Saturday, October 18, 2014

Ke$ha’s lawsuit: money, power, fame, sexual assault

by Melissa Scott

                         From Flickr - Becky Sullivan
It’s never easy to read about sexual assault cases in daily news—especially when the accusations include date rape or long term sexual abuse. Naturally, siding with the accuser and hating the accused is reflex. Somehow, the unfamiliarity of the names of individuals involved, and a generic societal intolerance, automatically curbs our sympathy. But when the matter deals with headline celebrities and the all-powerful entertainment industry—lines blur.

Kesha officially filed a lawsuit Tuesday, October 14, against music producer and label owner Lukasz “Dr. Luke” Gottwald. The suit accused Gottwald of “sexual assault, gender violence, harassment, unfair business practices and intentional infliction of emotional distress.”  Gottwald retaliated quickly by filing a countersuit against Kesha, and her mother, for breach of contract and defamation.

A deeper dig into the allegations uncovers ugliness on both sides. Kesha specifically described an incident in which Gottwald took her “virginity,” without her consent, when she was 18. The lawsuit accused Gottwald of drugging her with GHB, after they both attended a party, and then raping her while she was unconscious. Since then, Kesha complained, Gottwald tormented her both verbally and physically, over the course of ten years. Gottwald’s abuse, according to Pebe Sebert (Kesha’s mother) included growing jibes about her weight. Sebert insisted it was this behavior that drove Kesha to bulimia, and resulted in her checking into rehab for the eating disorder in January 2014. “We are prepared to fight until he agrees to get out of her life once and for all,” her lawyer Mark Geragos told People. “The lawsuit is a wholehearted effort by Kesha to regain control of her music career and her personal freedom after suffering for 10 years as a victim of mental manipulation, emotional abuse and sexual assault at the hands of Dr. Luke.”

Of course, Gottwald—music producer and coworker for standout musicians Britney Spears, Miley Cyrus, Katy Perry, Pink, Avril Lavigne, and Kelly Clarkson—chose to fight fire with fire, rather than allow damage to his reputation. He attacked Kesha’s lawsuit as functioning in a larger scheme to sneak out from under her recording contract with him. Accusing Kesha and her mother of attempting to extort him, Gottwald produced a draft of an email sent by Pebe Sebert to Gottwald’s lawyer last year. Viciously, the email threatened to ruin the producer’s reputation unless her daughter was freed from her contract. “Kesha’s lawsuit is a spectacular and outrageous fiction that will go down in flames,” Christine Lepera, Gottwald’s attorney, argued in a statement to the New York Daily News.  “As the truth emerges, this sad and misguided smear campaign will only hurt Kesha. Extortion is not going to win here.”

Who’s the victim? The answer may never be satisfactory. It’s not easy here to defend anyone, yet it feels uncomfortable being unable to do so.  But what’s blurring the boundaries of right and wrong here?

Power, corruption, and control: a recurring theme in celebrity and big money business. It’s naive to ignore the history of power-hungry businessmen, studio heads, and producers who use every possible means of manipulation to glean as much profit as possible from entertainment industry stars. News about the struggles of young stars, fresh out of the Disney and Nickelodeon factories, battling with substance abuse or eating disorders, is incessant. I could make a strong case that pressure from powerful behind-the-scenes figures in Hollywood contributed, at least in part, to these downward spirals.

Was Kesha cruelly victimized by a predatory Gottwald? Possibly. Only Kesha and Gottwald truly know the whole story. But I do think a struggle for control, and a thirst for greater wealth and fame triggered whatever this was. This corrupt reach for power caused severe and lasting consequences—not only for Kesha and Gottwald, but those around them as well.

The music industry certainly seems glamorous. We buy the albums. We marvel at their talent and lifestyles. Often, we’re completely blinded by the limelight. Then, something like this surfaces and forces us to see beneath the facade, and accept the reality of the business. The music industry is a billion dollar business, notwithstanding, and due to, all of those damaged lives. Suddenly, the headlining celebrities and faceless victims in the paper don’t seem that different. 


  1. Thanks for bringing this out in the open.
    Sexual abuse can happen to anyone


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