The Scariest Part Of Kesha's Story Is That It Isn't At All Unique

In 2016, being a woman with a job is still a risk.
Pop star Kesha, center, leaves Supreme court in New York, Friday, Feb. 19, 2016.(AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
Pop star Kesha, center, leaves Supreme court in New York, Friday, Feb. 19, 2016.(AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

What happened to Kesha last week is scary for many reasons.

It's scary that a judge felt obligated to deny the motion to release her from her contract with Sony in spite of allegations that her longtime producer Dr. Luke repeatedly sexually, physically, verbally and emotionally abused her (allegations he has denied). It's scary that our court system does not seem to be able to meaningfully weigh such claims in making its decisions. It's scary that we could live in a society that would essentially make a woman choose between her career and her sense of safety.

But perhaps the scariest part of Kesha's situation is that it is far from unique.

“She’s definitely not an anomaly,” Maya Raghu, the director of workplace equality at National Women’s Law Center, told The Huffington Post over the phone. “[Kesha's situation is] reflecting what we know is happening in all kinds of workplaces across the country."

Kesha is a wealthy, famous, white woman, who now has the emotional backing of celebrities like Lena Dunham and the financial backing of Taylor Swift. But that is where the uniqueness of her situation ends.

There is a less than satisfying amount of data out there to prove just how rampant sexual assault continues to be in the U.S. workplace. But there is enough to say this: All over the country, in all sorts of industries, women in the workplace are being targeted as potential sexual victims, and then left with little choice but to work among their attackers. 

American employees reported 36,500 rapes and sexual assaults in the workplace between 1993 and 1999, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, and the situation hasn't changed dramatically in the decade-plus since, either. In the 2013 fiscal year alone, workers filed more than 10,000 sexual harassment charges to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and state and local Fair Employment Practices Agencies, and four in five of those who came forward were women.

Numbers like those may be jarring, but even they don't quite tell the full story. Multiple surveys have found that more than half of women who are harassed in the workplace never even report it.

That unwillingness to come forward is understandable, according to Raghu. 

"Even if someone has the courage to speak up and make a complaint, that's not always a guarantee that their problem will be addressed," she said.  

Too often, it isn't. As HuffPost's Emma Gray noted last week, only 2 percent of rapists ever end up in jail, and many women who do speak up about assault are doubted and publicly dragged through the mud for telling a painful story.

But when it comes to work, there is another legitimate fear: a fear of retaliation in the workplace, or even worse, of losing one's job. 

That's a particular concern in low-wage sectors, especially the restaurant and agriculture industries, where women with few other professional options are often mistreated and then silenced.

There are other people in non-professional settings that are similar to Kesha, too. Think of the women who must live on the same campus as their rapist. Or the women who must live near him. Or the women who continue to remain married to a husband who is raping them because they cannot afford to leave. 

All around the country, women are forced to live among the men who assaulted them and in the areas where it happened, a result of their own financial limitations. The only difference in Kesha's case is that she had the money and support to come forward with her own horrifying story. 

"Kesha's not an anomaly in the sense that this happened to her," Raghu said. "But she has spoken out, which is not as common, and that takes a lot of courage."

Let us remember that there are many women who aren't even able to do that.

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Images From 'Surviving In Numbers' -- A Project Highlighting Sexual Assault Survivors' Experiences