By Brittany Aufiero
In the aftermath of the #MeToo movement survivors of sexual abuse are stepping forward now more than ever to shed light on their experiences and to advocate for justice against their assailants. Recently, singer R. Kelly, 52, was charged on Feb. 21 with 10 counts of aggravated criminal sex abuse involving four women, three of whom were underage at the time of the alleged abuse. The details surrounding the artist’s illegal sexual exploits have been met with resounding backlash both online and on campus at Lehman.
“Surviving R. Kelly,” a six-part documentary that aired consecutively from Jan. 3 to Jan. 5, portrayed testimonials from survivors and eyewitnesses about the decades-long history of the R&B music artist’s sexual abuses. Celebrities including TV host Wendy Williams and R&B singers Sparkle and John Legend speak about the disturbing actions of the decorated Grammy winner. The documentary highlights the controlling and violent behavior that Kelly exhibited towards women and cites the ways in which he uses his power and influence to groom his female fans, many of whom were underage girls.
Karina Leigh, a 21-year-old Lehman senior and English Honors major minoring in African studies and philosophy, agrees that Kelly’s behavior is a sign of a larger problem. “We live in a society that sexualizes young black girls, especially when they tend not to look their age because they’re taller or may have more noticeable assets, due to the fact that they developed quicker, which is not their fault.”
According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC), one in four girls are sexually abused before they turn 18. A 2014 national study conducted by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) found that an estimated 64.1 percent of multiracial women and 38.2 percent of black non-Hispanic women experienced at least one act of sexual violence in their lifetime. At Lehman, 67.4 percent of students are women, and 83.3 percent of all students identify as Hispanic/Latino or Black/African American altogether.
The negative feedback against R. Kelly from social media and the music industry have raised question regarding how his fans should proceed. Can one support the art without supporting the artist by attending concerts or buying his albums or merchandise? Leigh says not in this case.
“With R. Kelly, I feel like he promotes his sickness through his music. Like his recent song ‘I Admit,’ where he literally confessed everything he’s done in an 18 minute song and still no action has been taken. I’ve never been a fan of his, so I don’t listen regardless, but I do feel that it’s completely unacceptable to still support him or his music.”
Guevara Torres, a 28-year-old junior and computer science major, agrees with Leigh that Kelly should face consequences for his actions. “I enjoyed his music, but I am no longer a fan. It is not acceptable to attend his events and concerts. Artists can only be separated from the art until the observer decides otherwise.”
“With R. Kelly, I feel like he promotes his sickness through his music.”
– Karina Leigh, a 21-year-old Lehman senior and English Honors major minoring in African studies and philosophy
On May 10, 2018, Spotify announced that it would stop promoting and recommending music made by the artist. It stated, “We don’t censor content because of an artist’s or creator’s behavior, but we want our editorial decisions—what we choose to program—to reflect our values.” Apple Music and Pandora followed suit two days later. This year on Jan. 18, Kelly’s label, RCA Records, announced that it would be dropping the artist.
Hours after being charged on Feb. 21, Kelly surrendered to the Chicago Police Department. He was released three days later after posting the $100,000 bond necessary for his release.
Janet Luna, a 21-year-old Lehman senior and English major minoring in psychology and middle and high school education, expresses satisfaction with the legal repercussions Kelly is now facing. “He like all abusers will never be able to fully pay for the damages they have caused. However, this might serve as closure to some victims, even if it might never make up for their trauma.”