Few celebrities within the aughts embodied the American dream greater than the music mogul Sean “Puffy” Combs. He was one of the vital highly effective males in music; you may 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 seems like a number of the most vicious home abuse I’ve ever encountered in movie star information. On Thursday, the R&B singer Cassie, Combs’s longtime romantic associate, 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 mentioned in an announcement that he “vehemently denies” the allegations. For six months, the lawyer mentioned, Combs had been “subjected to Ms. Ventura’s persistent demand of $30 million, below the specter of writing a dangerous e-book about their relationship, which was unequivocally rejected as blatant blackmail. Regardless of withdrawing her preliminary menace, 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 swimsuit 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Act—a legislation signed by Governor Kathy Hochul that gave survivors of sexual abuse who have been over 18 years outdated a one-year window, from November 2022 to November 2023, to file civil fits, no matter any prison statutes of limitations.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 swimsuit got here simply in time; the window closes this week.
Studying by way of the submitting, I discovered myself weeping. Ventura alleged not solely that Combs kicked and beat her on frequent events, hiding her in lodges whereas her bruises healed, however that he compelled her into intercourse acts with strangers, and that he recorded them. Additional, Ventura claimed that he typically stored her drugged and “on a number of events” had her “private medical data despatched on to his e-mail deal with.” Not lengthy earlier than she lastly left him, in 2018, Combs allegedly compelled his approach into her residence and raped her. The allegations have 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, Unhealthy Boy. After they formally started courting—after rumors of a protracted 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 one way or the other 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 pals: a boy who grows as much as be a disillusioned music govt 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, wherein for 2 minutes, musical legends wax romantic concerning the music, the verse, the second that made them fall. Exhausting.
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 maybe even abusive relationship. I’d been engaged on a playlist for a good friend’s birthday, compiled completely of rap tracks thought-about classics of the style, and was giving it a pay attention whereas on a run. I’d heard these songs tons of of occasions over time, however that day—as a girl in her 30s making a playlist for a person who’d just lately had a child woman—I used to be immediately listening to them anew. The quantity 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 usually 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 early life with hip-hop whispering into my headphones that I, as a girl, was nugatory—that girls have 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 much more towards R&B, outdated soul, and traditional salsa. There may be a lot in hip-hop music and tradition that I liked and nonetheless love. However after that day, it’s by no means been the identical.
It’s not simply that I hear the music otherwise; I have a look at my previous otherwise. All of the girlfriends I used to hit the golf equipment with now look again and marvel: What decisions 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 numerous 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 folks named and recognized within the lawsuit. A settlement, Combs’s lawyer mentioned, “is under no circumstances 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” might be a nightmare. I can think about how a youngster, on the unsuitable facet of an influence stability, may see a relationship as regular at first, and solely over time understand that it was not. Maybe the revelation got here to her immediately. Or maybe it was a collection of moments. Or maybe somebody who witnessed her struggling dropped at her consideration the Grownup Survivors Act and, because the final grains of sand ran by way of the glass, she was moved to return ahead.
More than 2,500 lawsuits have been filed below the auspices of the Grownup Survivors Act. The previous 12 months, 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 return to phrases with their expertise earlier than they have been prepared to carry a perpetrator to account. Due to the laws, E. Jean Carroll was capable of have her day in court docket with Donald Trump. Maybe unsurprisingly, instances have been introduced towards quite a lot of high-profile males—the flurry growing because the clock ran out. Simply this month, instances have been filed towards the music govt 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 dropped at mild 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 plenty 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 just lately settled two comparable 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 marvel if they need to have taken motion? What number of males will get up and breathe a sigh of reduction, grateful that they may by no means be uncovered in court docket for what they did?
My revelation concerning 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 films about heterosexual relationships, and I’ve watched it dozens of occasions over time, and that had by no means appeared unusual to me till now.
Instantly after information broke about Ventura and Combs settling their swimsuit, the feedback sections of hip-hop gossip accounts have been flooded with folks judging Ventura. They mentioned 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 sort 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 comparable complaints about Combs’s alleged previous conduct—or concerning the previous conduct of different highly effective males and establishments in New York—they may have one much less solution to come ahead. And numerous unhealthy actors with shady pasts will sleep simpler due to that.