Abuse is a process, with a beginning, middle and end. As Kesha tries to free herself from the clutches of Dr Luke and Sony, we take a look at the mechanism of abuse


The hashtag ‘#FreeKesha’ continues to take social media by storm. Celebrities like Lady Gaga and common users like you and me have been taking to their keyboards, furiously contesting the legal setback Kesha faced in a New York Supreme Court. Yet, amidst all the outrage, one idea continues to bother me: the lack of recognition of what abuse is and its effects.

It’s time to go further than a mere hashtag and flimsy (albeit genuine) statements of solidarity. What does the Court’s decision imply about social perceptions of abuse victims and what does it mean to be trapped in an abusive relationship?

An important question many ask when contemplating abuse is this: Why do they stay? It isn’t because victims need or thrive off the abuse, as some falsely assert.

The financial element of abuse:

A crucial factor is that of financial dependency. Ninety-eight per cent of domestic abuse victims in the USA claim they were not in control of their finances. Kesha has spoken out through her complaint and certain characteristics arise based on her testimony.

An abuser utilises this financial stranglehold to exert control over his (or her) victim. According to the official complaint, Dr Luke had allegedly continuously exerted such undue influence. For instance, Dr Luke refused to credit Kesha in her first vocal single ‘Right Round’ and did not financially compensate her for her work. A further expression of such control was through his alleged unwillingness to renegotiate her contract after her first platinum album and record. Such renegotiations are commonplace and considered an industry standard which Dr Luke refused to adhere to. There are many more such instances outlined in the complaint, ranging from control over her publishing rights to releasing songs without her knowledge or consent.

Yet, Kesha has been allowed to record with Sony without Dr Luke’s supervision or input based on an official statement by Sony. The same way that 85 per cent of domestic abuse victims return to their abusers due to a lack of funds, some sceptics fear the same for Kesha. Some say that Sony would be unwilling to provide Kesha with full creative control and would rather ‘sit on her content’ rather than release it. While the judge states that she finds it unreasonable for Sony to do so, some say Sony relies on a ‘proven recipe of success’ to rest easy in their ‘investment’, especially when they has been unwilling to annul the contract between Kesha and Dr Luke.

It is rather unlikely that Kesha will play into her contractual obligations now that she has spoken out, but it is quite clear that the financial aspect of abuse is crucial, often pushing victims back into the arms of their abusers when they do not have the support network or financial independence they require.

The psychological aspect of abuse:

An abuser assures more than just financial control. The abuser attempts to sever any relationships the victim might have: familial, work-related etc., to be able to gain full control over the victim. This is then coupled with continuous verbal, emotional and often physical attacks guaranteeing the victim has no way out.

Once more Kesha’s complaint proves insightful. Dr Luke allegedly sexually abused her repeatedly, even using the date rape drug GHB, leaving her unconscious with no recollection the next day. Dr Luke’s alleged control went further as the complaint writes that he continuously threatened her and claimed that he was the only one who would ever work with her because she wasn’t talented enough. This alleged abuse also picked away at her body image and self-esteem, with Kesha’s mother stating he often compared her to a refrigerator. Kesha claims it was this psychological abuse that led to her diagnosis as bulimic.

The Court’s decision is relevant here. Even though Kesha does not have to work with Dr Luke the psychological backdrop remains and has not been recognized since she has to work for him, knowing that her creative work will be edited by his label, financially benefit him and will be subject to other companies like Prescription Songs, Kasz Money etc., that the complaint labels as ‘vehicles for continuous torture and abuse’ by covering up Dr Luke’s actions.

Abusers make their victims believe they have no one else and that they are in fact not strong enough to be alone. This psychological aspect should never be underestimated as isolation, manipulation and a broken self-esteem are all powerful tools in the hands of the abuser.

Where does this leave us?

We cannot know for certain at present whether or not Kesha’s claims are valid. What we can do though is choose to use this moment not to flail our arms and simply cry injustice, but rather understand what abuse truly means — understand that it is not a series of random incidents. It’s a psychological state. #FreeKesha.

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