An Entire Ecosystem of Predator Protectors

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Like many I watched the 6 hour docu-series “Surviving R. Kelly” over the weekend. I felt a range of emotions while watching; Anger, Frustration, Sadness, and Disbelief. I’m 43 and from Chicago so I remember R. Kelly from the very beginning. His music was part of my life’s soundtrack for most of my teenage and young adult years. Most people around my age have known about the rumors for ages and the debate rages on if you can separate the art from the artist. I muted R. Kelly from my playlists a long time ago. I am of the personal belief that this man is at minimum, a misogynist who truly hates women and at worst, a serial abuser and pedophile. By the time I finished this documentary, I’m convinced this man needs to be in jail for the maximum amount of time for his crimes against women and young girls. I have no doubt of his guilt, not only of crimes in the past but crimes currently being committed against women right now. I thought I knew what this docu-series was going to be about but I was wrong.

“An Ecosystem of Predator Protectors”

As I watched I was astonished at the number of people who were involved indirectly or passively enabled his predatory behavior. Grown adults recruiting younger girls for him at the mall, concerts, etc., grown adults who forged a marriage license so he could marry a 15 year old girl, grown adults who were arranging flights, transportation, and hotel stays to house young girls for this sexual deviant….sighs… Out of all of these people, not one adult had the moral fiber or basic human decency to say something? Did no one care about these girls? I don’t think it was something I thought about previously. I was so focused on R. Kelly as a predator, I failed to realize as a celebrity, he needed assistance to continuously do this for over 20 years. As I watched in horror at these adults attempting to purge their guilt by sharing their stories, I became so angry. They knew what was happening the entire time and said nothing because of a check. It made me want to scream out in frustration and cry tears of absolute weariness. This man had an entire team of people helping him rape and abuse women for two decades! I feel like a broken record…DOES ANYONE CARE ENOUGH ABOUT BLACK GIRLS?

We failed R. Kelly

After watching the docu-series, I realized R. Kelly has some serious issues.  The interviews with his younger and older brother were beyond disturbing, especially listening to his older brother describe R. Kelly’s affinity for younger women as “a preference”.  That made me want to vomit.   R. Kelly was a victim as well, forced into silence by his abuser.  I thought the psychologists on the show brilliantly illustrate the loss of power a child victim feels vs the power and control they attempt to gain if they become the predator instead of the victim. (note: Not all victims become predators) It doesn’t excuse the behavior but it most certainly provides context. He should have been protected and wasn’t. He should have felt safe to confide in an adult. He should have received counseling and therapy.   His family failed him repeatedly.  We continue to fail him because we refuse to force him to be accountable for his actions.  We enable his behavior by continuing to support him.  He needs help. He needs jail. He needs a lesson in accountability and consequences.

“The Village/Community Failed”

The abuse and trauma these victims faced as teens and young adults should have never happened. If we had a community intent on protecting its children, the R. Kelly’s of the world wouldn’t stand a chance. While I believe the ultimate responsibility falls on the abusers shoulders, there is plenty of blame to go around.

The Families

Watching the parents of some of the victims were the most difficult and most challenging for me. I’m a parent of a 14 year old daughter so I couldn’t help but listen with a mother’s ear and a parent’s heart. It was hard not to judge because I had so many questions about some of the decisions made.

  1. What parent doesn’t know who her child is “dating”? My parents had strict rules that they and to meet anyone I was dating. I wasn’t allowed to go on any date with any boy my parents hadn’t met.

  2. What parent allows their high school aged child to “travel” to meet “some guy”? I couldn’t relate to this at all. That wouldn’t have even been a question in my household. How were rules not enforced in your household?

  3. Even if you had a child who wanted to pursue the entertainment business, why were you so eager to leave your child with people you didn’t know?

  4. Even Aliyah’s family made me question, how could you possibly say she never had sex with Kelly when you didn’t even know your daughter was legally married to him? It’s clear you didn’t know everything you thought you did.

“To Have Empathy and Compassion in the Midst of Harsh Critique”

Some of these children had little to no supervision and very little guidance. I’m not naïve enough to know that teenagers do things their parents know nothing about. I did and many others I know did too. I’m sure they just got in over their heads like most teens do. We were just fortunate not to get into something like this. As a parent I understood that but my head was still spinning in confusion. A child’s first village is their family and in many ways they failed. They failed to ask the important questions. They failed to provide rules and boundaries in their kids’ lives and enforce them. They failed when they allowed celebrity status and promises of fame trump their better judgement. They failed to protect these kids, putting a check in front of justice for their children. I was floored to know the alleged 14 year old on the tape was still in contact with Kelly during and after the trial and her family members were still on his payroll!!! (BLANK STARE) Our kids, especially teenagers, need boundaries, rules and codes of ethics even when they try to break them. It teaches our children accountability, consequences and understanding of right and wrong. Even though I struggled with understanding their reasoning or logic, my heart still ached for them. They are still parents of sexual abuse victims. I can’t imagine what their lives are like now. I’m sure they are beating themselves up enough; there was no reason for me to beat on them more. The reality of their lives at the moment is a prison cell I can’t imagine being inside. I can only join others and pray for everyone’s healing through this entire trauma.

The family village failed in different ways and these kids and teens are paying a life altering price.

The Adults in the Room

The assistant, the security and body guards, the publicists, the lawyers, accountants, the entourage and more…

…All complicit in the sexual abuse of teenagers

I sat in front of the television with my mouth wide open listening to R. Kelly’s assistant speak with a smile about Kelly’s marriage ceremony with Aliyah, as if it was a fond memory. Then as he switched to a guilt ridden face he says, “She looked like she wanted me to say something to her”. I could not fathom what made this grown man ignore everything that was clearly wrong with this relationship and agree to forge a legal document. This man probably looked Aliyah’s parents in the eyes and promised to take care of her. As he stated,” I failed”. You think? He most certainly did along with many others in the Kelly Camp. The levels his staff went to protect and enable R. Kelly were diabolical and calculated to me. No one cared about these young girls to step in on their behalf. The adults closest to R. Kelly failed those girls.

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The Community (US)

After each episode, social media was on fire with commentary and opinions. The end of the docu-series forced me into a quiet and reflective state. It was a lot to unpack and I’ll be honest, the series really kept me up at night. Scrolling through my social media feeds, I was astonished at how divided we were on a subject that I thought was pretty black and white.

THE SEXUAL ABUSE OF TEENS AND CHILDREN IS WRONG…PERIOD!

You would think an entire community could agree on that right? It is a shame to see so many question and victim shame these women. Some as young as 14, lost their entire teenage years because of his influence in their lives. . Somehow blaming them for being fast, wanting to act grown (what teenager doesn’t in some capacity?), being money hungry or fame seeking. These girls needed a community that loved, valued and affirmed them. They needed support as they bravely revealed themselves and courageously told their stories. Black girls don’t receive big paydays for those revelations. They will receive no six figure book deals or made for TV Movies, etc., because the vast majority doesn’t care. These survivors speaking out wouldn’t get a dime but it would cost them quite a bit.

We fail young victims when we refuse to hear them, validate their experiences and protect them. We fail as a community when we enable his abuse and fund it by streaming, purchasing and playing his music or by paying for his concerts and merchandise. As a community, he should have been canceled the moment he married a 15 year old girl. I was a teen at the time but watching them on the documentary in matching outfits was beyond creepy for me. As a community, we were complicit and turned a blind eye to a 20 year history of abuse, misogyny and pedophilia all so we could “Step in the name of love”.

We failed…We are still failing

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In our communities you don’t have to be a big celebrity to get away with rape, abuse or pedophilia. I’ve spoken on this so many times on this website. Our communities have a problem “airing our dirty laundry” for the world to see. We ignore the cries of victims or force their silence under the cowardly guise of “minding our own business” instead of giving voice to the voiceless. We’ve allowed these predators to “hide in plain sight” in our own families and extended communities. We know who they are but don’t speak up and our children suffer.

Surviving R. Kelly exposed a serial abuser but also ripped the veil off a community’s refusal to address a real problem. The series highlighted the lack of concern shown to young black girls when they are abused. As a community, we must do better. We must become educated on what this is and how it happens. (Side note: The psychologists on the show were absolutely outstanding in breaking down what abuse is and giving insight into the mind of an abuser and an abuse victim. I wish we were paying closer attention). We must surround our children with love, support, guidance, correction, discipline and encouragement.

It takes a village to raise a child but in these cases and so many more that are unreported, the village failed. We gotta do better; our children’s lives depend on it.

Until next time,

Take care of yourselves and each other.

D. Sanders