Kesha just changed the story for sexual assault survivors like me
Four years after she released her last single, three years after she accused her producer of rape and just over a year after her claims of abuse were dismissed in court, singer Kesha has returned – and it’s clear that she’s not content to leave the events of the past behind.
Although she doesn’t name and shame in her new single Praying, which she released last week, it’s clear that Kesha is singing about her tumultuous legal battle with her former producer, Lukasz ‘Dr. Luke’ Gottwald, who in 2014 she accused of sexual assault and battery, sexual harassment and two counts of rape (he countersued and she eventually dropped the charges after a lengthy and complicated series of events).
Kesha’s comeback could have been a feud-inflaming rant of a song – or even a vacuous pop ditty; either would have gone viral. Instead, she has released something more nuanced and, in turn, has opened a new chapter in the public discussion surrounding sexual violence. In one song, she has turned the narrative about rape on its head.
Nestled among lyrics like ‘Cause you brought the flames and you put me through hell/I had to learn how to fight for myself’, she also belts out ‘I hope you find your peace’ and ‘Sometimes I pray for you at night/Someday – maybe – you’ll see the light’.
As someone who was sexually assaulted as a teenager, I know why Kesha has focused on compassion and not anger. Simply: she isn’t angry. She isn’t crumbling, or trying to convince us that she was telling the truth. We can choose to believe her, we can choose not to. She doesn’t care; but she does care about finding a way to move on – and that involves waving goodbye to her bitterness. This narrative is one that’s previously been missing in the myriad of think-pieces, interviews and debates on rape. Fury has been the emotion fuelling the fire – and that’s no bad thing. We do need anger. It’s what drove women to campaign for the first statutory definition of rape in 1976; it’s what pushed women to lobby for the marital rape exemption to be abolished in 1991. And that anger is still propelling us: in recent years, horror at the creeping prevalence of online pornography and the messages it subtly teaches boys about girls, has led to consent being discussed in classrooms around the country. Righteous fury at the men who force themselves onto and into women’s bodies simply because they want to – and simply because they can – is good for us. It was good for me. Becoming angry at the man who assaulted me was an essential part of getting better. If I hadn’t done that I’d still be blaming myself.
But it was also bad for me. Following my assault at university, I battled depression and post-traumatic stress disorder for years before eventually dropping out. It was my life that was plunged into uncertainty, not his.
Celebrating resilience – and showing women that it’s possible to rebuild their lives is essential