In the last two weeks, the music industry has roiled with high-profile claims of sexual abuse within its top ranks. Most prominently, R&B singer Casandra Ventura, a.k.a. Cassie, filed, and then quickly settled, an explosive suit against her former boyfriend and record-company boss Sean “Diddy” Combs, alleging years of assault and rape.
Others came forward in suits alleging sexual assault and misconduct by former Recording Academy top executive Neil Portnow, former Arista and Epic Records chief L.A. Reid and Aerosmith singer Steven Tyler.
None of these suits has surprised Alexa Nikolas, the founder of the activist network and popular YouTube channel Eat Predators.
In 2021, Nikolas, 31, filed suit in Los Angeles County Superior Court alleging that her ex-husband, Rhye singer Michael Milosh, had abused her. (Milosh denied the allegations and countersued. The court threw out his suit in February. Nikolas withdrew her suit, but said she’s considering re-filing).
Since founding Eat Predators in 2022, the former child star, best known for co-starring alongside Jamie Lynn Spears in the Nickelodeon series “Zoey 101,” has become a prominent activist, outing alleged abusers in the entertainment industry and protesting outside Nickelodeon, Warner Music, Sony Music and Red Light Management offices in L.A.
In July, she also claimed that actor Jonah Hill had tried to kiss her against her will when she was a teenager and he was in his 20s. (Hill’s attorney called the claim “a complete fabrication.”)
The Times spoke with Nikolas about the recent wave of lawsuits, what it takes to come forward and how to keep momentum up years after #MeToo.
There have been four high-profile suits claiming abuse in the music industry in the last two weeks, all of which came under New York’s Adult Survivors Act. How have you felt seeing this come to light?
The sad part about this is I’m not shocked. The music industry has been covering up sexual assault for decades. They help protect these predators so that they can continue to make money off of them.
Cassie’s suit against Diddy alleged years of very disturbing actions. What do you think she went through in deciding to file this suit against someone so powerful?
The fact that she was even able to do this is a miracle, especially going up against someone as powerful as Diddy. There are so many cards stacked against her. There’s so much PTSD that you have to move through to even get to the point of standing up for yourself and seeking justice. We’ve learned in the survivor community that most of the time, we don’t really get justice. When you come forward, you have to be prepared for how the other side, with their powerful lawyers, are going smear you, and so it takes a lot to get there, mentally and physically. I can’t believe she ended up doing it.
What do you think the fallout will be for his career after this?
What I’m more worried about is what happens to all of the other predators after this. I’m always worried about the focus on the one predator and not on the institution.
I am hoping that he doesn’t get the same types of opportunities. This is about not financially rewarding someone who abuses others. Did he learn a lesson, or did he just realize that his money can make everything go away? As long as predators feel that their bank accounts are secure, and that they’re able to silence survivors, I don’t know if their behavior is going to change.
A lot of these types of settlements come with non–disclosure agreements. How does that affect the process of finding justice?
I don’t believe in NDAs when it comes to crimes. I think they should be illegal. But most survivors, we don’t really want to let the world know we were raped. It’s not how we want to be remembered. Because trauma is so intimate and shameful, secrecy is very important in the first stage of healing. So if an abuser catches a survivor in the first phase of their healing journey, they’re going to be able to dominate the outcome, and the survivor can say, “Well, at least I came forward, even if it’s privately.” Someone’s going to hand over damages, and you feel like you’re getting some justice. But once you get out of the isolation, the second phase is, “He can do this again to someone else, and I can’t say anything.”
These suits came because the Adult Survivors Act opened up a one-year window to file civil suits claiming sexual abuse beyond the statute of limitations. Why was that necessary for all this to come to light?
People go in the civil-suit direction because not every survivor feels like they can go through the criminal system, or they have no other option. And even then you only have a tiny window to sue. Who is going to get out of the grip of the predator and heal in just a few years?
I didn’t even really know about power dynamics until the #MeToo movement. It took a long time to even be able to describe accurately what happened to me. We used to say, “This guy is an a—hole.” That was the language around predators, and that helped them get away with it because no one was saying, “You’re committing crimes.” Now that’s changing, and that’s wonderful.
Some artists and executives accused of this behavior, like Marilyn Manson, have turned to filing defamation suits against their accusers. What burden does that put on someone coming forward?
Let’s say I sued my abuser. And then he says, “Here’s an NDA. Let’s settle.” That used to be the way of going about things. Now, if you sue somebody, and the other side cannot get you to sign the NDA, the only way to discredit the survivor is to file a defamation suit. That’s what you see time and time again, and that’s one reason why survivors are afraid of coming forward.
You’ve organized protests in front of a number of prominent music and entertainment companies. Have you faced pushback within the industry for your work?
Those institutions don’t really know how to deal with me. It’s not common for a survivor to have a platform. A lot of the time, they’re able to crush that person’s career completely. With me, it’s strange but because of nostalgia, I still have this influence. If they want to silence me, it’s the whole so-called Streisand Effect, where their usual relentless tactics to silence a survivor just makes it more public.
A lot of these claims are bound up within big corporations and institutions, like major labels and the Recording Academy. How are they falling short in holding people accountable and owning up to their roles in this dynamic?
I haven’t seen these institutions being held accountable for their cover-ups. If they weren’t covering up for these individuals, there would have been a lot less victims. Take R. Kelly, for example. Sony knew he had all of these allegations, and they didn’t drop him until 2019. I mean, that’s just ridiculous. They were putting him on tour. One city protested, saying: “We do not want Live Nation bringing R. Kelly to our town because we don’t feel we’re safe if R. Kelly is in our town,” and Live Nation’s response to the protests and the petitions was “the show must go on.” What a horrific response to somebody who ended up being convicted of child sexual abuse.
That must be especially difficult for someone like former A&R executive Drew Dixon, who alleged abuse from multiple powerful record execs, including Reid and Russell Simmons.
Another stigma is in having been abused multiple times in the industry. And a lot of the time, women have to choose which abuser they try to seek justice against, because they obviously can’t seek justice with them all. If they go public about more than one, the patriarchy really paints it that you’re the problem. What’s cool about Drew Dixon is that she was kind of like, ‘F— that.’ That’s a really inspiring moment for someone like me because I was abused countless times in the industry. To see someone be fearless and be like, “This happened to me more than once, and it’s another powerful man I’m gonna go up against,” that’s really inspiring.
What Drew’s really laying out for everyone to see is that if you say no to someone, you can lose your job. You don’t work. When you’re a whistle-blower, the whole network of predators will make sure you don’t get hired because they want to keep getting away with what they’ve been doing.
How is the process of coming forward different for someone when their claims stem from events that took place decades earlier, like in the Steven Tyler suit?
I got to meet a survivor of Steven Tyler [Julia Misley]. Back then, these men were rewarded for being “rebels” in every which way. But [allegedly] raping a minor, that’s been illegal for a long time. It was so illegal that Tyler had to become a legal guardian to continue to have the ability to control her.
I think she finally decided to come forward about it because of his book. He’s just bragging about it, like, “Oh, yeah, I had a child bride.” For every survivor, it’s about “How do I take my power back?”
In the years since the first big wave of #MeToo allegations, is it difficult to keep attention on this activism and get people to turn up at protests?
That’s honestly the hardest part, especially in Los Angeles, getting people to physically show up. A lot of survivors don’t want to be known, or they’ve signed NDAs so they’re afraid to show up. We need allies. We need people that understand how dire this issue really is, and how harmful and prominent it is in the entertainment industry.
I keep doing this because I have a daughter, and my daughter can be prey one day to a predator. No matter how I raise her, there is a chance that she can be preyed upon. That’s what keeps me doing this.
Source: LA Times