It’s been several weeks since rumors that Azriel Clary had broken away from R. Kelly’s alleged sexual cult first began to swirl. Since then, the 20-something-year-old has confirmed that the rumors are indeed true, denounced her relationship with the troubled R&B singer, and reunited with family — some of whom she has not seen since graduating high school
Along with her decision to sever ties with Kelly came her re-emergence on social media. Her Instagram page is comprised of a mixture of age-appropriate selfies, music-related posts, professional photos, and of course, the cringe-worthy Instagram Live video that depicts a fight between her and fellow cult member Joycelyn Savage and the subsequent aftermath. While some have chalked their feud up to the decline in cash flow as a result of Kelly’s arrest, therapist and Licensed Clinical Social Worker Marline Francois-Madden sees two victims at a crossroads.
“What you see happening is you have one person ready to leave out of that lifestyle and you have the other who is still fighting and advocating for R. Kelly,” says Francois-Madden, author of The State of Black Girls: A Go-To Guide for Creating Safe Spaces for Black Girls. “Even though they may share similar trauma, they are not the same. They may not react in the same way.”
The fight was such an extreme turn of events that left many skeptical and some believed it was a publicity stunt, especially considering that just last spring the women were publicly spotted walking hand-in-hand. And then, of course, there was that CBS interview where they defended their alleged abuser — an interview Clary has since expressed regret over her participation.
“You can tell just by watching the interview, by examining her body language and eye contact that something was not right,” says Francois-Madden, who has extensive experience counseling millennial women of color. “There was this obvious sense of fear that I have to do what they tell me to do or else. People tend to not leave immediately out of fear of retaliation.”
The interview that was initially put together as a means of helping Kelly regain some level of credibility in the court of public opinion is now being used as a bullet in the chambers of those hellbent on making Clary out to be a “clout chaser” as opposed to a victim. Her Instagram comments section is representative of the Black community’s schizophrenic personality concerning sexual violence against women. Some offer their support and encouraging words while others resort to vicious measures to discredit and out the aspiring singer and her parents for having ulterior motives. Some argue that she was never a victim at all because she willingly chose to go and live with Kelly — even though the decision was made when she was just 17 years old.
“They would be a lot more forgiving if she were white. Studies have shown that Black women and Black girls have been adultified for a very long time. We do not believe Black women. We do not believe Black girls,” adds Francois-Madden. “People feel like we don’t need to be protected or supported. So when someone like her goes public and shares her story, people will immediately say, ‘Well, why didn’t you leave? You wanted to be there.'”
In addition, we know that the scars of sexual and mental abuse are not visible. However, because people see her smiling, they assume she’s okay. The truth is that social media will never truly capture what’s truly going on behind closed doors, says Francois-Madden.
“She’s putting out the filtered version of her life,” she said.
Well, filtered to an extent. Between the typical Gen-Y posts are flashes of content that only seem to be visible to those who care to see them prove that Clary is still very much traumatized and emotionally battered. Sometimes it feels like simple oversharing, other times it feels as though we’re voyeuristically viewing moments that we are not supposed to see.
“She’s only 22 year’s old so we have to remember that she’s at an age where her brain is still developing. With her brain still developing, she is not always making rational and critical decisions the way that she needs to,” says Francois-Madden “What ends up happening is she’s just reacting. She may be in an emotional state in that time and that’s her way of responding.”
Signs appear to be pointing towards the idea that the Clarys may be preparing to take advantage of the newfound spotlight in some way, which will mean even more exposure for an already fragile Azriel and more ammunition for those who were skeptical all along.
“That does not make her any less of a victim,” says Francois-Madden. “What happened, happened. People cope in different ways and her sharing her story and her truth can help so many other Black girls and Black women out there who have not shared their stories.”
As Azriel continues to make herself available for public consumption, we can only hope that she is taking steps towards healing behind the scenes and that this heightened exposure does not serve as a hindrance.