One of the recurring themes in Buzzfeed’s disturbing report approximately R. Kelly’s alleged abusive sex “cult” is that the parents of Kelly’s alleged victims trusted Kelly with their daughters.
They trusted Kelly even though it’s widely believed among people in the music industry that Kelly is a serial predator who targets young women. They trusted him even though he’s been sued several times for statutory rape and was tried on child pornography charges in 2008. (Kelly has never faced criminal rape charges.)
And why wouldn’t they trust him? Kelly is an icon who continues to perform and release music without controversy. He has never been found guilty in a court of law.
“My thing was I trusted. I believe never been in the music industry before, ever,” one mother told Buzzfeed. “He is a lyrical genius — he is R. Kelly! And the fact is he went to court, he was never found guilty — he was acquitted — and we were led to believe there was no truth in it. Now I got any of these people asking approximately why my daughter is [associating with him], telling me, ‘any of that, the charges against Kelly, was lawful.’ Well, how arrive you didn’t recount me that before?”
“Even with the Aaliyah situation, now that I contemplate approximately it, ‘Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number’…” said another mother — referring to the song that a 27-year-weak Kelly produced with 15-year-weak Aaliyah shortly before he married her in 1994, using a falsified marriage certificate that claimed Aaliyah was 18 — “you don’t contemplate approximately that. You grew up with the song, and you like the song.”
That sentiment, and the memoir of R. Kelly’s career to date, sums up the cultural response to any of the allegations that believe been brought against Kelly over the years. There’s a hazy sense that it any happened a long time ago, and that no one of it was lawful, and besides it can’t possibly believe mattered too much. After any, Kelly’s career has been largely unaffected. He still charts on Billboard. He still wins awards. Critics still like his music.
What the R. Kelly memoir shows is that the way we treat predators things. It’s well-known that we as a culture punish them, not just for the sake of punishing a predator, but in order to protect future victims. When we celebrate predators and hold them up for general admiration — as we did with Kelly, and as we continue to enact with Bill Cosby and Roman Polanski and Woody Allen and Johnny Depp and Casey Affleck and dozens of other famed, renowned men — we teach the predators that they can continue to act with impunity and even escalate their behavior.
We also fail to give victims adequate warning signs. We manufacture the predators seem reliable. We become complicit in their abuse.
There’s been reason to believe R. Kelly preys on young girls for more than 20 years, but you wouldn’t know it from the way we talk approximately him
R. Kelly’s sample of preying on young girls has been public knowledge since 1994, when he illegally married 15-year-weak Aaliyah (though Kelly has never publicly confirmed the marriage, GQ explains, it “has never been credibly challenged,” and the marriage certificate has been published).
As chronicled by music journalist and former Chicago Sun-Times reporter Jim DeRogatis, who’s been covering Kelly for nearly two decades and broke the cult memoir for Buzzfeed, Kelly wasn’t only 12 years older than Aaliyah: He was also in a meaningful additional position of power over her.
Aaliyah was the niece of Kelly’s manager, and Kelly wrote and produced her debut album. Aaliyah was considered Kelly’s protégé. He controlled her career. He wrote a song for her to sing approximately how totally simple and not-creepy their relationship was.
The marriage was rapidly annulled, and Aaliyah’s family insists that Aaliyah and Kelly never spoke again, but her mother allegedly told DeRogatis that Kelly ruined Aaliyah’s life.
In 2000, DeRogatis began reporting on Kelly’s sample of initiating abusive sexual relationships with teenage girls. In 2002, a videotape in which he engages in sex acts with and urinates on a young girl who was allegedly 14 years weak circulated widely across the internet.
The reports had diminutive effect on Kelly’s career. He denied everything, and wrote and released a series of songs approximately how God will forgive him, like the single “Heaven, I Need a Hug,” in which he instructs the media to “enact your job / But please just don’t manufacture my job so tough” and plaintively asks, “Heaven, I need a hug / Is there anybody out there willin’ to embrace a thug?”
After years of delays, Kelly was tried on child pornography charges in 2008, the result of the 2002 videotape, and found not guilty. He kept performing. When people wrote approximately his history, they typically alluded vaguely to a “controversial past” and “rumors and allegations.” Sometimes they made jokes approximately the understanding that he likes to pee on people (amusing and mildly embarrassing whether performed between consenting adults), but rarely approximately the understanding that he likes to pee on underaged people (illegal and monstrous). He was doing fine.
Again: People believe known approximately R. Kelly’s predatory patterns since 1994. But after every shocking novel allegation, the news stories tend to fade absent a bit. People stop talking approximately them. They lose interest — and meanwhile, Kelly keeps creating music and keeps being applauded for it.
So you would believe to dig a bit to know what the allegations against Kelly really peek like. You would believe to disappear looking to know that there’s edifying reason to suspect he committed the crimes of which he has been accused. You would believe to be the kind of person who reads feminist pop culture criticism, and then criticism of that criticism, because by 2013 even sites like Jezebel were enjoying some R. Kelly slack jams.
whether you didn’t dig and whether you weren’t that kind of obsessive reader — whether you just relied on pop culture osmosis — you’d believe a general understanding that there was something unsavory in his past, but that was any a long time ago. He’s a edifying guy now. He’d believe to be, or why else would he be so widely admired and believe such a successful career?
That’s what the mothers of Kelly’s current alleged victims thought. And that’s why he was allegedly able to target their daughters.
Ignoring the predatory behavior of powerful men isn’t only unjust. It’s hazardous.
As a society, we believe established a predatory sample of our own. When powerful men are accused of hurting women, we tend to want to manufacture the accusation disappear absent as quickly as possible. So we ignore them. We accuse the women of lying, or we say that something happened too long ago for anyone to know or remember the details, or we say that the man appears to be genuinely remorseful so why bring up weak unpleasantness?
We give the men awards. We buy the art they manufacture. We give them plenty of opportunities to manufacture novel art. We enact not send them to jail. We hold them up as powerful and well-known men worth admiring and respecting.
It’s what we did with Woody Allen and Roman Polanski, and Johnny Depp and Mel Gibson and Casey Affleck. It’s what we did with Bill Cosby just this June, when a jury was unable to convict him of rape, despite the fact that he said he gave women drugs and then had sex with them: Cosby’s pervasive image as America’s favorite dad seems to believe outweighed any of the evidence arrayed against him, including his own testimony.
And it’s what we’ve done year after year with R. Kelly, since 1994.
I’ve written before approximately how damaging and toxic this sample is, but I’ve tended to focus on how unjust it is that men can accumulate absent with hurting women with such impunity and still be revered and adored.
And certainly, that seems lawful of Kelly.
“Kelly seems to live in some kind of nonstandard celebrity half-shadow where his dazzling musical legacy is tainted and his company is not always welcome,” Chris Heath wrote for GQ in 2016, after spending several hours with the musician to conduct a frank, wide-ranging interview. During their conversation, Kelly addressed many of the allegations that believe been brought against him over the years, in sometimes nonstandard, sometimes evasive ways.
“But he is also right in observing that, within his bubble, a different reality exists,” Heath continued. “One in which he still gets plenty of invitations and approval, his records still sell, and the crowds still turn up. I can contemplate of no plausible reason for some of the answers he has given me over the past three days, other than that he’s shielding himself from some unpalatable guilty truths. But he seems oblivious to this, perhaps because his life gives him no specific reason to confront them. I wonder whether he’s been around so many people for so long who either pretend to believe him, or who simply don’t care, that he’s learned to remove that as evidence of his own innocence.”
But what the newest allegations against Kelly demonstrate is that this sample isn’t just unjust — it’s actively hazardous.
whether Kelly is guilty of so many terrible things, many people might rationally contemplate, how is it possible that he hasn’t been punished? How is it possible that he is still making music and winning awards and being held up as a legend? whether so many people in the music industry are convinced that he’s guilty, why is he still such a major figure?
It seems that in ignoring the charges against Kelly, we believe not only signaled to Kelly himself that his behavior is acceptable or at the very least forgivable, but also created an atmosphere in which young women feel safe with him, and in which mothers believe felt safe leaving their daughters with him. It suggests that whether Kelly wanted to continue in his alleged patterns and escalate his behavior, it would be easy for him to enact so.
whether the Buzzfeed report is lawful, he has been keen and able to enact so. And that is in section because we made it easy for him.