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What 'Surviving R. Kelly' Tells Us About Race and Sexual Abuse
Written by <a href="index.php?option=com_comprofiler&task=userProfile&user=49948"><span class="small">Nia Decaille and Rachel Hatzipanagos, The Washington Post</span></a>   
Monday, 14 January 2019 09:31

Excerpt: "For many who watched the six-part documentary 'Surviving R. Kelly,' hearing directly from several women who described sexual abuse at the hands of the R&B star prompted a troubling question: Has Kelly remained popular and largely not faced criminal consequences because his accusers are black?"

R. Kelly. (image: Scott Olson/Getty Images/WP)
R. Kelly. (image: Scott Olson/Getty Images/WP)

What 'Surviving R. Kelly' Tells Us About Race and Sexual Abuse

By Nia Decaille and Rachel Hatzipanagos, The Washington Post

14 January 19


or many who watched the six-part documentary “Surviving R. Kelly,” hearing directly from several women who described sexual abuse at the hands of the R&B star prompted a troubling question: Has Kelly remained popular and largely not faced criminal consequences because his accusers are black?

Rebecca Epstein, a researcher at Georgetown University, thinks so. She co-authored a 2017 study that found black girls are viewed by adults as more sexually mature than white girls in the same peer group. As a result, when black girls are victims of sexual assault, they are less likely to be believed by those who see them as older than they actually are.

“What our research indicates is that black girls face even greater skepticism by the figures that wield such authority over their lives than other victims of sexual violence,” said Epstein, executive director at the law school’s Center on Poverty and Inequality.

Regardless of the race of the victims, only 230 of every 1,000 sexual assaults are reported to police, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network. While many victims of sexual assault are doubted, black victims have it even worse.

The R. Kelly series, which drew an average of 2.1 million total viewers over its three-night run last week, looked at decades of accusations against Kelly, starting with his 1994 marriage to his 15-year-old protege, Aaliyah, a singer who rocketed to superstardom before her 2001 death in a plane crash. Allegations surfaced again in 2002, when a videotape surfaced that allegedly showed him having sex with a 14-year-old girl. In 2008, he was acquitted on 14 counts of child pornography. Last year, The Washington Post published an investigation in which six women said Kelly was abusive toward them.

Over the years, Kelly has denied the accusations against him. This week, Kelly’s attorney told the Associated Press that the documentary is just “another round of stories” to fill airtime. James Mason, the singer’s former manager, did not call return a call The Post left for him asking for comment. On Wednesday, CNN reported Mason had a warrant out for his arrest for allegedly threatening the father of Joycelyn Savage, whose family says she is being held captive by Kelly.

Kelly’s most loyal fans, including many women, have continued to support his music and defend him online amid the allegations. They attacked Andrea Kelly, the singer’s ex-wife, for appearing in the documentary and saying that she, too, had been abused by him. Skeptical fans and viewers criticized the women who came forward, the women’ parents for letting them associate with Kelly, the security guards who worked for him — everyone except Kelly himself.

The backlash against the accusers illustrates how black girls face harsh skepticism when revealing trauma in a society that effectively erases their girlhood, according to Epstein.

"Black girls face unique forms of bias that need to be addressed and that requires different consideration than the racism faced by boys,” Epstein said. “Hypersexualization is the epitome of that difference.”

“Adults are less likely to believe that they need nurturing and support,” Epstein said. “That may help explain why adults didn’t raise an issue to a 15-year-old girl marrying an older man.”

That view of black girls extends to the legal system. Advocates and activists point to the case of Cyntoia Brown. She served 15 years of a life sentence for the 2004 killing a 43-year-old stranger who she told police had brought her to his home for sex when she was 16 years old. This week Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam granted clemency to Brown, who is now 30.

Brown was a victim of sex trafficking, yet local and national coverage around her case often refer to Brown being “solicited for sex,” “bought for sex” at age 16.

Not acknowledging black girls’ innocence as children and victims is what recent studies have also said contribute to a sexual abuse to prison pipeline. Research shows society won’t believe black girls who say they were abused, and when girls like Brown say they acted in self-defense, they’re punished, sometimes disproportionately so compared with white women.

The Georgetown report cited past research showing that black girls accused of crimes find less leniency in the criminal justice system. Prosecutors used their discretion to dismiss, on average, three of every 10 cases involving black girls, but dismissed seven of 10 cases involving white girls.

“We suspect that when a judge looks at a girl in front of them and is seeing in their mind’s eye a mature person who knew what they were doing, they will be less likely to extend them the hand of leniency,” Epstein said.

Alexandria Morgan of Her Healing, a psychotherapy practice that specializes in trauma-informed yoga, said that even the language used when talking about victims and accusers reveals an underlying biased against the victim. She noted this while watching the R. Kelly documentary as other ways we use language to disempower victims.

“One thing that stood out to me a lot was how the African American community responded to Kelly when the sex tape came out with the 14-year-old girl. He was charged with child pornography, but not child sexual abuse. It was like that wasn’t even important," Morgan said.

The documentary did prompt some victims to seek help. During the program’s premiere, calls to the RAINN’s sexual assault hotline increased by 27 percent.

Morgan has reported seeing an increase in black women requesting her psychotherapy services even before the documentary but not for the root of the problem.

“I noticed they weren't coming in to discuss their sexual abuse. They were coming in because of other factors in their life like anxiety or depression or having a difficult time in a relationship,” Morgan said. “Initially, they didn't even report that they had a history of child sexual abuse.”

And when girls do experience assault, advocates say society needs to change its response.

“There are layers of racism and sexism that present even more barriers to our listening to black women and girls,” Epstein said. “And that has to change.”

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-1 # Sir Morien 2019-01-14 11:46
Sexual abuse--anywhere --has less to do with sex than it has to do with power. Gender oppression and the legacy of slavery explain much of the phenomenon within the African American community, exemplified by R. Kelly's allegations. Malcolm X once said that Black women are the most oppressed identity group on the planet MOST BLACK MEN, HOWEVER, ARE NOT ABUSIVE--in betrayal of the horrific stereotypes affirmed by stories such as this one! Here, then, are some considerations for coming to terms with the likes of R. Kelly:

1. Many abusers may have been sexually abused as a child and are acting within the tormented cycle of sexual abuse and abusive adult relationships.

2. The legacy of plantation politics dehumanized African slaves, commodifying sexuality, synthesizing it with violence & literally making it "familiar" in that form within the oppressed community.
Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome may be at work here.

3. Sexual abuse is an undeniable confusion of love with shame and anger that pervade the oppressed Black community because of the abject disparities that exist for them.

4. Abusers, like R. Kelly's song, "believe I can fly"! They suffer grandiose delusions that are contrary to the everyday experiences of Black folks who get racially profiled by cops and insulted daily by the presumptions of white privilege. They feel above the law and social norms or ethics that would normally fit the lowly stereotypes suffered by most victims of racism.
-1 # Sir Morien 2019-01-14 11:57
Sexual Abuse & The Case of R. Kelly (Cont.)

5. Beneath those abusive behaviors within the context of intimate sexuality is a paradox: such men usually have a profound sense of inadequacy, therefore, needing a totally dominant and unchallenged place of power! (Think Wasserman, Weinstein, Cosby, Clinton...)

6. Many abusers are arrested within their own polarity of powerless feelings that take them to an overwhelming deployment of near-total power with women who cannot possibly compete or defend from it.

7. Reconciliation, remediation and healing are sometimes sought--albeit unconsciously-- by sexual abusers. They actually believe themselves "correcting" or "balancing" the abuses they themselves suffered as victims.

NONE of this is to rationalize as ethically unaccountable the utter injustice of sexual abuse. It is, however, to contextualize it for a better set of prescriptions for its recognition, redress and healing for all parties to the violence and inhumanity of it!

Mutually reinforcing dynamics of gender oppression and racism are vital for sustaining Caucasian male power structures. As women gain ever-increasing social power, these realities will surface and the dire consequences of them will come to be understood as much-needed, humane social norms refuse to collude with them any longer!
-1 # RLF 2019-01-15 07:02
The premise here just seems wrong when R. Kelly is also black. I think it has more to do with money and fame. Americans are so enamoured with the two that they let the rich and powerful get away with anything.
0 # Sir Morien 2019-01-15 11:01
The article is "about race and sexual abuse". Most surely money and fame insulate any victimizer, but the unheard and depreciated voices of victims who are Black women is the very heart of the piece here. Their trauma is unrecognized and without redress because of a lack of social status and humanity afforded their pleas.
-1 # lfeuille 2019-01-15 20:13
I agree with RLF on this. Harvey Weinstein got away with it for decades. His accusers largely if not entirely white. Same thing with Keven Spacey. Cosby's accusers were both black and white. #MeToo finally caught up with all these guys after years of getting away with it. R. Kelley may have been a little late, but Cosby was the first.
-1 # lfeuille 2019-01-15 20:18
This reminds me a 2 big cases in the '90's. Mike Tyson vs the Black Miss America contestant and Michael Smith (a Kennedy nephew) vs an accuser who's name I don't remember. Tyson lost but Smith won. A lot of people were saying that it was prejudice against Black men, but it was really that the black woman was much more convincing the the white woman.
0 # Sir Morien 2019-01-16 10:06
Neither lfeuille/ RLF consider the broadest social dynamics & historical context of sexual abuse & power dynamics in the United States. Weinstein & Spacey got away with it for decades because of their wealth, fame & power. True as well for Cosby (& R. Kelly?), but the article points out--and you both clearly overlook or dismiss--the power dynamics that devalue the voices of Black women! Had Cosby only abused Black women, he likely would still be free. The witness of Caucasian victims was needed to put him on trial & to convict him. (Not to mention Cosby's attempts at levels of power & financial gain in the exclusive financial stratosphere of the WM Legacy country club.)

The point here is an added dimension of "false community integrity" within the African American socio-political ethos, stemming from slavery. Outing corrupt practices of other slaves put the entire slave community at risk for harsh plantation owner discipline! Norms for "keeping it in the community" allow the wanton sexual violence of Black men, especially high-status "brothers", from being prosecuted in the best interests of victimized Black women. "Betrayal" validates stereotypes, costing the entire community!

Bubbles of wealth & power protect violent men but there is an added layer for Black folks: their women go unheard & dismissed while their men ride privileges of sexism, male dominance & racial fears to avoid accountability for these destructions.

Racial power disparities are Tyson v. Smith!