UPDATED: In the wake of the bombshell New York Times article in which multiple women accuse Ryan Adams of sexual misconduct, the question arises of how much legal trouble the singer might be in. While the claims fall short of sexual assault — seven women and more than a dozen associates “described a pattern of manipulative behavior in which Adams dangled career opportunities while simultaneously pursuing female artists for sex,” the article claims — far more problematic is the accusation that he exposed himself during phone sex with an underage girl who lied about her age. “i would get in trouble if someone knew we talked like this,” Adams wrote to her in November 2014. “If people knew they would say I was like R Kelley lol,” he wrote later.
“It’s premature to say that any specific charges would be filed because many details in the article are vague,” Laurie Levenson, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, tells Variety. “But solicitation of sex from minor is certainly one possible charge. It depends on whether he believed she was underage.”
Shortly after the article published, Adams tweeted, ” The picture that this article paints is upsettingly inaccurate. Some of its details are misrepresented; some are exaggerated; some are outright false. I would never have inappropriate interactions with someone I thought was underage. Period.”
Adams and the girl, who is referenced only as “Ava,” engaged in multiple sexually oriented texts and Skype sessions when she was 15 and 16, according to the article. Adams asked her age repeatedly; sometimes she lied, sometimes she didn’t answer, but she never provided him with proof.
“It depends on whether he believed she was underage,” Levenson says. “A prosecutor could argue is that he thought she was underage and that’s why he kept asking, but a defense attorney would say no, he asked because he didn’t want to be involved” with an underage girl.
Defense attorney Anthony Salerno adds, “He could be on the hook for [illegal] contact with a minor if prosecutors thought it was ‘intentional blindness’ regarding her age, or a ruse to create the appearance that he didn’t know when he really did — like he was trying too hard to make himself look good,” he says. Referring to a separate incident recounted in the article, in which Adams allegedly invited a woman to his hotel room and answered the door nude, Salerno adds, “Exposing himself when answering the door is a crime also, and a registerable sex offense, but the statute of limitations has probably run out.”
Laws regarding sexually oriented digital communication with a minor vary from state to state. Ava lived in Ohio at the time, where it is a felony to “solicit, exchange or possess any material that shows a person under 18 engaging in sexual activity,” according to the article; in New York, Adams’ location during many of the exchanges, the age is 17.
As for the women who were of age, “the question always comes down to whether the sex was voluntary,” Levenson says. “It’s hard to tell whether it crosses line from abhorrent to criminal behavior. It’s terrible conduct; it’s intimidation, but there’s no physical assault. But I understand why there is reason for concern and for investigation.”
As for the next steps, “There are two things at play,” Levenson says. “Whether New York authorities are investigating criminal behavior, and if he’s soliciting underage girls on the internet. We’re seeing behavior here that no one should condone, but if you’re going to court, you need more information than the article presents.
“I’m sure he’s lawyering up right now,” she concludes.