Sunday, February 21, 2016

Kesha, Sexual Assault Cases, and Pretrial Publicity

By now, you've probably heard that singer Kesha sued to be released from her contract with Sony Records. The reason for this is because she alleges that her producer, Dr. Luke, raped her in 2006, and has also engaged in various types of harassment, and sexual misconduct over the years. The judge found in favor of Sony Records, meaning Kesha will not be released from her contact.

Whenever I read about cases in the media, I think of course of the research on pretrial publicity. I thought I'd posted on this topic before, but I can't seem to find a post about it, so forgive me if I'm repeating myself.

I did my dissertation research on pretrial publicity, which is any media coverage of a case (or the parties involved) before it goes to trial, and its effects on perceptions about guilt. This case of course differs in that no charges have been filed, but even so, I would respond in this situation in the same way I would to publicity about a criminal trial. Knowing that the media only presents certain information, and not all the facts one would hear in trial, I avoid drawing conclusions about cases I hear about in the news.

At the same time, based on the outpouring of support Kesha is receiving, including from celebrities who have worked with this producer (like Kelly Clarkson), I can't help but think there is some validity to her claims. Of course, Kesha has also been the target of victim-blaming, as do many survivors of sexual assault. And there are important differences in the tone of pretrial publicity in sexual assault cases.

Prior to my dissertation, I did a meta-analysis (which is a technique for quantitatively combining results from multiple studies) on pretrial publicity. Pretrial publicity is very frequently negative toward the defendant, but in sexual assault cases, they are often negative toward the victim. When I looked at results of studies based on the crime used in the case materials, I found that pretrial publicity significantly biased participants toward guilt - except in sexual assault cases. There were no significant differences in verdicts/guilt ratings between participants who received pretrial publicity and participants who did not.

They say a person who is sexually assaulted is raped twice: once by the perpetrator, and again by the system. Not only must the victim recount what happened, he or she must also convince multiple people, throughout the process, that the crime happened exactly as he or she said. Even worse, they may be asked how they provoked the incident (i.e., "asked for it"). Does anyone ask a victim of a mugging why they were walking alone with that purse or wallet just begging to be stolen?

If there's a long delay between when the event occurred and when the charges are filed, that invites even further speculation that the victim is making it up. But given the previously described treatment, is it surprisingly that most sexual assaults go unreported? Or that some victims might simply try to move on from the event and then - years later when they realize it still haunts them - finally decide to come forward?

As I said, I don't know what actually happened. But I hope at the very least the outpouring of support can convince Sony Records to have Kesha work with a different producer, and limit her contact with Dr. Luke.

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