Talking to Kids About "Surviving R. Kelly"

The recent documentary, “Survivor R. Kelly”, tells the stories of the women and children who were abused and psychologically imprisoned by R. Kelly. He used his fame to approach them in schools and malls and make them feel special and cared for. As one of our Survivor Mentors said, “If R. Kelly was standing in front of anyone, how could they say no to him if he’s offering them the world?” He used the same tactics as a pimp, identifying their vulnerabilities, isolating his victims from the world and those they cared about, degrading them, forcing them to perform sexual acts, all while brainwashing the young women and their families into believing that he loved them.
Despite all of this information becoming public, his fans are still applauding R. Kelly. Four days after this documentary aired, he was at a club in Chicago that had to turn people away. Most of these fans were women. One woman tweeted “I’m so mad…I’m not there. I wanna be HELD HOSTAGE” (emphasis hers). Many people do not believe his victims or are saying that they chose to be there and should have walked away if they didn’t like what was happening.

It is so important that we are all talking to our youth about this as they are talking about it with each other, whether they have seen the documentary or not. For the young people we serve at My Life My Choice, what happened to these children very closely mirrors their own stories. They were also swept off their feet by someone who promised them love, only to be abused, raped and told that they “wanted it”. They are watching the world rally around R. Kelly and are hearing that because he was famous, rich, and male, what he did is acceptable. They are learning that the victims are to blame in this situation and that if they talk about what happened, no one will believe or support them.

As parents, service providers and community members, we must help the young people in our lives understand that the R. Kellys of this world are not more important than those they harm. And for victims of commercial sexual exploitation, we need to show them that we are listening to them and believing them. As their trusted allies, we can work together to remind them that they are valued and are more than what has happened to them. The My Life My Choice Survivor Mentoring Team looks forward to the day when the rest of the world believes in our youth the way you do.

The My Life My Choice Survivor Mentoring Team

Phyllis Kido