SEXUAL VIOLENCE

Muting R Kelly: Finally victims get attention

In Summary

• Just like Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby, R Kelly wielded immense power

• He hid behind his victims' vulnerability and a system that was set up to disbelieve women

Singer R Kelly has been in the spotlight after the release of a docuseries of his alleged abuse of underage girls. /BBC
PIED PIPER OF RNB: Singer R Kelly has been in the spotlight after the release of a docuseries of his alleged abuse of underage girls. /BBC

It is alleged that R Kelly was in a sexual relationship with Aaliyah’s mother as he was seeing the underage Age ain’t nothing but a number musician. That he induced several under-age girls into indecent sexual relationships, impregnated some and forced them to procure abortions.

The sexual exploitation included making child pornography, oral sex and urination among others. It doesn’t get any murkier than this. All these allegations are at best damning and at worst outright disgusting. Multiple charges, a penchant for underage girls and court settlements, R Kelly escaped rather unscathed.

His illustrious music career often overshadowed these two-decade long allegations. With titles such as ‘King of Pop-Soul and King of RnB’, everything he touched turned into platinum.

Hit songs such as I believe I can fly, Step in the name of love, Michael Jackson's You are not alone, Aaliyah’s chart-topping Back and Forth and Age ain’t nothing but a number, firmly cemented him in the upper echelons of musical greats—as super-producer, songwriter and musician—this generation has seen.

The gall of R Kelly led him to release a song called I Admit, in which he confessed to being sexually unfaithful and his own experience of abuse but denied accusations of paedophilia and operating a sex cult. "Only God can mute me," he sings defiantly. "Am I supposed to go to jail or lose my career because of your opinion?"

The allegations against these powerful men unmasked vile perpetrators who rode the wave of power, success and a system that emboldened, buffered and enabled this stomach-churning behaviour

Well, the self-acclaimed Pied Piper of RnB sang too soon. Shortly after the allegations surfaced, the tide shifted. Droves of artists distanced themselves from him. Some issued public apologies for working with Kelly.

Others instructed streaming platforms to withdraw their collaborated songs. Others decided not to perform songs Kelly wrote for them or collaborated with him on. Whilst others like John Legend outrightly called Kelly out!

Music label Sony Music and its subsidiary label RCA Records parted ways with Kelly, striking him out of their artist roster. According to media reports, his publicist, lawyer and long-term assistant all severed ties with him.

And the viral hashtag #MuteRKelly among other things galvanised global conversations on sexual assault and abuse.

The heart-wrenching six-hour long documentary Surviving R-Kelly retells real-life experiences of abuse and victim resignation. I can only imagine the intangible loss victims of physical and sexual abuse experience.

 

One that they can’t dust off or leave in the hallway. One that dismantles worth and leaves them in a pool of torment and shame. Psychologists assert that sexual assault and rape are obviously sexual offences but long before the physical act, these offences are a display of power and an exertion of dominance.

Just like Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby, R Kelly wielded immense power: he hid behind his victims' vulnerability and a system that was set up to disbelieve women when they spoke.

The allegations against these powerful men unmasked vile perpetrators who rode the wave of power, success and a system that emboldened, buffered and enabled this stomach-churning behaviour.

I hope that speaking up and speaking out against Kelly will offer the victims much-needed catharsis and an empathetic society that speaks up and speaks out against sexual violence in all its shapes, forms and sizes.

The court of public opinion and the online world are baying for his blood. You see folks, the pendulum of justice may swing either way—an acquittal or a conviction. But what stands as the truth is that finally a woman can be heard and believed. Alleged predators like Robert Sylvester Kelly no longer have a grip on us!

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