Surviving R Kelly: When will we start reacting to signs of abuse?

Another day, another sex scandal, and this time it’s RnB singer R. Kelly in the firing line.


A mugshot of R. Kelly from his legal troubles in 2002.

At the start of 2019, US TV company Lifetime releases a documentary detailing allegations of sexual assault, statutory rape, domestic violence and even enslavement by R. Kelly. The world watches in disbelief as another well-respected member of the entertainment industry is outed for being a misogynist abuser. Though R. Kelly has been in similar legal trouble before, new allegations and damning details arose from the documentary, entitled Surviving R. Kelly.

However, while shock radiates through social media, many who have been following Robert Sylvester Kelly from early in his career know that dark accusations aren’t unheard of.



For instance, in 1994, Kelly married late singer Aaliyah Haughton in Illinois. As the legal age of marriage in the state is 17, it was later revealed that the pair falsified documents to state Aaliyah was 18 — she was just 15 years old.

Aaliyah’s mother Diane Haughton recently criticised facts of the documentary citing that Aaliyah just wanted to “fulfil her dream” and called claims made in the series a “fabrication.”

However, it isn’t just the circumstances surrounding Aaliyah that are alarming. Another instance occurred several years later when a video was leaked to the Chicago Sun-Times of Kelly allegedly urinating on a 14-year-old girl during a sex act in 2002.

These events escalated to the singer being indicted on 21 counts of Child Pornography, but he was eventually found not guilty after five years in 2007, after the girl and her parents, unfortunately, refused to further testify.

The list is almost endless.

Both 2017 and 2018 saw several prominent U.S figures outed in the media for acts of sexual misconduct, notably Miramax producer Harvey Weinstein and actor Kevin Spacey.

Rumours of sexual abuse have circulated the media industry for decades. But my biggest question while watching Surviving R Kelly: where were the parents of these young girls?

And secondly, why didn’t the celebrities speaking up now voice their disdain earlier?

“All of a sudden you’re, like, bin Laden of America. Osama Bin Laden is the only one knows exactly what I’m going through” – R Kelly, Blender Magazine, 2003

The documentary took us through a host of interviews from the victims, to celebrities, collaborators and even R Kelly’s family and friends. All had similar stories to tell about the abuse they suffered behind closed doors, with his family recounting his own troubled childhood.

It’s hard to believe that — in the exclusive circle that Hollywood is — that none of these celebrities or parents knew, or at least had an inkling of what was happening.

Numerous celebrities have come forward to condemn their former colleagues’ actions, such as Nick Cannon who apologised for working with him and reflected on his own daughters.

Lady Gaga tweeted that she “stands behind these women 1000%”, while calling for her sexually charged 2013 collaboration with R.Kelly, Do What U Want, to be removed from streaming sites.

As of now, the song is still being streamed on Google Play.

Other celebrities have weighed in, including Chance the Rapper, who apologised for working with R. Kelly in the past and supported the allegations against him. Chance explained his delay in speaking out by saying he didn’t “value the accuser’s stories because they were black women.”

I appreciate Chance the Rapper’s change of heart, but in my opinion, the value of African-American women’s opinion (versus that of any other race of women) shouldn’t even come into question.

Abuse is abuse, and while it’s good for celebrities to voice their opinion and support for victims, the benefit of them speaking out seems like too little, too late. Especially when rumours have circulated about R Kelly for almost three decades.

Instead, their words, wealth and energy should be invested in providing safeguards for young impressionable singers, actors and fans who can easily be taken advantage of. It seems that may turn a blind eye based on a potential payday.

Whether a male is of black origin or otherwise, we have forgotten that these same pledges were made by the industry – “we will do better” – during the Weinstein scandal.

As Chance the Rapper highlighted, before the Lifetime documentary and details of R Kelly’s sordid sex life were made public, little attention was paid to claims made by the victims.

While it’s good to highlight issues and expose potential abusers, the abuse will continue until people have the courage to speak up sooner. It’s easy to ignore questionable activities in the moment and then act shocked later. It takes considerably more courage to act immediately.

Until the industry and parents of minors fully recognise and act on signs of abuse, I fear we’ll hear similar stories about more of our “favourite”  entertainers in the years to come.

R Kelly reportedly denies all allegations of sexual abuse and is seeking legal action against Lifetime.

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