By Kavya Udupa (BSE ’19)
Today is March 7, 2016. Ninety-six years since the Nineteenth Amendment was passed and women were granted the right to vote. Fifty-three years since the Equal Pay Act was passed and women were guaranteed the same salary as men who held the same position. Despite these monumental jumps in gender equality, women, like Kesha, are unable to comfortably pursue their careers because they live in constant fear of being sexually harassed or assaulted in their respective workplaces.
For those of you who don’t know, Kesha is in a legal battle with her producer, Dr. Luke, who she accused of drugging and raping her. Kesha wants to stop working under Dr. Luke because of what he has done to both physically and mentally harm her but this is in violation of her contract. The court ruled that she cannot break the contract she has with Dr. Luke and his label, Kemosabe Records, which is owned by Sony. The problem right now is that Kesha does not have any physical proof, like hospitalization records, that Luke sexually assaulted her and as a result, New York Supreme Court Justice Shirley Kornreich stated that Kesha is essentially trying to get out of a contract that is typical to the musical industry. Sony has offered a compromise in that they are allowing her to work with other producers but Kesha is not comfortable with the idea, as she will be working in close proximity to the man who assaulted her.
It is understandable that the court wants hard evidence in support of Kesha’s claims to rule in her favor, but it is still unsettling that there is such a large emphasis on there being proof to support her claims. I am not saying that numbers are not necessary – statistics and records are very important to the American legal system as it provides legitimate support for claims that may seem controversial. Kesha claims that Dr. Luke threatened to ruin her career if she ever revealed that he was sexually assaulting her, yet she still had the courage to file a lawsuit against him. I realize it may be controversial for me to say this, but I feel that there is legitimacy to her claim and that this appeal to pathos cannot be ignored because of the lack of hard evidence.
Kesha’s story is not unique; yes, she is a celebrity and yes, she has the likes of Taylor Swift and Lady Gaga supporting her, but ultimately, what is happening to her is happening to millions of women across the nation. So many women face sexual harassment and/or assault in their workplace and so many women are unable to be open about what they are going through on a daily basis. Why? Because these women either do not have the money and resources to explain what is happening to them and hire a decent lawyer to support them in court, or they simply do not have the courage to be open as they are afraid of the consequences. Kesha had the money and resources to appear in the public eye but she is definitely facing negative consequences for doing so.
Ultimately, Kesha’s assault has made singing and producing music, something she loves, a living hell. She has made it very clear that she will not continue producing music if she is unable to break from her contract with Sony. How can we, as a society, tell women to be open about their experiences regarding sexual assault when Kesha’s life is literally falling apart because she had the courage to be open with what happened to her? The court ruling against her has proved what so many women feel; there is no point in going to court or being open about sexual harassment when the judicial system and society in general are so hung up on hard evidence, like records or numbers, for proof. In order for such an issue to be recognized as the epidemic it truly is, we as a society need to be able to discern when and where physical evidence is truly needed. We need to prove to women, like Kesha, that their communities welcome, and ultimately believe, every word they say in regards to their assault.