‘Surviving R. Kelly’: Ending the atmosphere of acceptance

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As the world watched and reacted to the Lifetime documentary series Surviving R. Kelly, it was striking to observe the public discourse on R. Kelly’s lifestyle and actions, which can best be described as horrendous, terrifying and heartbreaking. However, there seems to be an underlying theme that is missing from the conversation.

That theme is R. Kelly being a victim of and, allegedly, a perpetrator of sexual abuse. This traumatic scenario in the story is critical to how R. Kelly has gotten to this place and all the people in his life who did not attempt to stop what was going on. This also highlights the atmosphere of acceptance within the African American community.

This acceptance is around the abuse that takes place with no one acting to intercept or address the issue. In the series, R. Kelly’s younger brother stated that he and other family members were victims of sexual abuse from their sister. There is a correlation that ancestral sexual abuse tends to occur among people who were also abused by family members. There is a high probability that Kelly’s sister may have also been a victim.    

Sexual abuse as childhood trauma

Sexual abuse and inappropriate behaviors are certainly not exclusive to R. Kelly. According to the National Sexual Violence Resources Center, an estimated one in four women and one in six men are abused by age 18, most often by someone they know. Most of these sexual assaults are never disclosed, much less reported to the police.

Sexual assault is a heinous crime that plagues individuals, families and communities. The stigma associated with this crime often prevents those who are victimized from telling anyone about these occurrences. Unfortunately, many of us have abusers within our own families and communities.

The impact of sexual abuse in the community

Like other types of trauma, we often do not address sexual abuse in healthy ways. Victim blaming and shaming is often a reason why people do not talk about sexual abuse in the community. Often victims are told to “get over it,” which can lead to other psychological confusion because they are not being protected or supported by people who they depend on.

Another element of the silence is knowing the perpetrator, which makes it extremely difficult for the victim of the abuse to speak up. In the community, we have too often chosen to “not talk about it.” When we do not talk about “it” as a problem, oftentimes the victims of the abuse do not know that what happened is problematic and can have negative impacts on their life. 

What to do about the abuse

We have to be able to break this acceptance to get to a place of healing. People need to feel safe enough to have these discussions and allow healing to take place. Social support for those affected is vital. We must get more comfortable with discussing this unpleasant topic. The conversations must take place. 

Education on the topic of sexual abuse, sexuality, and healthy sex is a must. We live in a fast-paced, hyper-sexual society where we are not informed enough about sex. We have too many issues that concern our community to not be better informed and more comfortable at the very least with discussing sex.

The topic of sex is a basic foundation for addressing the issue of sexual abuse. Since we are unwilling to have these brave conversations, the acceptance and silence continue without interruption. 

One person who has devoted her life’s work to addressing this issue is Robin D. Stone, author of No Secrets, No Lies: How Black Families Can Heal from Sexual Abuse. In this book, Stone demystifies the cultural taboos and social dynamics that keep Black families stuck in this atmosphere of acceptance from generation to generation.

Unfortunately, due to historical trauma, our position and perceptions of sex and sexuality tend to be unhealthy and often distorted. If we do not want any more R. Kelly types or victims of sexual abuse in the community, we must begin to be honest and protect our children. Otherwise, we are sacrificing the health and wellbeing of the next generations of the Black community.