What Happened to Kesha?: A Timeline

If Kesha's lawsuit against Dr. Luke is the first-of-its-kind, precedent-setting decision her lawyer says it will be, all women in the music industry should be paying attention.
By    November 17, 2015

Haley Potiker is still getting the glitter out of her couch cushions.

“I know I cannot work with Dr. Luke. I physically cannot. I don’t feel safe in any way.”
— Kesha, in her latest affidavit

All Kesha wants to do is leave her contract. This September, the singer born Kesha Rose Sebert was forced to push for a preliminary injunction from a New York judge to implore the court to speed up her ongoing legal battle with Dr. Luke, the producer to whom she’s been tied for over a decade. Without it, her career could be over by the time it’s allowed to proceed.

Luke–real name Lukasz Gottwald–signed Kesha in 2005. Their contract hasn’t been renegotiated since then, which is far from industry standard for a platinum selling artist. (Labels often sign new artists to long deals, then renegotiate if that artist becomes a star, to keep him or her happy and productive.) Meanwhile, Kesha’s career has languished, through no failure of her own. Her most recent appearance on record, a 2013 guest turn on Pitbull’s Dr. Luke-produced single “Timber”, was a runaway success that in any other case would secure an artist a release date. Instead, Kesha’s resources are cut off while she sits in legal and career purgatory.

What follows is a comprehensive timeline of Kesha’s career to this point, including what the star alleges was going on behind the scenes. Kesha’s claims against Luke and Sony have broad implications for women who are under the contractual control of abusive men. At a key moment when women in music are coming forward with their horror stories of industry sexism, it is time to rally around–and believe–Kesha.

2005-2008: The Beginning

Long before Dr. Luke and Max Martin cold-called her at home in Nashville, Kesha and her songwriter mom, Pebe Sebert, were recording demos at a local studio. In 2005, one of those demo CDs caught Dr. Luke’s attention. Kesha flew to meetings in New York and LA, eventually signing to his label, Kemosabe Records, and his publishing company, Prescription Songs. At Dr. Luke’s request, Kesha dropped out of high school and moved to Los Angeles shortly thereafter.

In her 2012 autobiography, My Crazy Beautiful Life, Kesha writes: “I was seventeen and alone in LA. I stayed with family friends and looked for work to keep enough gas in the car to take me to and from writing appointments. By the time I made it out there, Dr. Luke was fast on his way to becoming one of the most sought-after producers in the world. He was booked solid. I ran around the hot L.A. streets writing songs every day and looking for people to make music with.”

This is echoed in a Billboard cover story about the star, published February 2010: “Just 18 months ago, swanning down this or any red carpet would’ve been unimaginable for Kesha Rose Sebert. She had no major record deal, no manager, and she was estranged from the producer who discovered her, Dr. Luke. […] she rarely worked with or even spoke to Luke.”

In her complaint, Kesha’s attorney describes a darker side of her early relationship with Dr. Luke:

Dr. Luke isn’t the mentor he promised he’d be:

“Upon arriving in Los Angeles, Ms. Sebert soon realized that Dr. Luke was not the mentor he represented himself to be and the opportunities were not what he had promised they would be… Dr. Luke provided no time, guidance, or support for Ms. Sebert’s music career, ultimately leaving her career to languish.”

“A far cry from a mentor, Dr Luke displayed despicable conduct in front of Ms. Sebert… Dr. Luke would boast and brag to Ms. Sebert about how he liked to take girls out on a first date, get them as drunk as possible, and ‘fuck them in the ass.'”

Dr. Luke starts to abuse Kesha, who is a teenager isolated in Los Angeles:

“Soon after moving to Los Angeles, Dr. Luke began to violently abuse the young Ms. Sebert… Dr. Luke continuously made sexual advances towards Ms. Sebert. He forced Ms. Sebert to take drugs and alcohol in order to take advantage of her sexually while she was intoxicated.”

2009: Flo Rida’s “Right Round”

Right Round” by Flo Rida was Dr. Luke’s first #1 single produced without Max Martin, his mentor and frequent collaborator. Luke had been working exclusively with Martin since co-producing Kelly Clarkson’s breakout hit “Since U Been Gone” with the super-producer in 2004. “Right Round” was an international No. 1 and set a single-week record for digital sales. Kesha was featured on the hook but isn’t credited as a featured artist and received no profit, at least monetarily, for its success.

Kesha writes in My Crazy Beautiful Life: “I got a call from Dr. Luke. He needed someone to sing on a Flo Rida song. The song, “Right Round,” went to the top of the charts across the world and broke the record for most digital sales in a week. When I first heard it on the radio, I pulled my car over, turned up the radio, and started crying. It was finally happening. I didn’t make a dime off the song, but it didn’t matter. I would walk around and hear my voice coming out of car windows, storefronts, and bars, yet I still didn’t have any money.”

She then describes the way the song’s success affected her prospects: “I got multiple record-contract offers, but ultimately decided to go with Dr. Luke’s label, Kemosabe Records, at RCA Records.”

Art by Eva Rinaldi

2010-2011: Animal, Cannibal & The Get Sleazy Tour

By 2010, it appeared Kesha was on the verge of being a bankable star. Her breakthrough single “TiK ToK” was the most popular song in America; the album it belonged to, her first ever, debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 and was certified platinum by fall of the same year.

Today, “Tik Tok” has sold over 15 million copies, which makes it the third best-selling single in digital history. P. Diddy collaborated with Kesha on Tik Tok just because he was feeling it. June of that year, Kesha was invited to join Rihanna’s Last Girl On Earth Tour, on a lineup which also included Nicki Minaj.

In November, Animal was re-released with a companion EP, Cannibal. “We R Who We R”, the lead single from Cannibal, debuted at the top of the Billboard Hot 100.

Also during this time, Kesha co-wrote the song “Till the World Ends” for Britney Spears and she was featured on the remix of the song along with rapper Nicki Minaj. She told MTV in 2011, “I consider myself a songwriter before and above everything else, so it’s an honor to write for one of pop music’s biggest icons.”

In February 2011, Kesha went out on her first headlining world tour, Get Sleazy. The tour sold out instantly in the United States; an extended summer leg with 37 new North American dates was announced. The tour spanned four continents, including Australia, Europe, and South America and lasted almost 10 months.

But the complaint Kesha filed with the Los Angeles court show a dark undercurrent to the story, one that is often heart-wrenching to read. It’s a story in which at the height of her success, Dr. Luke:

Drugs and rapes Kesha while on a flight:

“Dr. Luke sexually, physically, and verbally abused Ms. Sebert for a decade in order to make her feel completely worthless and maintain complete control over her life. On one occasion, Dr. Luke forced Ms. Sebert to snort an illicit drug before they were scheduled to take a flight. Once on the plane, Dr. Luke continuously forced himself on Ms. Sebert while she was intoxicated and drugged. Ms. Sebert was in such an intoxicated state on the plane that she vomited on herself during the flight.”

Nicknames GHB “sober pills”; brings Kesha back to his hotel and rapes her:

“On another occasion, after forcing Ms. Sebert to drink with him, Dr. Luke instructed Ms. Sebert to take what he described as ‘sober pills’ in order for her to sober up. Ms. Sebert took the pills and woke up the following afternoon, naked in Dr. Luke’s bed, sore and sick, with no memory of how she got there. Ms. Sebert immediately called her mother and made a ‘fresh complaint,’ telling her that she was naked in Dr. Luke’s hotel room, she didn’t know where her clothes were, that Dr. Luke had raped her, and that she needed to go to the emergency room. Ms. Sebert later learned that the ‘sober pills’ Dr. Luke had given her were actually a form of gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB), more commonly known as the date rape drug, allowing him to bring Ms. Sebert back to his hotel room alone and rape her while she was unconscious.”

Threatens to “destroy” Kesha and her family if she ever tells anyone what’s going on:

“Dr. Luke repeatedly threatened that if she ever told anyone about these abusive incidents, he would destroy both Ms. Sebert and her entire family. Specifically, after he drugged and raped Ms. Sebert, Dr. Luke took her down to the beach alone to ‘have a talk’ with her. He threatened that if she ever mentioned the rape to anyone, he would shut her career down, take away all her publishing and recording rights, and otherwise destroy not only her life but her entire family’s lives as well. He also threatened her and her family’s physical safety. Ms. Sebert wholly believed that Dr. Luke had the power and money to carry out his threats; she therefore never dated talk about, let alone report, what Dr. Luke had done to her.”

Art by Anthony Quintano

2012-2013: Warrior & My Crazy Beautiful Life

November 2012, Kesha released an illustrated autobiography, My Crazy Beautiful Life. In the book, Kesha refers to Luke respectfully, if a bit coldly:

“After writing and experimenting with a number of people, I was ready to get back into the studio with Dr. Luke, where I knew that a majority of the album would be made. I’ve been working with him since I was seventeen, and this next record was almost as important to him as it was to me. ‘Every song needs to be great,’ he told me. ‘If you come out with an album full of songs that perform well, then you will solidify your career.’” 

“Luke is like a good coach. He is always pushing me and challenging me to get better. We put in a lot of hours at the studio. Every day I work until early in the morning. Often the sun is rising by the time I’m getting home. I will sometimes write and rewrite a song dozens of times before I get it right.”

Kesha’s sophomore album, Warrior (executive produced by Dr. Luke), was released November 30, 2012. Its lead single, “Die Young,” debuted at number 4 on the Billboard top 100, but was pulled from radio following the Sandy Hook massacre weeks later.

Kesha apologized on twitter for the lyrical content of the song, stating in a now-deleted tweet: “i understand. I had my very own issue with ‘die young’ for this reason. I did NOT want to sing those lyrics and I was FORCED TO.”

In April 2013 a reality television series by the same name premiered on MTV. Kesha: My Crazy Beautiful Life was shot over the course of two years by her filmmaker brother, Lagan Seber, and documents the creation of Warrior. On the show, viewers can watch Kesha record her song “Machine Gun Love” during an episode oft-cited by fans for exhibiting tell-tale signs that Kesha feels bullied and controlled by Dr. Luke.

In the episode, Kesha arrives at a recording studio in Los Angeles, where she is filmed belting her heart out in a vocal booth, tracking the hook for “Machine Gun Love.” Cut to a scene of Kesha looking frustrated and disheveled, pouring over a spiral bound notebook. “I really like the rock-n-roll vibe of ‘Machine Gun Love,’” she says in a voiceover, “But my record label has final say on what songs make the record. Unfortunately, they think ‘Machine Gun Love’ is too different from the sound that I’m known for. It’s not pop enough. I want to make music that’s different, but I’m just second-guessing everything I write.”

A collage of footage shows Kesha writing and recording in LA, while white subtitles count the passing days. “I can’t just write party songs forever,” Kesha says. “It’s not that I don’t want to make pop music, but I just want it to be different.” Thirty days into her trip to LA, Kesha tells an offscreen collaborator “I can’t write a song about nothing! I physically can’t write it. Like I can’t do it. I’m stuck.”

Later in the episode, Kesha “nails the first track” of the album, and finally breaks through her writer’s block. She travels back to Nashville to write the rest of the songs with her mom. In a marathon recording session with her family and friends, the footage shows Kesha working right up until the label-set deadline to wrap up her album.

In late 2013, Kesha’s “Animals”–who together make up one of the most devoted, passionate fanbases in the pop world–started demanding “freedom” for the pop-star in the form of an online petition and website that demand Dr. Luke “Let Ke$ha have creative freedom”. In the petition’s description, its author states:

“Ke$ha makes it clear that her producer, Dr. Luke, is stunting her from growing as an artist by making her sing the same generic, predictable, recycled, pop song. Ke$ha also confesses that she has no say whatsoever in what makes the album not to mention what’s released as a single which every artist should have a say in…..The numerous cries for help have been indicative that all she wants is to make music that makes her and her fans happy, and nothing that’s forced and blunt. When Ke$ha, young and naive at the age of 18, was signed to Luke’s 8 album contract, it’s obvious that she was unaware of the severe pop puppeteer act she was soon to play by.”

In an October 2013 interview with Rolling Stone, Kesha responded to a few questions about the petition and its allegations. Her answers seemed rehearsed, and the interview cut off immediately after.

They have over 3300 signatures now. Their argument is that Dr. Luke, and I’m quoting them here, is “controlling Ke$ha like a puppet.” Is this a petition you support?
I feel like my fans are really protective of me. They just want to see me grow as an artist, which I agree with. Hopefully in the future, I’ll be in a position where I can put out a ballad or a more vulnerable song.

You don’t have any creative control now?
Not really. What’s been put out as singles have just perpetuated a particular image that may or may not be entirely accurate. I’d like to show the world other sides of my personality. I don’t want to just continue putting out the same song and becoming a parody myself. I have so much more to offer than that and I can’t wait till the world really gets to hear that on the radio.

Kesha’s complaint to the court shows a much greater willingness to reveal what had been going on behind the scenes.

Dr. Luke was constantly insulting and demeaning towards Kesha:

“Dr. Luke sought to shatter Ms. Sebert’s self-confidence so that she would remain under his control. Dr. Luke consistently bombarded Ms. Sebert with insults such as:

(a) “You are not that pretty, you are not that talented, you are just lucky to have me.”
(b) “I don’t give a shit if you don’t want to sing it, get in there and do it.”
(c) “Did you go party last night because you sound like shit.”
(d) “Go finish the song so I can buy a yacht.”
(e) “There are a million other girls out there like you.”
(f) “You are nothing without me.”

“Dr. Luke cruelly and incessantly criticized Ms. Sebert’s weight, including blatantly doing so in front of other people purely to humiliate Ms. Sebert. He repeatedly instructed her to stop eating and lose weight. Dr. Luke would call Ms. Sebert a ‘fat fucking refrigerator.'”

Dr. Luke attacked Kesha at his Malibu home:

“During a meeting at his Malibu house, Dr. Luke attacked Ms. Sebert with threats, screaming and violently thrashing his arms at her. He physically backed Ms. Sebert into a corner, where she curled up into a ball, crying and fearing for her life. In a frightened and frantic attempt to escape, Ms. Sebert fled Dr. Luke’s house barefoot, ran down Pacific Coast Highway over rocks and broken glass on the ground, climbed up the nearby mountains, and hid there so that Dr. Luke would not be able to find her.”

January 2014: Kesha Checks Into Rehab

On January 3, 2014, Kesha checked into Timberline Knolls rehab facility in Lemont, Illinois for eating disorder treatment.

Her mother, Pebe Sebert, soon confirmed that she was suffering from bulimia nervosa, stating that she had been struggling with the disorder since signing with Dr. Luke. Pebe also responded to rumors that the reason for her need for rehab for alcohol, telling Celebuzz: “Three months after she signed with him she had been dieting and he [Dr. Luke] told her she wasn’t in shape enough. She was dieting and she became bulimic. I remember over a period of a few months she got really skinny and she said she was running Runyon Canyon and just eating well. The truth is she was throwing up. I didn’t know until much later because she said she would quit.”

Pebe went on, “I think it’s gotten worse recently because after the ‘refrigerator’ comment, which was about a year ago, it kicked into high gear. The comment was ‘Can you make her not look like a refrigerator?’ He said that to someone we were close to. It was said to someone else who made the mistake of telling me and I told [Kesha].”

Kesha wrote revealing notes to concerned fans during her stay at Timberline Knolls,  (photos via Buzzfeed):

“Annie — yes, Dr. Luke has tortured me & my family… he did do what people know about + so much more terrible shit. But I have to live my own words and be a warrior and be PROUD of my perfectly imperfect body & self. thank you for the love and letter. I couldn’t have done it without you & my animals.”

“Connor — hey love. thank you so much for the letter. i do remember you 🙂 I’m here working out some emotional trauma & abuse, there is someone I work with who is SO abusive. BUT I have to be a fucking warrior & love myself. thank you so much for the support and love. it’s very needed and appreciated right now.”

Also while at rehab, Kesha was evaluated by doctors. Those doctors concluded that continued contact with Dr. Luke would be “life-threatening” to Kesha:

“Beyond the physical and emotional wounds, Dr. Luke’s abuse had caused Ms. Sebert to suffer from bulimia nervosa… Doctors at the facility told Ms. Sebert and her family that her blood pressure and sodium levels were similar to levels found in patients following a heart attack or stroke. Doctors found that Ms. Sebert suffered from psychological effects caused by Dr. Luke’s abuse, including severe depression, post-traumatic stress, social isolation, and panic attacks. The psychological effects of the repeated abuse suffered were continuous and ongoing as Ms. Sebert was constantly reminded of the abuse by having to continue to be around Dr. Luke and his unrelenting emotional and psychological abuse.”

“The doctors concluded that Dr. Luke had physically and psychologically damaged Ms. Sebert to the point where continuing such contact would be “life threatening” to Ms. Sebert.”

After spending over two months in the rehab center, Kesha was released to her family in March 2014.

Unfortunately, she can’t follow her doctor’s orders and end her relationship with Dr. Luke, as she’s still under his contractual control:

“Ms. Sebert continues to be under Dr. Luke’s physical and contractual control and remains obligated to collaborate with him despite the present, and clinically diagnosed, threat he poses to her life… Ms. Sebert is terrified to even attempt to take control of her intellectual property and her recording career, due to years of working under Dr. Luke’s physical and psychological abuse and threats. She is terrified that Dr. Luke will continue to exploit her physically and professionally.”


Art by Kesha

October 2014: Kesha Files a Complaint

In October 2014, Kesha’s claims against Dr. Luke became public for the first time. Eriq Gardner of the Hollywood Reporter, who has been covering the case since the very beginning, reported at the time: “[Mark] Geragos [Kesha’s lawyer] says that duress can void an agreement, though he can’t cite another case where physical abuse rescinded a recording deal and admits this might be a ‘first-of-its-kind case.’”

October 2014: Dr. Luke Files a Counterclaim

Within weeks of Kesha’s lawsuit, Luke filed his own complaint in New York Supreme Court. In it, he tries to color the dispute as an extortion plot by Kesha, her mother, and her manager (Jack Rovner of Vector Management), claiming that Kesha is lying to get out of her longstanding contracts with him. His complaint states: “As part of the effort to get out of the Gottwald Recording Agreement, Kesha and Pebe have also orchestrated a campaign of publishing false and shocking accusations against Gottwald to extort Plaintiffs into letting Kesha out of the Gottwald Recording Agreement.”

Dr. Luke is right about one thing: he says Kesha’s claims are a ploy to get out of her contract. In his complaint, Luke says that Kesha’s mother had previously threatened to go public with the rape and abuse allegations if he wouldn’t let her walk away. One can assume that’s where the extortion claims come from; one would also probably call that reasonable parenting.

Kesha’s attorney Mark Geragos told The Hollywood Reporter: “It’s a despicable thing of what he is doing. It reminds me of Ray Rice threatening to sue his wife for ruining his career. [Dr. Luke] thinks that because he has got more money than he knows what to do, he can do whatever he wants. Our complaint is accurate and supported by evidence and witnesses.”

June 2015: Kesha Adds Sony Music as a Defendant

Kesha named Sony Music as a defendant, claiming they should be held partially responsible for her abuse. Her lawyers said in a statement: “Dr. Luke’s proclivity for abusive conduct was open and obvious to [Sony Music Entertainment] executives, who either knew of the conduct and turned a blind eye, failed to investigate Dr. Luke’s conduct, failed to take any corrective action, or actively concealed Dr. Luke’s abuse.”

Kesha’s reps also implied that Dr. Luke has abused other female artists under his control, stating: “SME’s conduct placed Jane Doe female artists, including Ms. Sebert, in physical danger by giving Dr. Luke full creative and business control, with nearly limitless financial resources, over young female artists who necessarily were compelled to become dependent upon his good will.”

June 2015: A California Judge puts Kesha’s lawsuit on hold

Kesha’s case was halted in California and moved to New York, where her contract with Luke states any disputes be resolved. Kesha’s lawyers had attempted to prevent this outcome, arguing that the case should be tried in California on the basis that the relationship between Kesha and Luke took place in Los Angeles. Presumably, this choice was made because of California’s more lenient contract laws.

Not that it really matters — Los Angeles Superior Judge Barbara Scheper has made it clear that although California state laws regarding sexual harassment and gender violence have been amended to include anti-waiver provisions (meaning that proof of rape would be enough to void a contract), those provisions wouldn’t apply to a contract signed in 2005, before they were enacted.

September 2015: Kesha Pushes for a Preliminary Injunction in New York

Kesha’s legal team pushed the court last month to provide a preliminary injunction in order to temporarily relieve her from her contractual obligations before the case is decided and the injunction hopefully is made permanent. In their filing to a New York judge, her lawyers pleaded:

“Until this Court rules on the declaratory judgment claim, Kesha is at an impasse. She cannot work with music producers, publishers, or record labels to release new music. With no new music to perform, Kesha cannot tour. Off the radio and stage and out of the spotlight, Kesha cannot sell merchandise, receive sponsorships, or get media attention. Her brand value has fallen, and unless the Court issues this injunction, Kesha will suffer irreparable harm, plummeting her career past the point of no return.”

Kesha also submitted a declaration repeating her allegations, and saying she “physically cannot” work with Dr. Luke, and doesn’t feel safe around him. The response from Dr. Luke’s camp was callous: “If Kesha now regrets her career being mired in legal proceedings, it’s entirely her making.”

Jim Urie, former president and CEO of Universal Music Group Distribution, also submitted an affidavit in support of Kesha’s claim: “No mainstream distribution company will invest the money necessary to distribute songs for an artist who has fallen from the public eye, as is happening to Kesha at this very moment. Accordingly, if Kesha cannot immediately resume recording and having her music promoted, marketed, and distributed by a major label, her career is effectively over.”

September 2015: Sony Responds

Sony finally addressed the dispute in a written response, stating: “Sebert cannot have it both ways. She cannot claim that Gottwald intimidated her into silence, then — as an apparent afterthought — seek to hold Sony and Kemosabe Records liable for failing to act on conduct that she did not report.”

October 2015: Sony rejects Kesha’s proposal to record an album without Dr. Luke

Most recently, Kesha filed papers to inform the judge that she has written letters to Sony and Dr. Luke requesting to record an album for Sony without Kemosabe or Dr. Luke.

According to her legal team’s brief, “Letters in response indicated both Sony and Dr. Luke believe the exclusivity clauses remain in effect, they will not agree to refrain from enforcement, and Sony specifically will not work with Kesha unless she agrees to work with Kemosabe and Dr. Luke’s company, KMI.”


Art by Themeplus

Kesha is trapped. Since Dr. Luke reportedly threatened to “ruin her career” in attempt to keep her going public with her claims, she’s left at the mercy of those threats while she waits for the result of her lawsuit. At the same time, Luke continues to be in control of her career, and, by extension, her.

With her career hanging in the balance, the legal battle between Kesha and Dr. Luke is about much more than freedom of expression, much more than financial opportunity. What a judge will have to decide, in what will likely be a precedent-setting decision, is whether Dr. Luke’s alleged crimes against Kesha are reasonable grounds for her to break her contract with him. (Tough, considering contract law was largely designed to protect men from having their property taken away, where “property” includes women.)

If this is truly the first-of-its-kind, precedent-setting decision Kesha’s lawyer says it will be, it will have effects that resonate with all women in the music industry. Especially women who are currently under the contractual control of a manbe that a recording deal, publishing deal, or some other exclusive agreement, which are stickier today than ever before.

Even if a judge does decide repeated rape and sexual and verbal abuse is sufficient hardship to void a contract, Kesha will still have to prove her specific case in court. That means she will be asked to prove she didn’t “want” to undergo a decade of constant abuse at the hands of a manipulative and terrifying man. And, as Kate Harding posits in her new book Asking For It: “Rape and sexual assault are unusual, if not quite unique, in that often, the only real evidence of a crime is the victim’s testimony… Ultimately, in the absence of photographic or video evidence, it comes down to one person’s word against another’s.”

All Kesha has is her word against Luke’s–a man who happens to be one of the most sought-after super-producers in the industry. In this case, if Dr. Luke emerges the victor it will mean he will maintain his contractual control over Kesha, and with it a green light for continued abuse. Kesha’s fight is one for bodily autonomy as well as her livelihood–one that she can’t afford to lose.

Alice Vachss, the former prosecutor in charge of sex-crime cases in Queens, New York, who in her 1994 book Sex Crimes accused the criminal justice system of “collaborating” with rapists, has pointed out that rape victims are often pigeonholed into one of two categories: Good Victims or Bad Victims. She writes, “In New York City, Good Victims have jobs (like stockbroker or accountant) or impeccable status (like policeman’s wife); or are well-educated and articulate, and are, above all, presentable to a jury; attractive–but not too attractive; demure–but not pushovers. They should be upset–but in good taste–not so upset that they become hysterical.”

Bad Victims, on the other hand, are perceived as untrustworthy, sneaky girls who the jury believes would be inclined to lie about abuse for their own ill defined, nefarious reasons.

Kesha doesn’t have a “good girl” image. At her peak of fame she was painting her lips blue, singing about enjoying sex, and wearing fishnets under ripped clothing. This is a girl who claimed to brush her teeth with Jack Daniel’s in the morning. She fits squarely into the Bad Victim category, as do many of us who stay silent after we’re raped. The Bad Victim is painted as both conniving and stupid, a scheming mastermind and a pathetic, low-self-esteem wannabe. The defendant’s legal team will dig up all sorts of testimonials about what a slut the Bad Victim was, how she didn’t deserve to get to say no. (Aren’t those the accusations we’re all afraid of? It’s probably why Kesha waited so long to confront Luke in the first place.)

In Slut!, her book about slut-shaming among junior high and high school students, Leora Tanenbaum writes, “The prevailing attitude among teens of both genders is that any girl who says she was raped invited it, deserved it, or is a liar.” She elaborates, “The rape victim is caught in a double bind. First, she may not be believed when she claims she’s been raped. If she 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.) And since the sexual double standard stigmatizes “bad” girls, any girl who has been sexually active and then reports being raped may be accused of lying to avoid the social stigma. Second, people now regard her as “easy” and “slutty,” leaving her vulnerable for another act of sexual violence.”

In an industry rife with sexism, where women are slowly beginning to stand up and share their stories of abuse and mistreatment with each other, Kesha’s case against Luke is an illustrative example of one woman’s soul-sucking journey towards equal treatment. This case is important regardless of the fact that Kesha is a Bad Victim, because there’s no such thing as the Good Victim. The Good Victim is a myth. She was created in contrast to our reality; her standards designed to never be attainable.

The best step we can take toward reversing these trends is begin to trust one another; to take each other’s word when we say we have survived abuse. We need to stop assuming women lie about crimes perpetrated against their bodies. So long as we disallow any woman who enjoys sex her right to prevent it, we continue to live in a world where a rapist can get away with anything, whether he is reported or not.

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