Earlier this year, in an interview with The Cut, Cassie explained that she’s living on her own terms now. “Every decision is mine, every movement is mine, there’s no asking anyone or playing into fear,” she said. “I’m not fearful of the decisions that I make for myself because they’re mine and they’re for the benefit of me and my family at the end of the day.”
The singer, given name Casandra Ventura, may have had a different response over a decade ago during her tumultuous relationship with former partner and ex-boss Sean “Diddy” Combs, per disturbing allegations that surfaced on November 16, 2023. The New York Times reported that Ventura filed a lawsuit against Combs, alleging that she was sex trafficked and raped by the music mogul as well as a victim of his physical violence for over ten years. Combs, through his lawyer, Ben Brafman, has vehemently denied the accusations. One day after news of the civil suit broke, the case was settled out of court.
During her time with Combs, Ventura claims her decisions weren’t hers. According to her 35-page court complaint, complete with a trigger warning, a then-middle-aged Combs allegedly lured her into a romantic relationship in the early 2000s after signing her to his label, Bad Boy Records. She was 19. Combs was 37. Ventura says she was groomed and repeatedly pursued by Combs, whom the lawsuit alleged positioned himself as Ventura’s “father figure and protector” early on. She alleges she soon found herself trapped in a personal and professional relationship where autonomy didn’t exist.
Ventura’s allegations depict an unfortunate yet familiar account of a young and impressionable woman who enters the music industry with little to no experience and encounters a powerful man who abuses that power. If you believe Ventura, and I choose to, Combs took advantage of her naivety, allegedly assuming complete control over her personal and professional life under the guise that he had her best interests at heart. But in instances like Ventura’s, someone almost 20 years Combs’ junior, it’s all too common that selfish agendas manifest in dangerous ways. In Ventura’s case, Combs’ alleged physical and psychological abuse cost her over a decade of freedom.
Ventura’s civil suit claims Combs often flaunted his wealth and power to intimidate her to be compliant with his demands. Ventura alleged in court docs that he hooked the singer onto a drug and alcohol-fueled lifestyle and forced her to engage in various sexual encounters with male sex workers (which the lawsuit reports Combs often called “Freak Offs” or “FOs”) while he watched and sometimes filmed. She claims Combs even forced her to carry a gun in her purse on at least two occasions just to prove how dangerous he is. The music executive, with help from his loyal network of staff, allegedly disarmed Ventura’s ability to protect herself at every turn. Because of his money and status, the lawsuit claims he covered his tracks and escaped public atonement for years. Meanwhile, Cassie says she was left with unhealed scars.
Stuck in a cycle of alleged abuse and captivity, Ventura says she saw no opportunity to come forward about her experience back then. Even years after escaping Combs’ hold following their 2018 breakup, he seemingly taunted Ventura’s alleged trauma when he thanked her for holding him down “in the dark times” during his Lifetime Achievement Award acceptance speech at the 2022 BET Awards. But thanks to Ventura’s case being brought under the Adult Survivors Act — a New York law that allows victims of sexual abuse over the age of 18 a one-year opportunity to file civil lawsuits regardless of how long ago an incident took place and after the statutes of limitations have run out — she’s finally found the courage to speak out against one of the most powerful men in hip-hop and the music industry.
“After years in silence and darkness, I am finally ready to tell my story,” Ventura said in a statement to the Times, “and to speak up on behalf of myself and for the benefit of other women who face violence and abuse in their relationships.”
The Adult Survivors Act cited in Ventura’s complaint took effect on Nov. 24, 2022, and has since been used to file cases against several celebrities in addition to Combs — including Bill Cosby, disgraced film producer Harvey Weinstein, former president Donald Trump, and, most recently, music executive L.A. Reid, per Forbes. These civil suits mean plaintiffs like Ventura cannot sue the accused for criminal prosecution but instead seek monetary damages. However, civil accusations like Combs’ can turn into criminal charges should the state or government decide there is enough evidence to pursue legal action. While that may not sound like justice to some, cases like Ventura’s bring more awareness to the groundbreaking law holding powerful, abusive industry men to the fire.
“With the expiration of New York’s Adult Survivors Act fast approaching, it became clear that this was an opportunity to speak up about the trauma I have experienced and that I will be recovering from for the rest of my life,” Ventura told the Times of filing her suit before the law’s Nov. 24, 2023, closing date.
Ventura isn’t the only survivor to come forward about one of hip-hop’s many alleged abusers. Her voice joins a chorus of notable women who, for years, have tried to hold these men accountable, too — including pioneering hip-hop journalist Dee Barnes, former A&R executive Drew Dixon, and singer Kelis, all of whom have spoken out about their alleged assault experiences with Dr. Dre, Russell Simmons, and Nas, respectively — not to mention countless other documented accounts of misogynistic abuse committed by men in hip-hop over the years. (Simmons and Nas have denied the allegations.) Despite public knowledge, none of those moments have resulted in real retribution for hip-hop or professional consequences, reminding us of a glaring issue: even with the blemish of accusations, these alleged abusers have yet to face the wrath of their disgraceful treatment of women.
Ventura’s harrowing accounts of Combs’ alleged abuse could finally be the tipping point for hip-hop’s long-overdue #MeToo reckoning. Even though the two settled just one day after Ventura filed her civil suit, preventing a possible trial and what the Times said could have been an “embarrassing process of legal discovery” for Combs, the stain of allegations remains. The public won’t soon forget all that Ventura’s lengthy court filing revealed about Combs’ alleged menacing ways — from allegedly blowing up her ex-boyfriend Kid Cudi’s car to assaults that left her with multiple black eyes, bruises, busted lips, and a lifetime of damage.
Following news of Ventura’s lawsuit, stars — including Danity Kane members Aubrey O’Day, D. Woods, and Dawn Richard, all previously signed to Combs’ label — and social media users rallied behind her with thoughtful messages and prayers for her peace and safety. Some even scoured the internet for more examples of Combs’ allegedly abusive behaviour. But as we’ve seen with survivors who speak out, the other side of social media jumped to question Ventura’s intentions behind coming forward about Combs now and settling her civil suit so quickly. Typically, sexual abuse lawsuits can reportedly take up to weeks, months, or even years to settle, so Ventura’s case is undoubtedly a rare instance that shocked many. Though Combs’ attorney said in a statement, “Mr. Combs‘ decision to settle the lawsuit does not in any way undermine his flat-out denial of the claims,” the swift move certainly raises more eyebrows about what more could’ve been exposed in court.
Not often are women like Ventura afforded the opportunity to face their alleged abusers, much less expose them in a court of law. Even fewer of them get a chance at healing and a happy future, which the singer appeared to find with her husband, Alex Fine — whom she married in 2019 — and two daughters, Frankie and Sunny. The silver lining for every sexual assault survivor, though, is Ventura’s story is finally out in the open and, more importantly, on the record.
It’s admittedly hard to remain hopeful for change when sexual assault and abuse are still difficult to prosecute in America. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, two out of three sexual assault cases go unreported to the police, as many, most frequently women, fear retaliation not just from their abuser but also from society. Add Black women to the equation, famous or not, and it’s hard for people to believe us even after we find the courage to come forward. We saw it happen with Megan Thee Stallion and the industry women mentioned above. Even Ventura, wealthy and beloved, has faced some backlash. Yet still, there’s power in knowing that her case brings more attention to laws supporting survivors without her privilege, like the California Sexual Abuse and Cover-Up Accountability Act named in her civil suit.
Even if Ventura’s accounts don’t become a watershed moment that finally holds not just Combs but hip-hop and the entire music industry accountable, they could lead to another survivor’s brave moment, where she can use her voice to make a difference, too. How many more women coming forward will it take for the culture to finally take a look in the mirror to face the misogyny and abuse that’s looked back at us for far too long?
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