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For Some, R. Kelly Docuseries Points To Larger Social Problems

An R. Kelly protest was held Wednesday outside Sony headquarters in New York. Kelly has been under fire since the recent airing of a Lifetime documentary "Surviving R. Kelly." He has denied all allegations of sexual misconduct involving women and underage girls.
An R. Kelly protest was held Wednesday outside Sony headquarters in New York. Kelly has been under fire since the recent airing of a Lifetime documentary "Surviving R. Kelly." He has denied all allegations of sexual misconduct involving women and underage girls.
Credit Richard Drew / Associated Press

Just weeks ago, Lifetime released a documentary series called “Surviving R. Kelly.”

The series details allegations that the singer has operated a sex cult out of his homes in Chicago and Johns Creek in metro Atlanta.

The response was immediate.

Celebrities who worked with Kelly began submitting statements to distance themselves from him and a campaign to mute the artist’s musical career gained momentum.

But some say the series is an indicator of a problem larger than the R&B singer.

Speaking Out

In the docuseries, seven of Kelly’s alleged victims tearfully recounted the abuse they say they endured at the hands of the artist.

Many of his accusers have said that he brainwashes girls and convinces them to move in with him. Once they are there, away from their parents, he sexually abuses them.

“I think there have been a lot of enablers around this situation who just didn’t want to believe what was happening,” Gerald Griggs says.

Griggs, an Atlanta attorney, is representing the parents of Joycelyn Savage, who claim their daughter is one of Kelly’s victims. They said they haven’t been allowed to have contact with their daughter since she left two years ago.

But on social media, Kelly’s fans hail Joycelyn as one of the lucky ones.

On the heels of the release of the Lifetime docuseries, one of Kelly’s appearances in Chicago sold out, and women screamed they wanted the singer to take them hostage. A slew of tweets from more of his fans said the same.

“It seems he has a core group of fans who don’t want to believe any of this,” Griggs says. “And that’s understandable. You try to separate the man from the music.”

But even if you like Kelly’s music, Griggs says there are still serious questions about the man.

“We have credible allegations going back to 1991 where women have been abused allegedly, and we can’t just turn a blind eye to that,” Griggs says.

But some say Kelly is only a symptom of a larger, cultural issue.

‘No One Cared Because We Were Black Girls’

Kelly’s career as a singer, songwriter and producer spans decades, as do the allegations of sexual misconduct and assault against him.

The singer, whose real name is Robert Sylvester Kelly, cemented his image as a sexual icon early. He first released hits like “Bump ‘n Grind” in the early ’90s.

In 1994, the 28-year-old was the lead songwriter on Aaliyah’s debut album, “Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number.” A short time later, his relationship with the 15-year-old singer raised eyebrows after reports that he had married her emerged.

In 2002, police investigated Kelly over an anonymously sent sex tape. The tape allegedly showed Kelly having sex with a girl who authorities worried was underaged. It was the second anonymously sent tape in a little over a year’s time.

R. Kelly’s career as a singer, songwriter and producer spans decades, as do the allegations of sexual misconduct and assault against him. Some say Kelly is only a symptom of a larger, cultural issue. (Frank Franklin II/Associated Press file)

A family member identified the girl in the video as her niece and said the girl was 14 at the time the tape was made.

Later on that year, Kelly was indicted on charges of child pornography. He spent the next few years battling those charges until he was found not guilty in 2008.

It was in the middle of that that he began releasing installments of his now 33-part American opera” Trapped in the Closet.”

“People knew. The school knew. Everybody on his team knew. For a lot of them, their parents probably knew,” Ann Dillard says.

Dillard is an Atlanta-based certified counselor for teen girls. She says the same factors that allowed Kelly to maintain his fan base are the cultural factors that discourage young women from refusing to consent.

“Doing nothing tells them ‘this celebrity is more valuable than you are,'” Dillard says.

It happens subtly, but often starts when she’s still a little girl.

“You’ll go to family events and they’re like ‘give so-and-so a hug,’ and you might not want to,” she says. “But, in some situations in some cultures, if you refuse to do that then you’re seen as rude or disrespectful. That’s the start of stifling their intuition.”

That’s something that Anisha Cooper sees often. She’s a counselor in Atlanta who specializes in sexual trauma.

Cooper says she hasn’t watched the docuseries and encouraged her clients not to either because being exposed to it could retraumatize them and derail their healing process. But she said she doesn’t have to see the series in order to be familiar with the narrative.

“All of these layers, to me, play into the perfect storm for a predator,” Cooper says. “Knowing that ‘I have money, I have power, my demographic isn’t protected well.'”

It is a dangerous melange of factors, Cooper says.

Multiple studies have shown that African-American women are among the most likely to experience sexual trauma. However, they are among the demographics that are least likely to report it.

“How do we stop stifling the voices of our black girls?” Dillard says.

The cultural issues surrounding Kelly’s allegations are bigger than the singer himself, but Griggs says an investigation might be a place to start.

“We have active criminal investigations going on for R. Kelly,” he says. “So if there is a criminal investigation for these other individuals, and a crime was committed and a jury convicted them, then they are no different from anyone else. And I think that’s the culture we need to start living in.”

Kelly is currently being investigated by the Cook County district attorney in Illinois. The Fulton County DA’s office has not confirmed that they are investigating Kelly, but Griggs encourages anyone with any information to come forward.

WABE News reached out to R. Kelly’s attorney for comment. We have not received a response.