In the past two weeks, the music industry has been hit by high-profile allegations of sexual abuse among its senior officials. Most notably, R&B singer Casandra Ventura, also known as Cassie, filed, and then quickly settled, an explosive lawsuit against her ex-boyfriend and record company boss Sean “Diddy” Combs, alleging years of assault and rape.
Others filed lawsuits alleging sexual assault and misconduct by former Recording Academy top executive Neil Portnow, former Arista and Epic Records head LA Reid, and Aerosmith singer Steven Tyler.
None of these demands have surprised Alexa Nikolas, founder of the activist network and popular YouTube channel Eat Predators.
In 2021, Nikolas, 31, filed a lawsuit 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 dismissed her lawsuit in February. Nikolas withdrew her lawsuit, but said he is considering refiling it.)
Since founding Eat Predators in 2022, the former child star, best known for co-starring with Jamie Lynn Spears in the Nickelodeon series “Zoey 101,” has become a prominent activist, calling out alleged abusers in the entertainment industry and protesting vs. Nickelodeon, Warner. Music, Sony Music and Red Light Management offices in Los Angeles
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 move forward and how to keep the momentum going years after #MeToo.
There have been four high-profile abuse lawsuits in the music industry in the past two weeks, all under New York’s Adult Survivors Act. How did you feel seeing this come to light?
The sad thing about this is that it doesn’t surprise me. The music industry has been covering up sexual assault for decades. They help protect these predators so they can continue making money from them.
Cassie’s lawsuit against Diddy alleged years of very disturbing actions. What do you think she went through when she decided to file this lawsuit against someone so powerful?
The fact that she was able to do this is a miracle, especially when facing someone as powerful as Diddy. There are so many cards against her. There is so much PTSD that you have to overcome to get to the point of standing up for yourself and seeking justice. We have learned in the survivor community that most of the time, we don’t really get justice. When you show up, you have to be prepared for how the other side, with their powerful lawyers, is going to defame you, and that’s why it takes a lot to get there, mentally and physically. I can’t believe she ended up doing it.
What do you think will be the consequences for his career after this?
What worries me most is what will happen to all the other predators after this. I am always concerned that we focus on a single predator and not the institution.
I hope he doesn’t have the same kind of opportunities. It’s 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 safe and that they can silence survivors, I don’t know if their behavior will change.
Many of these types of agreements come with no–disclosure agreements. How does that affect the process of seeking justice?
I don’t believe in NDAs when it comes to crimes. I think they should be illegal. But most of us survivors don’t want the world to know that we were raped. This is 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 will be able to dominate the outcome and the survivor will be able to say, “Well, at least I showed up, even if it was in private.” Someone is going to pay compensation and you feel like you are getting some justice. But once you come out of isolation, the second phase is, “He can do this again to someone else and I can’t tell him anything.”
These lawsuits occurred because the Adult Survivors Act opened a one-year window for filing civil lawsuits alleging sexual abuse beyond the statute of limitations. Why was it necessary for all this to come to light?
People choose civil lawsuits because not all survivors feel they can go through the criminal system or have no other option. And even then you only have a small window to sue. Who will escape the clutches 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 me a long time to be able to accurately describe what happened to me. We used to say, “This guy is an asshole.” That was the language that predators used and that helped them get their way because no one said, “You’re committing crimes.” Now that is changing and it is wonderful.
Some artists and executives accused of this behavior, like marilyn manson, have resorted to filing defamation lawsuits against their accusers. What burden does that place on someone who comes forward?
Let’s say I sued my abuser. And then he says, “There’s a confidentiality agreement here. “Let’s get ready.” That used to be the way of doing things. Now, if you sue someone and the other party can’t get you to sign the confidentiality agreement, the only way to discredit the survivor is to file a defamation lawsuit. That’s what you see over and over again, and that’s one of the reasons survivors are afraid to come forward.
He has organized protests in front of several prominent music and entertainment companies. Has recoil faced within the industry for your job?
Those institutions really don’t know how to deal with me. It is not common for a survivor to have a platform. Many times, they are able to completely crush that person’s career. For me it’s strange, but because of nostalgia I still have this influence. If you want to silence me, it’s the so-called Streisand Effect, where your usual relentless tactics to silence a survivor only make it more public.
Many of these claims are tied to large corporations and institutions, such as major record labels and the Recording Academy. How come they fail to hold people responsible and assume their roles in this dynamic?
I have not seen these institutions held accountable for their cover-ups. If they weren’t covering up for these people, there would have been far fewer victims. Take R. Kelly, for example. Sony knew he had all these accusations and they didn’t drop him until 2019. I mean, that’s just ridiculous. They were putting it on tour. One city protested saying, “We don’t want Live Nation to bring R. Kelly to our city because we don’t feel like we’re safe if R. Kelly is in our city,” and Live Nation’s response to the protests and petitions. was “the show must go on.” What a horrible response for someone 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 by multiple powerful record executives, including Reid and Russell Simmons.
Another stigma is having been abused multiple times in the industry. And many times, women have to choose which abuser they try to seek justice against, because they obviously can’t seek justice with all of them. If they go public about more than one, the patriarchy really paints you as the problem. The good thing about Drew Dixon is that she was like, ‘Fuck that.’ That’s a really inspiring moment for someone like me because I was abused countless times in the industry. To see someone be brave and say, “This happened to me more than once and this is another powerful man I’m going to face,” that’s really inspiring.
What Drew is really letting on for everyone to see is that if you say no to someone, you can lose your job. You do not work. When you are a whistleblower, the entire network of predators will make sure that you are not hired because they want to continue getting away with what they have been doing.
How is the reporting process different for someone when their claims stem from events that took place decades earlier, such as in the Steven Tyler lawsuit?
I met a Steven Tyler survivor. [Julia Misley]. Back then, these men were rewarded for being “rebels” in every way. But [allegedly] raping a minor, that has been illegal for a long time. It was so illegal that Tyler had to become a legal guardian to still have the ability to control her.
I think he finally decided to talk about it thanks to his book. She just brags about it, like, “Oh yeah, I had a girl girlfriend.” For every survivor, it’s about “How do I take my power back?”
In the years since the first big wave of #MeToo accusations, is it difficult to keep the attention on this activism and get people to attend protests?
Honestly, that’s the hardest part, especially in Los Angeles, getting people to physically show up. Many survivors do not want to be known or have signed confidentiality agreements so they are afraid to come forward. We need allies. We need people who understand how serious this problem really is and how damaging and prominent it is in the entertainment industry.
I keep doing this because I have a daughter, and my daughter may one day fall prey to a predator. No matter how you raise her, there is a chance that she will fall prey to it. That’s what keeps me doing this.