Few celebrities within the aughts embodied the American dream greater than the music mogul Sean “Puffy” Combs. He was probably the most highly effective males in music; you could possibly argue that he single-handedly pulled hip-hop from the fringes into mainstream pop. Now he has a really totally different distinction: He has been accused of what appears like a few of the most vicious home abuse I’ve ever encountered in celeb information. On Thursday, the R&B singer Cassie, Combs’s longtime romantic companion, filed a civil lawsuit towards him. Cassie (whose actual identify is Casandra Ventura) alleged that Combs, who was additionally her boss, had, over the course of their decade-long relationship, subjected her to repeated situations of home violence. In 2018, the lawsuit claims, he raped her.
Combs’s lawyer stated in an announcement that he “vehemently denies” the allegations. For six months, the lawyer stated, Combs had been “subjected to Ms. Ventura’s persistent demand of $30 million, below the specter of writing a harmful guide about their relationship, which was unequivocally rejected as blatant blackmail. Regardless of withdrawing her preliminary risk, Ms. Ventura has now resorted to submitting a lawsuit riddled with baseless and outrageous lies.” Protests apart, Combs settled with Ventura inside 24 hours.
The go well with was filed within the sunsetting days of New York’s Grownup Survivors Act—a legislation signed by Governor Kathy Hochul that gave survivors of sexual abuse who had been over 18 years outdated a one-year window, from November 2022 to November 2023, to file civil fits, no matter any prison statutes of limitations. Ventura’s go well with got here simply in time; the window closes this week.
Studying via the submitting, I discovered myself weeping. Ventura alleged not solely that Combs kicked and beat her on frequent events, hiding her in inns whereas her bruises healed, however that he compelled her into intercourse acts with strangers, and that he recorded them. Additional, Ventura claimed that he usually saved her drugged and “on a number of events” had her “private medical data despatched on to his e mail tackle.” Not lengthy earlier than she lastly left him, in 2018, Combs allegedly compelled his method into her residence and raped her. The allegations had been horrific. But this was not why I wept.
I wept as a result of, regardless of Cassie having been in my consciousness for practically 20 years, this was the primary time I noticed Casandra Ventura. Ventura was solely 19 years outdated when Combs “found” her in 2005 and signed her to his label, Dangerous Boy. After they formally started relationship—after rumors of an extended pursuit—she was 21, and he was a 38-year-old man.
I wept as a result of nobody, together with myself, had thought this relationship was bizarre. I wept as a result of, if something, we’d in all probability thought that she was fortunate. I wept as a result of I’d by no means seen her as an individual. I wept as a result of she had existed for me solely as a product and an adjunct to Combs’s male genius.
I wept as a result of I felt that in some way in all of this, I’d been complicit.
“When did you fall in love with hip-hop?”
That is the provocation that begins one in all my favourite rom-coms—Brown Sugar. The 2002 movie is a will-they-or-won’t-they about two childhood associates: a boy who grows as much as be a disillusioned music government and a woman who turns into a revered hip-hop journalist. The query is her trademark opening line, and it kicks off a now-classic montage, by which for 2 minutes, musical legends wax romantic in regards to the tune, the verse, the second that made them fall. Onerous.
I by no means may pinpoint after I fell in love with hip-hop; it had merely all the time been there. However I bear in mind, distinctly, the second after I realized it had been a dysfunctional and even perhaps abusive relationship. I’d been engaged on a playlist for a good friend’s birthday, compiled solely of rap tracks thought of classics of the style, and was giving it a hear whereas on a run. I’d heard these songs tons of of occasions through the years, however that day—as a girl in her 30s making a playlist for a person who’d lately had a child lady—I used to be all of the sudden listening to them anew. The amount appeared turned up for each point out of “hoes” and “bitches,” like somebody had taken a sonic highlighter and run it over each verse about devious, promiscuous, and customarily disposable girls.
Hip-hop had undoubtedly formed my worldview, my politics, and my sense of self. I’m certain that, by then, I’d skimmed over numerous assume items about misogyny and sexism within the music. However solely that day did it daybreak on me that I’d spent my childhood with hip-hop whispering into my headphones that I, as a girl, was nugatory—that ladies had been interchangeable equipment, extras in songs and movies, to not be trusted, definitely to not be believed.
I didn’t cease listening to hip-hop. I imply, come on. However I did discover myself turning songs off on my walks, avoiding sure artists, gravitating way more towards R&B, outdated soul, and basic salsa. There’s a lot in hip-hop music and tradition that I beloved and nonetheless love. However after that day, it’s by no means been the identical.
It’s not simply that I hear the music another way; I take a look at my previous another way. All of the girlfriends I used to hit the golf equipment with now look again and surprise: What selections did we make as a result of we’d been listening to that message for years? What judgments did we forged upon different girls due to it, as a result of we’d been conditioned to be detached to at least one one other? What didn’t we discover?
These questions weighed on me after I examine Cassie’s lawsuit. Regardless of the vehement denials and loads of defensive bluster from Combs’s camp, the 2 events “amicably” settled inside a day. Now the one individuals who can know whether or not the allegations are true are the individuals named and recognized within the lawsuit. A settlement, Combs’s lawyer stated, “is on no account an admission of wrongdoing.” However in my view, Cassie gained; her model of the reality has seen the sunshine of day.
I can think about how, within the deeply materialistic and misogynistic world of aughts popular culture, what appeared like a “dream life” may very well be a nightmare. I can think about how a youngster, on the flawed facet of an influence stability, may see a relationship as regular at first, and solely over time notice that it was not. Maybe the revelation got here to her all of the sudden. Or maybe it was a sequence of moments. Or maybe somebody who witnessed her struggling delivered to her consideration the Grownup Survivors Act and, because the final grains of sand ran via the glass, she was moved to come back ahead.
More than 2,500 lawsuits have been filed below the auspices of the Grownup Survivors Act. The previous yr, Mariann Wang, a lawyer who has represented many victims of sexual abuse, instructed NPR, has been a “exceptional time frame.”
The legislation acknowledged that many victims wanted extra time to come back to phrases with their expertise earlier than they had been prepared to carry a perpetrator to account. Due to the laws, E. Jean Carroll was in a position to have her day in court docket with Donald Trump. Maybe unsurprisingly, circumstances have been introduced towards plenty of high-profile males—the flurry rising because the clock ran out. Simply this month, circumstances had been filed towards the music government L.A. Reid; Neil Portnow, the previous head of the Grammys; and the comic Russell Model. (Portnow denied the fees; Reid and Model haven’t publicly responded to the lawsuits, although Model has denied earlier allegations.)
The legislation additionally delivered to gentle a large case towards the gynecologist Robert Hadden, who had been abusing sufferers for many years. Hadden’s former sufferers and victims additionally sued Columbia College, New York Presbyterian, and lots of different establishments and people, accusing them of serving to to cowl up the abuse. (In 2016, Hadden pleaded responsible to abusing 19 girls, and he has since been sentenced to twenty years in jail.) Columbia and its affiliated hospitals lately settled two related lawsuits and this month, the college established a $100 million victims’ compensation fund.
With out this legislation, the unhealthy conduct of many people in addition to the establishments that protected them would have gone unaddressed. And but the legislation additionally imposes its personal arbitrary timeline.
What number of girls, when the legislation expires on Friday, will get up and surprise if they need to have taken motion? What number of males will get up and breathe a sigh of reduction, grateful that they’ll by no means be uncovered in court docket for what they did?
My revelation in regards to the lyrical content material of a few of my favourite rap music occurred about six years in the past. However solely when scripting this piece did I discover that, though Brown Sugar begins with a girl asking a query, all of the solutions within the well-known montage that follows are supplied by males. It’s one in all my very favourite motion pictures about heterosexual relationships, and I’ve watched it dozens of occasions through the years, and that had by no means appeared unusual to me till now.
Instantly after information broke about Ventura and Combs settling their go well with, the feedback sections of hip-hop gossip accounts had been flooded with individuals judging Ventura. They stated that it was all a cash seize (Ventura’s lawyer has instructed reporters that the settlement was an eight-figure deal); that she ought to have helped extra girls by going to trial; that she’d in all probability made the allegations up, as a result of in any other case she wouldn’t have settled so rapidly.
Or maybe this was all that Casandra Ventura may handle. Maybe if she’d had one other three months, or one other six months or one other few years to course of and heal, she would have walked right into a courtroom and dragged him for filth for all of the world to see. Or maybe no period of time would have made that type of inquisition interesting. Maybe it was merely sufficient to really feel heard and acknowledged.
What we all know for sure is that, after this week, if different girls have related complaints about Combs’s alleged previous conduct—or in regards to the previous conduct of different highly effective males and establishments in New York—they’ll have one much less approach to come ahead. And loads of unhealthy actors with shady pasts will sleep simpler due to that.