Aaron McGruder always had a knack for hilarious social commentary about very uncomfortable truths with The Boondocks (the comic strip and the TV show). Take “The Trial of R. Kelly” episode, for example. Through Huey and Riley Freeman, McGruder was able to illustrate the two different reactions to the child pornography charges against the singer. Huey wanted the crooner to be held accountable for the sexual acts he committed against a then-underage girl in a 27-minute tape. Riley couldn’t have cared less about the allegations against R. Kelly; he just wanted him to keep making music. It didn’t matter to Riley that there was video evidence of R. Kelly sexually assaulting a minor. In fact, he heaped a lot of blame onto the victim.
That episode aired in 2005, and not much has changed when it comes to the continued accusations against Kelly. But, amidst the increasing influence of callout culture and the aftermath of Bill Cosby’s conviction, Kelly’s supporters are a lot more vocal than they may have once been. In fact, they’re so defensive that they’re indirectly answering their own question: Why do victims take so long to speak out?
You don’t need to look much further than the comment section of any YouTube video or article about R. Kelly’s numerous alleged abuses to see what I’m talking about. It’s even evident on our content. When we posted the trailer for Surviving R. Kelly on Facebook, quite a few people had more to say about the victims featured in the docuseries than the abuser.
LaLa Mickles accused the women of only wanting to speak out for money or attention, writing, “Now that the money stopped they wanna be heard! Miss me with this. Because if they felt violated in the beginning no amount of money would’ve kept them quiet.”
“I wish people would stop saying little girls because at a certain age, ur not a little girl and you know better. He likes younger women,” Chivon C Burke commented, adding that she fully intends to continue supporting R. Kelly’s music. “I’m not buying what they’re selling and I’m still listening to his music and will buy concert tickets.”
Garden Traeyvonne was outraged at the name of the show, stating, “The title itself is BS, along with their stories!! If it was THAT horrible they should have come forward way before now.”
It didn’t get much better in the comment section of the story itself, as some of our users engaged in serious victim blaming while instructing “Fast tail girls” to stay away from R. Kelly in order to avoid putting themselves at risk. A user also hinted that these same underage girls knew what they were doing by entertaining a grown man with a documented history of predatory behavior. The responses throwing Kelly’s victims under the bus without requiring even a scrap of accountability or remorse from the singer were both disgusting and unsurprising. Even in the face of insurmountable evidence of Kelly’s wrongdoings, his victims continue to be questioned more than he is.
Video of R. Kelly in sexual situations with an underage girl exists. A public record of his short-lived marriage to Aaliyah (who was a minor at the time) exists. The man has even been poking fun at his “preference” for girls — not young women — by calling himself The Pied Piper of R&B. For those unfamiliar with the fairytale, it’s a story about a musician who literally lures children away with his flute. That moniker has been staring us in the face since folks have been stepping in the name of love. R. Kelly has been showing us and telling us who he is for more than 15 years, but a lot of people don’t care simply because he’s entertaining.
That dismissiveness gives R. Kelly and predators like him a lot of power. Victims know this, and that’s what makes it so hard for them to come forward. They don’t believe that speaking up about what has happened to them will provide any additional safety. They don’t believe that anyone is going to step in and protect them or advocate for them. They don’t believe that speaking out will bring their abusers to justice. Often times, sharing their stories puts victims at higher risk and sets them up for ridicule. That’s an incredibly vulnerable position to be in, especially as a teenager, and it scares victims into remaining silent for years, or even decades. It’s not that someone hasn’t abused them; it’s that these victims have never felt safe enough to speak up. Victims know they won’t be protected because the community is more invested in protecting powerful men.
We see this especially in the Black community which is naturally protective of Black men because we know how easy it is for them to fall prey to false accusations and a prejudice criminal justice system.. It’s very touchy to accuse a Black man of anything within the Black community because we don’t want to put their lives at risk. However, this stance leaves Black women, who need just as much care and concern, to fend for themselves. Those who dare buck against the norm are often left shunned, ridiculed, dismissed, and labeled as liars. Speaking up leaves them shut out.
Worse yet, in our efforts to protect powerful Black men, we will do almost anything to absolve them of responsibility in instances when they have been abusive. The mental gymnastics are astounding. We’d rather make Black girls and women responsible for being around these men rather than hold these men accountable for seeking them out and preying upon them. If you’ve ever questioned why victims of sexual assault and other forms of abuse wait so long to speak up, think about your initial victim-blaming reactions when you hear of accusations like those against R. Kelly and let that be your answer.