#MuteRKelly: The controversy surrounding what is and isn’t consent

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by Michelle Chan

R. Kelly performs during the Soul Train Music Awards at the Orleans Arena on Nov. 6, 2015, in Las Vegas. – Photo: Paras Griffin, BET

I was 14 when I followed an older man into an abandoned house in the rundown ghetto of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, back before Brooklyn became overrun with young professionals and hipsters. The “Bed-Stuy” of my childhood was exciting, disturbing, violent, nightmarish even. On the streets were the gangs and hoodlums and drugs; behind closed doors was the poverty and misery and the feeling that at any moment the police or a group of miscreants or a pack of wild animals would come tearing through the gates and uproot and destroy everything in its path.

Now, I didn’t live or attend school in Bed-Stuy. In fact, I lived in the heart of lower Manhattan, in Chinatown, NYC – a ghetto in its own right with an entirely different set of dangers and built-in heartaches – and I attended school in the Bronx at the prestigious Bronx High School of Science for the Gifted and Talented.

But still, the risk of being shot or assaulted or robbed or killed in Chinatown or even the Central Bronx was minimal compared to the risk an outsider puts herself in when “hanging” in Bed-Stuy.

My choice to venture into this unknown and dangerous part of town along with my willingness to follow a man of questionable character into an abandoned house was part of the reason why I have never spoken about what happened to me that day – not to my ex-husband when we were married, not to my therapist, not to a single soul. The other reason was the same reason why R. Kelly’s victims do not realize they are victims – because we were young and made poor choices and thus know in our hearts that most people will just call us “little, fast girls,” that most people will blame us for the poor choices that we made and the harm we brought upon ourselves.

Like R. Kelly’s victims, I did not realize I was a victim.

Like R. Kelly’s victims, I was insecure and without a strong family or support network. After the rape, I had no one to turn to. When I came home and curled into a ball and cried for hours, no one asked why. When I fell so ill the next week that I couldn’t get out of bed for what felt like an eternity, with an off-the-charts fever and a feeling of malaise that felt different from the viruses I normally caught at school – when this happened, no one took me to the doctor or stopped to wonder why I hadn’t left my room or gotten out of bed for over a week. It wasn’t until years later that I would learn that I had contracted hepatitis b and recovered from it naturally.

Like R. Kelly’s victims, I was insecure and without a strong family or support network.

The difference in my case and theirs is that my abuser was not rich and famous and I am not Black. I can only imagine how much more difficult it is for them to feel as if they have any power over their own situation. I know I didn’t. I know I always blamed myself for what happened and always believed in my heart that if I told anyone what happened that people would be disgusted with me for walking into an abandoned house and lying down on an old and stained mattress on the floor in this room that was probably condemned by the New York City Department of Health.

The difference in my case and theirs is that my abuser was not rich and famous and I am not Black. I can only imagine how much more difficult it is for them to feel as if they have any power over their own situation.

I let this man – this pedophile – pull down my pants, too scared to tell him to stop as he put his grown adult lips on my little girl genitals, too scared to tell him to stop until, according to him, it was too late. “You got me all worked up,” he said. “You can’t make me stop now; it ain’t right.” I was too young to realize that I was being molested and that, at the age of 14, I was below the age of consent.

I will never forget the smell of the place, how the stench of cat piss and mold and old dirty socks filled my lungs and stung my cornea. I will never forget the soggy grossness of the bare mattress. But mostly I will always remember the utter disgust I felt at myself, how I was absolutely paralyzed in the moment and powerless to get up and leave.

Like R. Kelly’s victims, I did not realize I was a victim.

#MuteRKelly

R. Kelly is a singer, songwriter and producer; he has had a stratospheric career and has been one of the most dominant R & B artists in history. The Lifetime docuseries “Surviving R. Kelly” and #MuteRKelly movement have been trending on the news and social media. At the heart of the matter is the alleged abuse and molestation of women and young Black girls and why and how R. Kelly’s career has thrived through decades of scandal.

Aaliyah and R. Kelly, then 15 and 27, were secretly married in 1994.

In 1994, R. Kelly, who was 27 at the time, married the now-deceased singer-actress Aaliyah when she was only 15. Since 1996, Kelly has been the subject of numerous publicly filed lawsuits, several involving underage girls, that have been settled with payments and nondisclosure agreements. The most prominent and perhaps the most shocking of the charges against Kelly was surrounding the 2002 tape of Kelly allegedly having sex with a 14-year-old aspiring singer and urinating in her mouth. The tape was leaked and sold on street corners throughout the nation. Kelly was indicted for child pornography and, in 2008, was acquitted by a jury.

In June 2002, R. Kelly had just been released from jail in Florida, where he faced child pornography charges, only to return to jail in Chicago for the same reason.

Before, during and after the child pornography charges, R. Kelly sold out concerts, was wholly unapologetic and defiant, and put out chart-topping albums with the full support of his record label and an unwavering and blindly loyal fan base. He has never been convicted of any crime nor has he seemed to pay any significant consequences.

The #MuteRKelly movement began in 2017 by Kenyette Barnes and Oronike Odeleye as an online campaign to put an end to Kelly’s music career and to charge him criminally for his alleged crimes against minors.

“Surviving R. Kelly” aired on the Lifetime network from Jan. 3-5, 2019. The six-part series took a close look at the so-called rumors of Kelly’s abuse, pedophilia and predatory behavior toward women and included more than 50 interviews with his former victims, family members, parts of his entourage and civil rights activists.

The series paints a portrait of a severely disturbed and extremely powerful man who keeps his cult of victims, mostly young Black women and girls, psychologically and sexually imprisoned. Each instance of alleged abuse in itself is disturbing. Altogether it shocks the conscience.

At the heart of the matter is the alleged abuse and molestation of women and young Black girls and why and how R. Kelly’s career has thrived through decades of scandal.

As I watched this series on TV, I couldn’t help but think back to that abandoned house of my childhood. I couldn’t help but see R. Kelly’s house as my abandoned house and see his alleged victims as I was on that day – paralyzed in the moment, too scared, too young, too foolish to realize what is going on, too naïve to know what to do to escape from our circumstances. Too young, too foolish, too naïve to realize that we ourselves are victims.

While the docuseries has had some impact – some radio stations have stopped playing his music and a concert in Illinois has been canceled – Kelly still has not been held truly accountable for his alleged serial sexual abuse of underage girls and for allegedly making child pornography. In fact, according to statistics released by Nielsen, R. Kelly’s album sales, song sales and audio and video streams have spiked since “Surviving R. Kelly” premiered.

Every person who purchased R. Kelly’s music after watching this docuseries or after reading about it in the news or on social media made a statement that the lives of young girls and especially young Black girls do not matter.

To each and every one of those people, I want to say that they do matter and that what is happening to those girls will follow them forever, will absolutely crush their ambitions and abilities to pursue and obtain their dreams. They, like myself, were promising young girls when they met their abuser.

For me, it is hard to pinpoint where the trauma began or where it ended, whether it started long before I walked into that abandoned house or whether the real trauma occurred then on that day or long afterwards. All I know for certain is that I went willingly with a man who knew he could control me because he knew that I did not know any better. This is something R. Kelly’s victims have in common with me.

Much of the argument surrounding the controversy is that R. Kelly’s victims have given themselves to him willingly. But I am here today to tell you that a 14-year-old cannot consent, does not understand the consequences of following powerful men into dark places.

My abuser’s only power was the power he had over me. And yet, I was utterly powerless on that bitter day to fight back, to find a will of my own. Can you imagine how much power and control a man of R. Kelly’s status and wealth must have over his victims?

I am here today to tell you that a 14-year-old cannot consent, does not understand the consequences of following powerful men into dark places.

Like a cloak of darkness, of poison, R. Kelly envelopes his alleged victims, consumes them with self-hatred, lures them into his cult. Yes, they go willingly. But can a child truly consent? Does a teenager, standing before a man she has idolized for most of her life truly understand the implications of giving herself entirely to a man who wants nothing else but to control, abuse and destroy her?

I urge you to take a stand against the abuse and exploitation of young Black girls and to #muteRKelly completely and forever.

I urge you to take a stand against the abuse and exploitation of young Black girls and to #muteRKelly completely and forever.

Michelle Chan is founder and president of Parents Against CPS Corruption. To find out more about California’s CPS reform movement or to contact her, visit ParentsAgainstCPSCorruption.com or email MichelleChan2019@gmail.com.

3 COMMENTS

  1. RKelly is trash, but #FirstThem

    Interesting how supporters of #metoo do not have this same energy for Woody Allen, Roman Polanski, Rob Lowe, Nikki Sixx of Motley Crew and Brian Singer. Not to mention the countless White female school teachers raping students with impunity and getting suspended jail sentences.

    Pedos and sexual abusers should face justice and that includes wealthy White bisexual men such as Adam Venit, the producer who fondled Terry Crews genitalia in front of both of their wives. Adam Venit is not facing prison like Cosby!

    No one should be above the law.

    #FirstThem

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