Content note: this post contains discussion of eating disorders, sexual assault, and substance use disorder. Please see hotline numbers below.
Demi Lovato has been open about her mental health struggles through the years. Her refreshingly candid discussion of issues such as bipolar disorder, the sobriety and relapse cycle, and eating disorders have moved the conversation forward, particularly after she recovered from an overdose in 2018. Now, Lovato has revealed that she was sexually assaulted the night of that overdose — echoing another sexual assault that occurred when she was 15.
In her documentary, Demi Lovato: Dancing with the Devil, the singer detailed the events of her overdose. She unknowingly purchased oxycodone that contained fentanyl, a lethally potent synthetic opioid that has been implicated in the dramatic rise of overdose-related deaths through the past 10 years, according to the Center for Disease Control. One of Lovato’s friends, Sirah Mitchell, confirmed in the film that her opioid supply was “laced with fentanyl.”
The seller then sexually assaulted her while she was dangerously intoxicated by the opioids. “I didn't just overdose,” said Lovato. “I was taken advantage of.” He then fled the scene, as Lovato lay unconscious. Mitchell said that “He also ended up getting her really high and leaving her for dead.”
Lovato was later discovered to be suffering from symptoms of an overdose, including slowness of breathing, which can lead to bluish skin. She spoke directly to this, recalling that “When they found me, I was naked, blue.” Paramedics revived her with naloxone, an emergency-use medication that reverses the effects of an opioid overdose, and she was taken to the hospital.
When she awoke, “they asked if we had had consensual sex,” said Lovato. “There was one flash that I had of him on top of me. I saw that flash and I said yes. It wasn't until a month after the overdose that I realized, 'You weren't in any state of mind to make a consensual decision.’ That kind of trauma doesn't go away overnight.” Under the law, a person is incapable of consenting to sexual activity if they are intoxicated.
As a result of the acute overdose, Lovato suffered a heart attack, three strokes that caused permanent vision problems, pneumonia, and organ failure.
Recounting this story brought up a similar incident of rape when Lovato was a minor. In the early 2000s, a group of young Disney actors, including Lovato, “publicly said they were waiting until marriage” to have sex. Privately, she was “hooking up” with this person, though the two had not previously had sex. “ I lost my virginity in a rape...I said, “Hey, this is not going any farther, I’m a virgin and I don't want to lose it this way.” And that didn’t matter to them, they did it anyways. I didn't have the romantic first time. That was not it for me — that sucked.”
Lovato heavily implies that she worked with her alleged rapist at Disney — and that she reported the attack to adults, to no avail. “Then I had to see this person all the time...They never got taken out of the movie they were in.” She’d hoped to handle the situation by discussing it privately with the alleged rapist. “I called that person back a month later and tried to make it right by being in control,” said Lovato. “All it did was make me feel worse. Both times were textbook trauma re-enactments, and I really beat myself up for years which is why I had a really hard time coming to terms with the fact it was a rape when it happened.”
In order to deal with the trauma, Lovato said that she “stopped eating and coped in other ways: cutting, throwing up, whatever. And my bulimia got so bad that I started throwing up blood for the first time.” She also told Ellen DeGeneres in 2020 that her disorder was exacerbated by a management team that controlled her diet.
Demi Lovato: Dancing with the Devil premiered at the virtual 2021 SXSW, and will be released on YouTube on March 23.
For support in dealing with substance abuse disorder, please call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) for free at 1-800-662-4357.
For support in dealing with sexual assault, contact the free 24/7 National Sexual Assault Hotline operated by RAINN at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).
For support in dealing with eating disorders, please call the free National Eating Disorders Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.