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The Guardian - US
The Guardian - US
Moira Donegan

Diddy’s alleged abuse of Cassie is a sad reminder of how power works in society

‘Ventura also alleges that after she was romantically linked to another man, Combs told her that he would blow up the man’s car.’
‘Ventura also alleges that after she was romantically linked to another man, Combs told her that he would blow up the man’s car.’ Photograph: Angela Weiss/AFP/Getty Images

The settlement came almost immediately. Cassandra Ventura, the R&B singer better known by the stage name Cassie, had filed her blockbuster lawsuit in federal court against the hip-hop mogul Sean Combs only a day before Combs, a rapper and producer, paid her to drop the suit. In her complaint, Ventura described a pattern of coercive control, abuse, drugging and sexual violence perpetrated against her by Combs throughout their more than 13-year relationship, which began in 2005, when Cassie was 19 and had just signed to the 37-year-old Combs’ Bad Boy Records, and ended in 2019.

The complaint alleges that Combs plied Ventura with drugs, such as ecstasy and ketamine; that he beat her, including in one incident in Los Angeles in 2009, after Combs saw Cassie talking to another business agent, which required her to recuperate for a week; that he raped her repeatedly, including an incident in which he hired male sex workers to gang-rape Ventura, which Combs filmed, and again in 2018, when he broke into her house and assaulted her after she attempted to leave the relationship; and that he controlled nearly all aspects of her life, including not only her career, which he allegedly leveraged to keep her silent, but also access to her own medical information and when she was allowed to see her family. Ventura also alleges that after she was romantically linked to another man, Combs told her that he would blow up the man’s car. A vehicle belonging to the rival exploded in a driveway shortly thereafter.

Ventura filed her lawsuit under New York’s Adult Survivors Act, a one-time window of opportunity for victims of gender violence to sue their attackers in civil court, even after the statute of limitations has ended. The law expires this week, on 23 November.

Combs – who throughout his career has adopted and then discarded a series of monikers, including “Puff Daddy”, “Puffy”, “P. Diddy”, “Diddy”, and, most recently, the improbable “Love” – denies all wrongdoing. After the speedy settlement, both parties said that they had “amicably” resolved the issue. It is likely that Combs paid Ventura substantially to drop the suit. In that case, the filing followed by a speedy settlement may be about the best that an alleged victim of such violence can hope for: Cassie was able to tell her story in public, and then, without having to endure the humiliation and upheaval of the legal process, or the public degradation that so often accompanies such cases for women, was able to get paid.

Ventura’s lawsuit comes just weeks after the actor Keke Palmer filed for a restraining order from her former partner Darius Jackson, with whom she shares an infant son. Palmer’s declaration to a Los Angeles court included screenshots from home security footage that appeared to show Jackson beating Palmer. She alleged that Jackson had abused her repeatedly over the years, including by breaking into her house and grabbing her by the neck. Domestic violence experts caution that strangulation is a sign of dangerously escalating abuse that could lead to homicide.

And Palmer’s request came just days after the rapper Megan Thee Stallion released Cobra, a single that tackles depression, isolation, self-medication and suicidal ideation in the wake of her experience of being shot by former partner Tory Lanez, and the public ridicule and demonization she faced during his criminal trial.

There’s a quiet revolution happening in Hollywood, one that is founded on tremendous pain but has the hallmarks of liberating, transformative potential: a new group of high-profile women, many of them Black, are speaking out about their experiences with domestic abuse. These women have sparked a vibrant, nuanced and long-overdue conversation among their fanbases – mostly online communities of Black women – about intimate partner abuse. Because of both algorithmic audience siloing and the passive racism of white disinterest, the conversation has so far not spilled over into the feminist mainstream. But it should. It is long past time that feminism picks up where #MeToo left off and embarks on a popular reckoning with both the horror and the ubiquity of domestic abuse.

Domestic violence is as pervasive as it is misunderstood: about one in four women will experience intimate partner violence in their lifetime, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, a figure similar to the one in five women who are estimated to experience attempted or completed rape in their lifetime. And yet domestic violence remains shrouded in many of the same myths and oversimplifications that feminists have long worked to chip away at with regard to sexual violence.

Victims are routinely labeled unreliable, smeared as vengeful and dishonest or as hysterical and incompetent. They are asked why they did not leave their abusers, or why they did not leave sooner than they did, or why they did not anticipate the abuse before it happened. When they report, they are seen to be airing dirty laundry, making private something which ought to be kept private. When they defend themselves or fight back, they are smeared as abusers themselves, their actions cast as morally equivalent to those of their attackers.

This all was on extremely public display just a year ago, over the summer of 2022, when the actress Amber Heard was subjected to a defamation lawsuit by her ex-husband, Johnny Depp, after seeking a restraining order from him and obliquely alluding to his alleged abuse in an op-ed. The disastrously mismanaged trial, fed on by a prurient media hungry for clickbait, became a gruesome spectacle of gleeful collective misogyny, all of it leveraged on that very same public misunderstanding of abuse.

Heard lost the suit, was pilloried in the press and will now have her name linked forever to the man she says abused, coerced, assaulted and controlled her for years. After what happened to her, it is a wonder that any women have come forward. That these women have is a testament, perhaps, to both their desperation and their courage.

With the benefit of several years’ hindsight, it is easy to see the places #MeToo failed, and in particular, the places that its conversations were not permitted to go. Workplace harassment was considered fair game for women to complain about, at least some of the time; boorish, violent or otherwise sexually entitled behavior in the private sphere was not, at least not according to accused men’s angry defenders. A line seemed to be emerging in the discourse at that time: public behavior is something women are allowed to complain about; private behavior is something they are expected to endure.

Such have been the rules of male violence since time immemorial. The home, the family, the marriage or the relationship are supposed to be sites of men’s unquestioned control, places where neither the law nor public judgment are supposed to intrude. Confronting domestic violence does not allow this rule to be followed: it demands that we treat women as whole, worthy persons, in public and in private alike. We can only hope that more women will have the courage to make this demand.

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