Pop star Kesha was dealt a major defeat in her lawsuit against Sony Music Wednesday after a judge ruled that she could not escape her contract with Dr. Luke, the record producer she has accused of raping her.
A number of factors were working against Kesha: the statute of limitations on such claims, the fact that she testified previously that Dr. Luke did not date rape her (according to court proceedings reported by CNN), and the perception that Kesha was actually seeking to end an inconvenient business arrangement and was using the sexual assault allegations as a vehicle to achieve that.
Her claims are difficult to judge on their own. Kesha says Dr. Luke abused her physically and emotionally, caused her to have an eating disorder, and took advantage of her youth—she was just 18 when she signed with him. Dr. Luke, on the other hand, maintains that they never even had sex. He is suing Kesha for breach of contract.
In ruling against Kesha, Judge Shirley Werner Kornreich criticized the singer's contention that Dr. Luke had committed a hate crime. "Every rape is not a gender-motivated hate crime," said the judge.
Kornreich is already drawing significant criticism for this remark.
"Well if that ain't rape culture in one fucked sentence," observed Vulture writer Dee Lockett.
Indeed, it sounds like a heartless remark that cheapens the severity of rape. Nevertheless, it's true from a legal standpoint. Hate crimes, broadly defined, are criminal acts motivated by specific animus against a protected class. Murder, for instance, is a terrible crime, but not all murders constitute hate crimes—not even all murders against protected minorities, like people of color. If Person A kills Person B, who is black, Person A has committed murder, but he has not necessarily committed a hate crime. It's only a hate crime if he kills Person B because Person B is black. It is the same for rape.
Kesha didn't present any evidence that Dr. Luke's actions toward her were motivated by gender-based hatred. On the contrary, she didn't actually allege that he hates women, according to Kornreich.
Crimes like murder and sexual assault, it should be noted, are horrible enough in their own right. While this isn't remotely unique to the Kesha case, it's nevertheless strange that the law seeks to probe the intentions of people who commit unspeakable crimes, as if their reasons for doing so could make matters worse. Hate crime legislation puts law enforcement in the bizarre position of having to read the minds of criminals: not to determine whether they are guilty, but to determine why they behaved badly. Since the decision to commit a crime often stems from a variety of complicated psychological motivations, the hate crime doctrine begins to resemble an attempt to punish people, not for committing crimes, but for harboring evil thoughts. For an exploration of this subject, read Jacob Sullum.
But back to Kesha. It's understandable that she doesn't want to work with someone she says abused her. And the outcome in this case doesn't mean she's lying, but rather, that there isn't enough evidence for a judge to declare her contract voided. Again, that's an injustice for Kesha, but one that makes sense from the court's perspective. If contracts were dissolved every time one party or another made accusations they couldn't substantiate, then contracts would be unenforceable.
None of which is to say that victims of sexual violence and harassment don't deserve justice. If any good comes of this decision, perhaps Kesha's situation should serve as reminder to victims to report mistreatment and violence to the police immediately—not years after the passage of time has rendered justice impossible.