Surviving R. Kelly: Episode 2

[Content Note: Child Sexual Assault]

Surviving R. Kelly. Episode 2: Hiding In Plain Sight

Alright, tonight I'm watching #SurvivingRKelly Episode 2. Reminder that you can buy the series on Amazon Video, or you can get a 7-day free Hulu "live TV" trial and stream it that way. Mute in your settings "[TW: SA]" to avoid seeing this thread on your timeline.

Episode 2 opens with the same text: "R. Kelly has denied all claims relating to sexual assault, domestic violence / abuse, and sexual misconduct with minors."

I don't even understand how that denial works? He married Aaliyah when she was 15, without her parents' permission. That's underage, right??????? And he *knew* she was 15, like, provably knew. So how does that work? Is the claim that they weren't sexually active?? Is it NOT illegal to marry underage kids without their parents' permission AS LONG AS you don't admit to being sexually active, because that seems like a horrible loophole?

I just feel like "he denies everything" is a weird statement for his PR team or whatever to make when it is a matter of LEGAL RECORD that he married a 15 year old girl??? I mean, yes, there was the forgery of her age to "18", but my point is that he provably knew her actual age because they were *gestures at history* and so how is this denial even workable? I guess it just comes back to Mikki Kendall's point about, yes, people knew but they don't care because it happened to Black girls.

Anyway, all this was covered in Episode 1, I just. I just have a visceral reaction to the "denial" showing up again in Episode 2 because it's so... it doesn't... no. Nope. NOPE.

"He would break you down. He would turn around and say 'I'm the only one that loves you, I'm the only one that cares about you.'" Oh god.

Tarana Burke is interviewed in this! She's the founder of #MeToo!

Craig Williams: "There was a bedroom in the main room of the studio. There was girls everywhere. There was a young girl sitting and she had to be, I don't-- I haven't checked her ID." HE KEEPS SAYING THAT, THAT HE DOESN'T CHECK IDs.

I mean???? Good on him for coming forward, I GUESS, and not continuing to cover but DUDE???? How many grown men just carefully never asked? How many facilitated this? It's so upsetting. Every time we have a MeToo conversation, cis guys come around asking how they can help and this is one way? If you see something shady, don't oh-so-carefully not examine what's going on. Don't drift by. Ask! Speak up! How many of these girls might have been saved if someone kind had asked them if they needed help? Had made it clear that what was happening to them was NOT okay?

Okay. I'm sorry. I'm getting emotional. I'll calm down. I am just very angry.

"She was young. You can tell what's young." I mean. Yes. Yes, you can. That's exactly why you should've said something. And, it's not even like-- okay, this is what gets me. Okay? Because it's like the Catholic Church documentary all over again. DELIVER US FROM EVIL. Because, sure, there were definitely people in authority who just DID NOT CARE, but there were also these guys who cared (SORT OF) but just felt like if they moved the priest away from THIS particular one victim, then he'd settle down and be fine.

The only way you can do that is if you victim blame. If you don't see a the predator as a predator and instead see their victim as "causing" the abuse somehow. So these guys turned their back on the victims as 'asking for it' or 'responsible'. This is after Aaliyah. AFTER they knew Robert had abused a young girl. So here they see more young girls and all these men who worked for him just looked away. They can't say they didn't know what Robert was capable of! But, what? It was the girls' fault for being there? That's how predators are able to operate. Because our society hates children--especially Black girls--enough to blame them for their own abuse.

Then this Craig says he wasn't "checking IDs". WHAT IDs? Aaliyah was too young for a driver's license. Jovante was too young for a driver's license. What IDs aren't you checking? Just by using that phrase, he's still aging them up. I'm so furious with him and I guess I shouldn't be because he was willing to participate in this documentary but it just feels like. Where were you then? Why didn't you help? You were the adult in the room. You failed them. And as @CeeEmStone points out, the repeated "IDs" line shifts the blame onto them, treating the girls like underage drinkers rather than victims of a predator.

Even if they WERE old enough to consent, that wouldn't necessarily mean they weren't also victims of a predator. It's not like all of this would've been magically okay if these girls had been 18 instead of younger.

"When I went to another room, there was a girl in that room. With the lights. out, waiting. There was another girl in this lounge, over there. Lights out, waiting. And I'm telling Reed my business partner, 'What the hell is going on?'"

Screen text: "Lizzette Martinez met R. Kelly at age 17."

Oh god. She's describing being given alcohol at a party and carried upstairs while she was barely conscious. "It was my first sexual experience... and I didn't think it would be that way."

"He would have people follow me, because he told me as much. 'If you leave this hotel room or go anywhere, I have my boys following you and I know everything that you're doing.'" THIS RIGHT HERE. This is not just an R. Kelly problem, it is a problem with culture, with toxic masculinity, with... with everything? No one should be willing to do that job. NO ONE. Just being told to do that should set off a million alarm bells.

Toure points out that R. Kelly used his position as an artist against women, claiming he wanted to help their careers; that these women were acting in good faith and trying to learn from his wisdom and experience.

Oronike Odeleye, co-founder of #MuteRKelly, points out that these girls felt like "I'm an aspiring star, I'm not a gold digger, I'm not fast, I'm not this-that-or-the-other." They'd be introduced to him in a professional context. They weren't looking for marriage or a boyfriend or a lover; they were singers and dancers who were trying to build networks and connections.

WHICH IS WHAT YOU'RE SUPPOSED TO DO, I might add!!! You're supposed to network! To be friendly and polite and take advantage of opportunities when they present themselves. "It's not what you know, it's who you know", I was told growing up. People would dismiss rumors about R. Kelly and girls as just "fast" girls who wanted a good time, or "gold diggers" looking to get their claws in him, and these singing/dancing girls thought they were safe and doing the right thing.

Lizzette: "The first time he was physically abusive, I was 17 and I said hello to someone that I should've have, or I was looking at someone that I shouldn't have been looking at." Oh god, hon. "He took me outside and smacked me and said, 'You're only supposed to look at me.'"

Interviewer: "When did you find out that he was married?"

Lizzette: "Maybe a year after they were married."

Oh shit. I thought this was *after* Aaliyah. Oh shit. [Note, it is after Aaliyah; this is a reference to Andrea.] Oh god, how heartbreaking that must have been, to be with him for a year and assume you're his girlfriend and put up with so much pain and abuse and then find out that he was secretly married and didn't tell you.

Screen text: "Andrea Lee, Dancer. Met R. Kelly at Age 19."

Andrea Kelly, survivor and ex-wife. I've seen her in some of the quick-shot interviews already and I love her. She's got a screen presence that is arresting. Holds you and makes you listen to her. "My family says that I danced before I walked." She was coaxed to a dance audition and killed it; she got the job "and that's how our worlds collide."

He shared with her that he couldn't read or write well. "He would ask me to teach him how to read." He was vulnerable with her. She didn't want to turn away from his pain, to be a person who left him to hurt on his own. She wanted to be the kind of good person who would see a hurting soul and help.

Dr. Khadija Monk, Professor of Criminology: "Someone like R. Kelly would use their vulnerability to make the victim comfortable. ...That's how you build trust."

Lizzette: "He would say, 'You have to call me daddy.' I wasn't free to walk around. If I wanted to use the restroom, I'd have to ask him. If I was hungry, I have to ask him." Oh god. I can't... I can't share some of this on the timeline. It hurts. These poor girls.

Dr. Jody Adewale, clinical psychologist: "A perpetrator might isolate an individual. It's easier for a perpetrator to abuse when that individual doesn't have resources."

@mel_thegreat. Aaliyah's parents annulled the marriage in 1995. He married Andrea in 1996.

So the timeline wld be

1997: Lizette finds out.
1996: He gets married.
1995: Lizette and R. are already dating.
1995: Marriage to Aaliyah annulled.

He moved right on to the next victim.

I got the timeline messed up. Thank you, @mel_thegreat.

Andrea: "Robert has a lot of rules for people, but he doesn't have many for himself." When they were on tour, he had rules about none of the groups (band, backup singers, dancers, etc.) even talking to each other. More isolation.

"Robert chartered a plane with a banner that said 'Andrea, will you marry me?'" Oh jesus h christ. Her mom and dad weren't there. "My wedding was a surprise wedding. I did not know I was getting married." OH GOD. I'm actually rocking in my seat keening at the words "surprise wedding".

"We went to Colorado and I remember coming into the hotel room and there was violinists. There's a cello player. He had the cake, he had the food, he had everything... Robert, what if I wanted to do it in a church?" But, I mean, that's the point, isn't it? To keep her from having any say, any power, any choices, any control.

Oh god, and the weddings are a pattern. Weddings are supposed to be the ONE DAY that our culture allows women to get whatever they want and be in charge and make decisions. Both his weddings so far--Aaliyah and Andrea--are in hotel rooms, privately arranged entirely by him. "What if I wanted to wear a wedding dress? ...You've now crossed that line from being generous to being controlling."

Interviewer: "Tell me what happened in the end?"

Lizzette: "I caught mononucleosis from him. My mono turned into Guillain-Barre, where my whole body was completely paralyzed, and I almost didn't make it. He sent my mother a thousand dollar check."

EXCUSE THE FUCK ME? I was already horrified at giving Aaliyah a hundred dollars ($100!!!) but now this? He has so much money and so much fame, that's almost insulting. Might as well send a wad of gum wrapped in the bill.

"I was in ICU for two, two and a half weeks. I almost died. He was nowhere to be found. My best friend was very angry and said that I should stop seeing him." Oh hon. Literally none of this was your fault. You were in high school. I mean, even if you weren't in high school it wouldn't have been your fault! But. I just. Hon. NOT your fault.

Andrea: "You fall in love with the charmer. You fall in love with his brokenness. And then slowly he lets the other one creep in. He's a control freak. ...Having to call him Daddy. There should not be repercussions if I don't call you Daddy."

I really cannot state enough how much I admire Andrea's screen presence. She is so calm and collected and charming and smiling even as this MUST hurt. I would be a wreck talking about my abuser, and she's keeping it together. She is AMAZING. Which isn't to say I admire the other women any less or differently for crying--I would be crying too!--I just really would give anything to be able to hold it together the way Andrea is. She's so good at explaining, describing, giving details to show the picture.

Dr. Adewale: "For example, men will put out feelers out there. 'Put out a feeler to see who's willing to allow me to cross this boundary.'" That's... not the word I would use, "allow", but he is speaking from a predator's mindset POV, so.

But, yes, very much so will predators test boundaries to find victims. If they find someone they feel can't or won't fight back against them, they'll often zero in on that target. That's one reason WHY predators prefer young children to adults. As Mikki Kendall said in E1: "He tries to slide in in that space where girls don't know better yet, where they can't necessarily spot a predator." Younger people often don't feel safe asserting boundaries with adults. Especially young people who've grown up in homes where the adults didn't let them assert boundaries (this one is from my own experience, at least).

So you could have a guy ask 100 girls to call him daddy, and then zero in on the maybe 5 girls who agree, obey, are too afraid to say no, etc. So right there he could be winnowing out the girls who might report him and focusing on vulnerable ones. In theory. When you're talking about someone famous who has access to zillions of potential victims, it means that he can winnow and winnow and sift out the most vulnerable targets for him to abuse. Virtually guaranteeing he won't be reported. And none of that--let's be REALLY clear--is the fault of the victims. It is all the fault of the predator.

Well, the predator and the men enabling him.

Dr. Adewale: "Step two, 'Wear these types of clothes around me.' Step three, 'You can't move around the house unless I say so.' ...Once you're in, it's really hard to get out."

Side note, this is why it's REALLY IMPORTANT to train kids that they're allowed to assert boundaries around their own bodies. Don't make them hug or kiss relatives if they aren't comfortable! Don't tickle when they say 'stop'!

Sparkle talks about hanging with Robert when she was working with him doing background vocals. They were watching the Chicago Bulls and "I kept hearing this knock". Oh god, nothing good is coming. She keeps hearing a knock. Robert doesn't respond. Finally, "Do you hear that knocking?" He leans back and says "Yeah??"

Sparkle: "She peeks out the door. His wife, Drea. She wanted to come down to grab a bite to eat. She asked him, 'Is it ok if I come down to grab some food?'" Oh, Andrea. Oh, hon.

Interviewer: "Did he lock you up? 'Cause we've heard stories where you were locked up. Is that true?"

[Andrea nods.] Andrea: "There are certain things that Robert has done to me that I'm not willing to talk about today because the pain, the disbelief, still." Oh hon.

These women are all so brave and should not have needed to do ANY of this. This could have been stopped so many times in so many ways without subjecting them to this. But it wasn't stopped so they came forward and they are so so brave. She is so brave.

Dr. Adewale describes the "honeymoon phase" of abuse. Andrea talks about the verbal abuse that tore her down. She'd be berated for being 'stupid' if his pancakes weren't crispy enough at the edges... then too crispy... never able to win.

I'm gonna say... If someone ever tells you you're stupid, or greedy, or bad, or ugly, or makes you feel less than worthwhile, they're wrong. They're wrong and they're trying to make you doubt yourself so they can hurt you. It's really important to understand that it's deliberate on their part. Not an accident. You didn't do something wrong that they misconstrued. You didn't fail to be clear. They're choosing to tear you down so they can be in control. I need you to remember, to say to yourself, "I didn't CAUSE this. They're CHOOSING to do this. They could choose differently and they aren't. That choice is on them." Love doesn't tear you down like that.

Andrea talks about being berated for the milk being too cold. "You're always on eggshells. You don't even believe in your own sense of judgment after a while. You're trying to figure out how do I get him back to the good space? 'Okay, I'll just say it's my fault, I'll say yes to whatever it is.'"

This next interview is with Sparkle. A technical note that the segues in this documentary are seamless. This really is a piece of art. I watch a lot of documentaries and this is really well done. It feels weird to praise effusively given the grim content, but.

Sparkle was one of his original background vocalists. She talks about how controlling Robert was. He wouldn't let anyone talk to her. SHE would walk around talking to people and they'd shy away. AGAIN we see that his abuse was open and not hidden. Like, this isn't "oh, he terrorized a girl into silence and isolation"; he made it clear that his *entire team* wasn't supposed to talk to a member of the team. That's just so fucked up and cultish and awful. Sparkle says she went out of her way to defy him and speak to people, determined not to be stifled. But... some kind of retaliation is coming up, I don't know yet. [Note: Sparkle's niece is the 14-year-old girl R. Kelly abused on the leaked tape.]

Space Jam and "I Believe I Can Fly". It was played everywhere. Churches, graduations, kindergartens. "It was a moment of redemption... something spiritual, religious, genius." Jamilah Lemieux points out that I Believe I Can Fly made people comfortable with R. Kelly as a "good guy" who was an entertainer and safe to be around children. Because of the song, people were willing to view his raunchier performances as just "acts" rather than warning signs of who he was. (Not that there's anything inherently wrong with 'raunch', I'm not being clear, I'm talking about the creepy stuff. Like "Age Ain't Nothing But A Number".)

He won three Grammys that year. Wow.

Screen text: "Lisa Van Allen met R. Kelly at age 17."

Oh no. She accompanied a friend to a party so she wouldn't go alone, and R. Kelly wanted to talk to her. She was surprised he'd want to talk to HER because she was "probably the youngest one there". He was 31, and he asked how old she was. 17, she said. He asked if her mother would let her come to Chicago.

Sparkle: "When I first introduced my niece to Robert--"


Her niece was a 12 year old rapper. Sparkle wanted Robert to help her career the way he'd been helping Sparkle's career. Sparkle would bring her down to the recording studio to learn the vibe of the business but "I wouldn't take my eyes off her." Then Sparkle started finding her niece around the studio on days she hadn't brought her. "'Oh, I got dropped off. Robert's having a party for a bunch of kids and we're all gonna stay at his house and have games...'"

Oh god, she's blaming herself for introducing them but it made sense on paper! Robert was helping her career, Robert was good at recognizing and growing talent...! We shouldn't have to think to ourselves, "Man, I guess I better let this opportunity go to waste because a 31-year-old man might assault my 12-year-old niece", that is a calculus WE SHOULD NOT HAVE TO MAKE.

It kills me that for years these survivors were surely dismissed as gold-diggers, and sluts, and asking for it, and whatnot when they were just SENSIBLY NETWORKING the way you're supposed to do if you're serious about your career. Every. Single. Victim. so far has been someone who had talent and wanted a career in Robert's industry. It MADE SENSE to meet with him, work with him, get to know him. Then he preyed on them and misogynoir caused folks to blame them.

It's just so unfair.

Oh god, he's screening the calls they're allowed to get at his studio.

Lisa: "Robert would film our sex acts sometimes. He would never ask me if I was okay with being filmed." He pressures Lisa into having threesomes with him and other women. "He told me that she was 16 and a neighbor." ...okay, the fact that he volunteered her age is terrifying me.

Oh god. Lisa starts crying and Robert berates her for crying, saying that he can't use the video later if she's crying. "He didn't care that I was crying, he was upset because he couldn't watch it because I was crying." "She seemed to know how things went without him needing to tell her anything; he was more instructing me. And I kind of felt like they'd been there before doing this? ...I didn't know at the time that she was actually 14." Oh god. There it is. He only told Lisa her age because it was a lie.

That's so monstrous. He hurt that little girl and deceived his girlfriend into doing something he knew she would find morally abhorrent. She wasn't allowed to communicate with the other women outside of sex. But she spoke to the other girl "even though I wasn't supposed to. ...She said something about getting a car. And I asked her-- She said when she turns 16 she's gonna get a car. And I was-- I asked her, 'Aren't you already 16? Weren't you already 16?' And she said, 'No, no, I'm 15.' ...It made me feel sick to my stomach. It made me feel disgusted. All the sexual encounters were before I found out she was 14." Oh god.

That's the end of Episode 2, and I just. I know this gets worse and I don't know how, I just know that it does. This fucking guy.


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