As a Survivor of Assault, I See Kesha’s Story Differently

No court ruling can ever take away the triumph of speaking out against sexual violence.
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No court ruling can ever take away the triumph of speaking out against sexual violence.

Over the weekend, singer-songwriter Kesha lost a legal battle to break her contract that binds her to record with Sony and Dr. Luke, a man who allegedly verbally abused and sexually assaulted her. No matter your feelings toward the singer, it is impossible to see the photos of her crying in the courtroom and not feel sympathy. While I don't know what the future holds for her legal situation, it is clear that she is stuck in a place she does not want to be.

In response to the court's ruling, a lot of commentary has emerged criticizing the system, in which she (the victim of sexual assault) is the loser. Many people are using this case as the perfect example of why many victims never report their assaults. And I could not agree more. The system's repeated failure of victims is exactly why countless victims are silenced. 

I know: I am one of those silent victims.

My sophomore year of college I was raped. I was locked in a room with a man who had spent the evening bragging of his strength, whom I knew could tackle men twice my size. Although the evening had been enjoyable, I stated explicitly that I did not want to have sex with him. He did not seem to care what I said, however, and he raped me. I didn't fight back or scream; I just laid there and cried, terrified of what a man who was clearly so much stronger than me would do if I offered physical resistance. And my words had no effect on him. Afterward, I walked back to my dorm room and cried. It took me weeks to tell anyone what happened. Months to tell my family. And a year passed before I finally sought counseling to deal with the depression I had fallen into. 

I never reported it. 

We are all too familiar with the dozens of nearly identical stories: Girl is sexually assaulted by a successful college athlete, reports it, nothing is done to punish the athlete, and the girl is lives on in infamy for blabbing her story. Take FSU quarterback Jameis Winston's accuser. Although she acted immediately, the negligence of local police prevented her from winning legal battles in both criminal and civil court. She is nationally known as his "accuser" instead of his "victim"; meanwhile Winston won the Heisman trophy and plays in the NFL. Or the tragic story of a Saint Mary's College student whom no one took seriously when she told administrators that she was assaulted by a neighboring student-athlete. She was mocked by many—including the campus newspaper—and tragically took her own life. Two terribly sad examples of the system's failure to support victims.

This is exactly why I said nothing. I didn't think anyone would believe me, and even if they did, I doubt they would have done anything about it. Kesha's story tragically mirrors the stories of countless women who reported and didn't receive justice. My fears are her reality.

No doubt, Kesha is hurting. She made herself vulnerable, courageously confronted her accuser, and yet she is not the victor here. I suspect that many sexual assault and abuse victims of the present and future will remain silently suffering rather than risk the sorrow that Kesha is currently suffering in the public eye, unvictorious and still trapped by her abuser. I understand completely how discouraging that can be.

I have a different sorrow than Kesha is experiencing. I must live with the regret that I never said anything. Even now, as I write this article, I tremble at the thought of publicly naming or confronting the man who raped me. In the months following my rape, I lived with remorse for my silence. My biggest fear was that he would hurt someone else. In his world, there was no consequence for his actions and therefore, no reason not to commit them again. The day he was drafted to the NFL my heart sank. I was angry that his life continued the way he wanted while I, to this day, still battle the side effects of the trauma he imposed. 

A few years later, I learned that he was arrested for a violent crime and subsequently cut from his team. My first thought was that maybe, just maybe, I could have prevented that from happening had I spoken up years before. Would he likely have been convicted? Almost certainly not. Arrested? Very unlikely. But the story would have been out there and maybe, with others hearing it, it would have spared other victims.

Which is why I think, as unfair as Kesha's situation is, her efforts were not for nothing. No matter what the court may have ruled, it is now known that Dr. Luke is a man worth avoiding. Kesha is likely saving many young women from the mistake of signing with him, or other power-tripping producers in the industry. 

Her tragedy is a lesson we can all learn from. Kesha did what I could not: she put herself on the line and, although she couldn't save herself, her bringing this to the public eye can save countless others. No court ruling can ever take that away from her or from the aspiring artists she saved from the same fate. Let us all be inspired to speak up for what is right.

No victim should ever feel an obligation to anyone to make something personal known to the public. But every women who names her assailant is doing work for all victims: past, present, and future. We must not give up hope that every victim’s voice heard is step in the right direction, whether the system fails us or not. We can't let the fear of failure keep us from continuing to do what is necessary and just.

Photo Credit: Alex Mazurov