not deemed reason enough to breech the exclusivity clause, and Sony refused to make music with her if she didn’t work with Dr. Luke.

On February 23, 2016, right before the New York Supreme Court threw out the charges, Brendan O’Neill wrote an article for The National in response to the outpouring of support over social media for Kesha. With #FreeKesha trending on Twitter, O’Neill said that Kesha’s story “reveals the irrational rot that has set in within much of modern feminism.”

When O’Neill isn’t busy bashing “self-styled” feminists for supporting Kesha, he makes a few important points that need to be addressed. For one, he says that feminists “assumed that a man was guilty of rape on the basis of nothing more than accusation and suspicion.” On the surface, it may seem this is exactly what people who sent Kesha “I believe you” tweets were doing. However, it’s a lot more complicated than that.

Take, for example, that 97 out of 100 rapists walk free. Or that for every 1,000 reports of sexual assault, only 13 are referred to a prosecutor. From those 13, only seven lead to a criminal conviction. For those who didn’t hear that, seven out of every 1,000 reports of sexual assault lead to an arrest.

One statistic we don’t have, however, is how many women make up allegations of rape to exact revenge or get something that they want. To be sure, some women lie about being raped. But not the majority. Not even close. Rough estimates put the number around eight-10 percent, which would mean that 90-92 percent of the time, allegations of sexual assault are true.

The fact is that the criminal justice system fails a lot of women who have been sexually assaulted. It’s dangerous to presume guilt before a case has gone to trial, but it’s equally dangerous for trauma victims not to be taken seriously. And in 993 out of every 1,000 reports of sexual assault, the testimony of victims is not taken seriously because there’s not sufficient evidence. And if there’s not substantial evidence that means it didn’t happen, right?

In his article, O’Neill wrote, “If I say that someone punched me in the face, should that be ‘enough’? Enough to have my alleged puncher…punished in some fashion?” He touches on one of the justice system’s major failings. It’s a good idea in theory to require proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, but in some cases — like that of rape — evidence is incredibly fragile and difficult to collect. Without DNA evidence that a rape has taken place, a conviction is nearly impossible unless the alleged confesses. If someone who has been raped takes a shower or uses the bathroom any time before a rape kit has been done, it could tamper with the evidence, and in some cases, there’s no DNA to find regardless. After the trauma of the attack itself, many victims don’t want to report it or get a rape kit taken because these are additional traumas themselves.

Without DNA evidence, Kesha’s case was doomed from the start. It was her word against his, and her word wasn’t worth much based on her image as a pop star who frequently sings about partying and enjoying sex. Leora Tanenbaum writes in her book "Slut!", “If [a rape victim] has been sexually active, many people may find it hard to believe that she is capable of saying no (or that she has a right to say no once she has said yes.)”

I understand where O’Neill is coming from in his article, even if he was insensitive about it. The justice system is in place for a reason, and in some cases, the accused really is innocent. Which is why I’m calling on all women: Please do not lie about sexual assault. Doing so invalidates those who have been assaulted and makes getting justice harder. We live in a culture where sexual trauma isn’t taken seriously, and the only way for that to change is for all women (and men) to take it seriously.

It remains that in some cases, rapists walk free. And while there’s room for that kind of error, there’s also room to believe women when they say they were raped before a verdict is passed. Rape is a trauma that haunts you for your entire life and what people in that situation most need is to be believed. I don’t want innocent people behind bars, but I also don’t want anyone who has survived abuse to feel like their experiences aren’t valid, even if they can’t prove them in a court of law.

In Kesha’s case, I don’t agree with O’Neill that she was trying to “wriggle free from her contract with Sony,” the assumption behind these words being that she might have made the entire assault up to gain creative control that her contract didn’t grant her. She had a lot to lose by stepping forward, like her credibility, and even when she was offered a plea deal — creative control in exchange for dropping the allegations against Dr. Luke — she didn’t take it. If she’d made her rape up just to “wriggle” out of her contract, she would have taken that plea deal. But she didn’t because creative control wasn’t the point. Dr. Luke raped Kesha and she didn’t get justice for the same reasons many women don’t get justice: We don't believe them. That’s the point. That’s the problem.

That’s why I believe Kesha.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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