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“Why now?” singer Lil Mo' demanded to know during an interview on The Breakfast Club. She was asked about R. Kelly's recent sexual abuse scandal. I was frustrated by the unoriginality of Lil Mo's criticism and disappointed by her blatant hypocrisy; Lil Mo' first disclosed her molestation as an adult on the hit show R&B Divas. Despite being a sister in the Black community, the same community that comprises R. Kelly's victims, Lil Mo' did not empathize with these women's delayed revelations. Instead, she expressed compassion for men accused of sex crimes. In fact, Lil Mo' admitted to protecting the “legacy” of the male musicians she is “loyal” to by covering up their sexual misconduct.
Imagine a small girl ripe with ambition and curiosity. Now, imagine her body being ambushed by sexual violence at the hands of a trusted adult. Not only has her innocence been defiled, but should she ever speak out, her victimhood will be disputed or overlooked. This is the reality for countless Black girls surviving in America, including many of R. Kelly's alleged victims.
Against damning evidence, R. Kelly was absolved of any culpability during his 2008 child pornography trial. As Surviving R. Kelly alleges, R. Kelly has a pathology of pedophilia and is a serial rapist. Additionally, his “legacy” includes a network that enables the systemic abuse of Black girls. This network includes people like Lil Mo' that doubt the veracity of victims' statements, accomplices that mask his criminal activity and yes-men that bail him out of jail. Money talks and R. Kelly's millions allegedly bought the allegiance of attorneys, parents, and witnesses.
American society pushes Black girls into the hands of predators and then turns its back to cater to the needs of whites. According to Child Lures Prevention, sexual predators target youth living in unstable environments, such as poverty and homelessness, and those experiencing neglect or inadequate parental supervision. Systemic racism has made the aforementioned circumstances a reality for countless Black girls. Unsurprisingly, an estimated sixty percent of Black girls are sexually violated by the age of 18.
R. Kelly chose to abuse Black girls in part because of their social marginalization. Between the 2011-2012 school year, Black girls were suspended six times as often as white girls. Disproportionate suspension rates often result in a higher prevalence of dropping out, low-wage work and unemployment for Black girls. Additionally, these girls experience a high incidence of interpersonal violence and familial obligations.
Several of R.Kelly's victims had musical ambitions and had suffered from domestic violence and child abuse. According to accusers, R. Kelly took advantage of their vulnerabilities with his charming personality and promises of fame. He used his creativity to create hit records and to mercilessly mastermind the abuse of America's neglected children. At times, he did both simultaneously.
While America exhausts its resources searching for the Elizabeth Smarts and the Ann Halloways, Relisha Rudd and 75,000 other Black girls remain missing and susceptible to sexual violation. In fact, being Black is a risk factor for becoming the victim of sex trafficking. According to the FBI, 40 percent of sex trafficking victims and 59 percent of juvenile prostitution arrests are Black. As defined by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, sex trafficking is a “modern-day form of slavery involving the illegal trade of people for exploitation or commercial gain.”
The reality is America never eradicated slavery from its operation. Instead, slavery evolved; Black female sex-trafficking victims are being treated like chattel and being bought by white men for depraved gratification. Unlike whites, Black sex-trafficking victims must survive a racist criminal justice system: higher restitution fees, longer jail sentences and racial bias by participating agency workers.
America has brutalized and sexualized Black girls and women since its inception as a duplicitously democratic nation. From sterilizations enforced by racist eugenists guised as ethical doctors to the sexual terror of Jim Crow in the form of gang rapes and kidnappings, Black girls and women have been openly abused and neglected regardless of socioeconomic status. For instance, conservative David Brock described sexual-harassment victim Anita Hill, a then ivy-league educated attorney-adviser to Clarence Thomas, as “a little bit slutty.” Similarly, Sally Hemings continues to be portrayed as Thomas Jefferson's young Black mistress. This unjust account is an erasure of pedophilia, rape and the savage hypocrisy of American slavery.
Whites have historically justified racist actions through corrupt ideologies such as racial science, eugenics, Christianity and racist archetypes. One of the most prevailing stereotypes of Black women is that of the Jezebel: a seductive and promiscuous Black woman. Countless white rapists rationalized their rapes as supplying Jezebels with the sex they craved. These sexual deviants did not have to brainstorm defenses in a rape case because slaves were deemed property. Accordingly, slaves had no legal standing to consent or seek legal remedy for their rapes.
While white men were raping Black women without consequence throughout American history, a Black man faced castration and death at the mere accusation of disrespecting a white woman. These internalized traumas of violence and invalidation as a rape victim have persisted generationally in many Black families.
Unfortunately, research indicates that Black women are still less likely to be believed when reporting sexual violence than their white counterparts are. This pain has only been compounded by social realities that degrade the existence of the Black woman. For instance, Black women today are more likely to die during pregnancy, be incarcerated and be medically uninsured than white women. Like any predator, America has groomed its Black children for purposes of ongoing exploitation.
Unlike whites, troubled Black youth do not have the privilege of being young or suffering from mental illness. In America, a white shooter is 19 times more likely to be deemed mentally ill by the media than a Black shooter is. For instance, the media described synagogue shooter John T. Earnest as a “nice guy” and child shooting victim Trayvon Martin as an unruly “man.” Similarly, Black girls are often viewed through the Jezebel lens as “acting grown” or “being fast” and treated as women.
Wendy Williams, a Black media star, claimed in front of a viewership of millions that a 15-year old Aaliyah secretly married a 27-year old R. Kelly “voluntarily,” that the “little girl” in his heinous sex tape “let it go down,” and that “fifteen-year-olds damn sure look twenty and carry themselves like they're twenty-two.” The internalized misogynoir Williams is exhibiting is symptomatic of the epidemic taking hold of America: anti-Black hate.
Consider yourself a part of the problem of how society condemns sexual abuse survivors if you react to survivors' experiences by questioning the authenticity of their statements. Hailing baseless accusations of ulterior motives, injecting shame and veiling traumatic experiences with doubt revictimizes survivors of sexual abuse. In reality, false accusations of rape and sexual assault are incredibly rare. Studies estimate that at most two to six percent of rape accusations are false. Yet, many echo the opinions of incest survivor Roseanne Barr when she described accusers in the #MeToo movement of being “hos” and trading “sexual favors for money” and of revenge porn victim Paris Hilton when she said Trump accusers were “just trying to get attention and get fame.”
Seemingly, accused sexual predators relish being “innocent until proven guilty” while accusers are condemned as liars until proven honest. We can only have tempered hope for justice when rapist-apologists protect victims over legacies and when society supports survivors. At a minimum, we can speak with compassion when discussing sexual abuse. The prevalence of sexual abuse makes it likely a survivor could be present and become discouraged by judgment from breaking their silence.
It is the expectation and not the exception that victims take years to reveal their sexual abuse if at all. On average, it takes twenty-two years for survivors to come forward after their last incident of abuse. Common reasons for a survivor to remain silent include: confusion over what occurred, self-blame pursuant to cultural beliefs, and denial as a defense mechanism. Sexual violation is the most underreported crime; roughly 63% of sexual assaults are never reported, only 12% of child sexual abuse is reported and only 5 rapists out of every 1,000 rapes will be incarcerated. Often, it takes a triggering event for a survivor to come forward. In R. Kelly's case, many of his accusers felt motivated to speak out because of his continued involvement with underaged girls.
Black girls and women are especially vulnerable to sexual abuse and sex-trafficking. The vestiges of slavery in the form of unequal access to mental health resources, implicit racial bias in law enforcement, and prevailing stereotypes harm Black girls and women. Additionally, the cult of silence surrounding sexual violation within Black communities is incredibly damaging to the psyche and health of victims. In the face of such pervasive and complicated issues, we can start with this: love, respect, protect and believe Black female survivors of sexual abuse. In the same vein, we must listen with a compassionate heart to all survivors of sexual violation and unchain the countless people suffering in silent agony.
Click here to read more about normal responses to sexual abuse.