For the past 25 years, R&B singer R. Kelly has faced countless sexual assault and abuse allegations without consequence. But with Lifetime’s recent release of “Surviving R. Kelly,” a documentary mini-series featuring over 50 interviews regarding Kelly’s abusive behavior, the allegations are once again brought into the spotlight.
Despite facing decades of criticism for sexual misconduct, court appearances for alleged child pornography and sexual relations with minors, Kelly has continued to deny any accusations of wrongdoing. However, with movements such as #MeToo and Time’s Up, survivors of Kelly’s abuse — including Kelly’s ex-wife and multiple ex-girlfriends — are uniting to speak out against him.
I’m not going to question the truth of these sexual assault and abuse allegations against Kelly — it takes a lot of strength and courage for a survivor of abuse to come forward, and research from the National Sexual Violence Resource Center show that only 2–10 percent of sexual assault accusations are false, but research indicates that these numbers are conflated due to our criminal justice system. So the issue remains: How do we as a society respond to these horrific claims of sexual abuse?
Kelly’s alleged pattern of sexaul assault reminds us that the way we see and portray women have serious consequences. The over-sexualization and exploitation of women within the rap and R&B genres desensitizes society to violence against women, as well as undermines the notion of consent and assault. Kelly’s contributions to this culture are apparent in his lyrics and music videos, which use women as sexual props and take away much of their autonomy. Kelly’s power and influence within the industry and in American culture have paved the way for his actions and lack of accountability.
Knowing all of this, many people are left wondering that if they continue to listen to Kelly’s music, are they also condoning his actions. If we as a society were to boycott all forms of art and entertainment due to their creator’s sins, we would be left in a world lacking in any art or human influence. However, in this day and age, we also have the power to choose what we spend our money on, and downloading one of Kelly’s songs financially supports a man who is facing countless sexual assault and abuse allegations without repercussion.
Kelly’s alleged abuse reminds us that the issue of sexual assault and violence against women did not end with the #MeToo movement, and is still continuing today. Considering that this issue is once again brought to our attention, we must understand that the Kelly allegations are not an isolated problem. Time and again, we hear the same stories of abuse from women because the issue of abuse towards women is widespread and systematic.
There is power in collective action. If the majority of people tune out Kelly’s music, a statement can be made. This is not a statement to Kelly, but rather a proclamation that his and other abuser’s behavior is no longer tolerated, and that the voices of victims are stronger than a hit song.