Bassnectar, a star of the dubstep scene who was accused in April of sex trafficking and child pornography, responded last week to the lawsuit filed against him in civil court by several women. The DJ, whose real name is Lorin Ashton, denied all of the women’s claims of illegal behavior.
“This case is nothing more than an attempt by opportunistic women who have chosen to sue Ashton, his record label, managers, and even one of the charities he has contributed to, all in an attempt to frame years of friendship as trafficking so that they can exploit a statute for monetary gain,” the response reads.
In addition to denying all wrongdoing, the response, filed in U.S. district court in Tennessee, says that Ashton is demanding a jury trial. Both sides will begin a process known as discovery and start collecting evidence from each other.
Stewart Ryan, one of the lawyers representing the women, called it “standard” to ask for a jury trial. “Our clients want to see justice done in whatever form this takes,” said Ryan. “A jury trial is not anything that our clients shy away from.”
The women suing Ashton were not available to comment, but the legal response from him did provoke a reaction from Lauren Sarrantonio. She is one of several women who, though she was over 18 when she says she was in a sexual relationship with Ashton, said she felt targeted and groomed by the former EDM star. Sarrantonio’s account, which she shared in a previous VICE investigation into the allegations, mirrors that of the women in the lawsuit and includes allegations that Ashton gave her unsolicited cash, encouraged her to send naked photos, and forced her to keep the relationship secret.
“My first initial reaction was fear and sadness. I do know that this is how the system works, that he has a right to defend himself, and make his own claims, but it’s hard to read through denial of over 200 allegations that I personally experienced,” she said. “Although it’s not my lawsuit, it feels like being invalidated all over again.”
The lawsuit also names a number of other defendants in addition to Ashton, claiming they “participated in a venture and benefited economically from Bassnectar…and should have known Bassnectar was trafficking minor girls for commercial sex and other illegal activity.” Those defendants include Ashton’s record label, his touring company, and the charity he launched, as well as the management and production companies he worked with, Redlight Management and C3 Presents. All filed motions to dismiss the case.
An updated version of the lawsuit also names Bassnectar’s former tour manager, Carlos Donohue, and his company, Gnarlos Industries, as defendants. According to the lawsuit, Donohue helped arrange free tickets and transportation for the women when they were under 18.
“The claims against my clients are completely baseless and we look forward to proving that through the court,” said Cynthia Sherwood, the lawyer representing Donohue and Gnarlos Industries. “The allegations that remain are that he, as the tour manager, got tickets and backstage tickets for a show. To call that aiding in sex trafficking is outrageous.”
Until last year, Bassnectar was one of the most successful electronic music artists in the bass music scene. Before the pandemic put touring on hold, he was slated to headline Bonnaroo Music Festival alongside artists like Lizzo, Miley Cyrus, and Flume. His multi-night performances sold out instantly, and his devoted fans, known as Bassheads, traveled the country to watch him perform.
But in June 2020, an Instagram account, @evidenceagainstbassnectar began posting anonymous accounts of women claiming they had experienced a range of mistreatment from Ashton. Not long after, Ashton stepped down from his career as Bassnectar and announced his retirement.
Nine months later, in April 2021, two women, Rachel Ramsbottom and Alexis Bowling, filed the lawsuit against him. After the lawsuit was filed and became public, two more women joined the suit: Jenna Houston, and an anonymous woman. The anonymous woman removed herself from the complaint after the court, at Ashton’s legal team’s request, required her to reveal her true name.
“The dismissal of this anonymous accuser from this litigation is a first step toward Lorin’s complete vindication,” Ashton’s attorneys, Mitch Schuster and Kim Hodde, said in a written statement. “We possess numerous communications which demonstrate that this individual’s claims were baseless, and it is clear that her withdrawal from this litigation and decision not to reveal her name, show her unwillingness to be attached to these outrageous and false allegations. We welcome this development and will not stop working until Mr. Ashton’s good name and reputation are restored.”
The response filed by Ashton’s legal team last week also includes messages alleged to be from each of the women suing him, and refers to them as “unsolicited messages.” Each is labeled when it was received in terms of “years after their friendship began.”
“I just feel this overwhelming need to protect you right now. Even though you didn’t and never did anything wrong,” reads a message, allegedly sent to Ashton by Houston in 2020, eight years into their relationship. “I am truly so grateful for you and everything I have learned from you. Thank you for being such a supporter of me and I hope you realize how much I support you,” reads another message, allegedly sent by Bowling in 2018, four years into their relationship. “I'm sure you know this but u really have to be careful on who u sleep with and open up to. Girls/women are fucking crazy,” reads a message allegedly sent by Ramsbottom to Ashton in 2014, two years after their relationship began.
The response says that “in 2020, each Plaintiff made a complete about face, suddenly claiming to be a victim of a fictitious multi-state sex trafficking venture.”
“What it really demonstrates is that there were certain points of time in these survivors’ lives when, as a result of a number of things including the inappropriate power dynamic that existed, [Ashton] had convinced them that what he was doing was not wrong and was not inappropriate,” said Ryan. “He’ll use each and every opportunity to unfortunately continue traumatizing the survivors of his abuse.”
It is common for victims to maintain positive relationships with their abusers after abuse takes place, according to Ebonique Bethea, the clinical director for RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network).
“Victims and survivors may still send messages, still be in contact for a little while as they're figuring out, this is not OK,” Bethea told VICE previously. “It’s the psychological and emotional impact of grooming and gaslighting that abusers use that causes such a conflict and confusion within survivors.”
That rings true for Sarrantonio. “I see myself in each of [the women]. I think that's the product of the grooming. I felt this special bond and that was purposefully planted,” she said. “It’s weird how they want to play into this narrative that it was a genuine friendship. What celebrity is friends with teenage girls?”
Though Ashton denies most of the claims of the lawsuit in the response filed last week, he does acknowledge talking to the women online through Twitter DMs. In addition, the response reads, “Ashton asserts that, if materials within the statutory definition of ‘child pornography’ were ever received, Ashton: (1) possessed less than three matters containing any visual depiction proscribed by the relevant paragraph; and (2) promptly and in good faith, and without retaining or allowing any person to access any visual depiction or a copy thereof, took reasonable steps to destroy each such image.” He confirms in the response that he met with the women at several of the times they allege, some when they were under 18, but denies that they had sex at those times. He also admits that he spoke to Ramsbottom on the phone last year, but alleges that Ramsbottom illegally recorded that call.
Ramsbottom shared part of a recording of a call with the @evidenceagainstbassnectar Instagram page in early July of 2020. In it, a man’s voice—allegedly Ashton’s—says, “What happened with you is something I want to take accountability on any level with you. If you think it's worth me going to live forever in a Tennessee jail to be either raped or beaten to death...”
In addition to demanding a jury trial, the legal response from Ashton also requests compensation for his legal fees as well as any further relief the court deems appropriate.
Though she is looking forward to the outcome of the trial, Sarrantonio said she found some healing through sharing her story publicly.
“I received so much love and support. It was really empowering to be able to talk about something that I had been sworn to secrecy about for years,” she said. “I feel a lot of solidarity amongst the women; there is so much justice and success in that alone.”
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