There is No Defense For R. Kelly

There is no Defense For R. Kelly

Like the rest of the country, I was horrified to read the investigative report published this week detailing R. Kelly’s alleged ‘cult’. The story, posted exclusively to Buzzfeed, chronicled the struggles of a family trying to reunite with their daughter, who they say has been held captive by Kelly mentally and physically. The last time they saw her was December 1, 2016.

-Jocelyn Savage

The daughter has since been revealed as Jocelyn Savage, a 21-year-old former Georgia Gwinnett College student from Atlanta. Jocelyn told TMZ on Monday night that she’s in a ‘happy place’ in her life and is ‘not being brainwashed or anything like that.’ She blamed her father for playing dumb to the living situation, and said he was embarrassing her. She refused to reveal whether she was still living in Atlanta, or if she was free to leave the house when she pleased. Among other disturbing allegations, three women formerly employed by Kelly stated that the six girls living with the singer are given phones in which they can only communicate with R. Kelly and select others. They claimed to have been forced to face the wall in the presence of Kelly’s male friends. According to Buzzfeed, one of the women once snitched on Jocelyn for laughing at a joke made by a male cab driver. Kelly allegedly later ‘bent her over and whupped her behind’ for disobeying his rules.

Since Monday, my thoughts have mounted on this story. The words have rolled around in my mouth like a bad taste.

This week I had a discussion with a friend about the story. She told me that the whole thing seems sketchy. If they weren’t willing to stay with Kelly, why wouldn’t the women just leave? 'Women are smart,' she said. Jocelyn was in college. If she was being abused, why not simply go home to her parents, who were desperately searching for her?

Why wouldn’t they just leave?

If these allegations are true: these women could not leave. They are young, malleable, often teenage girls who have been manipulated with the promise mentorship from one of the most influential R&B artists of our generation. They were been duped into a sexual relationship with a man more than twice their age, who has a documented history of engaging in sexual acts with underage girls and filming his exploits. In recorded phone conversations between Jocelyn and R. Kelly, she repeatedly tries to bring up the topic of her music. Kelly repeatedly changes the topic to sexually explicit discussion. My friend's argument seemed to hinge on the fact that a college-educated woman should have the self awareness to recognize that she was being abused and seek help.

Psychologically speaking, there are no limits to the power one person can hold over another. Being educated does not exempt anyone from being manipulated. Smart people get involved in abusive relationships all the time. Criticizing someone for not having the foresight to understand they are being taken advantage of is textbook victim-blaming. It parallels the argument that women who are victims of rape should have somehow prevented it. They should have fought back, been sober, or worn more concealing clothing. In R. Kelly’s case, there are a number of complicating factors at play.

He’s smart too.

The women were all reportedly over the age of consent at the time they began their relationships with Kelly, so there is no case of statutory rape or child pornography – something Kelly narrowly avoided jail time for in a record breaking six-year legal battle. The women, or at least Jocelyn, aren’t complaining. She is, in fact, outwardly arguing in defense of her own well-being. As Brittany Packnett wrote for The Cut, the women R. Kelly has allegedly abducted were targeted for a reason. If this were happening to white women, I don't believe this would even be a discussion.

The most disrespected person in America is the black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the black woman.
- Malcom X

A quote I have seen frequently circulated in the context of the allegations against Kelly is one of Malcolm X: ‘The most disrespected person in America is the black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the black woman.’ Black women are 2.5 times more likely to experience intimate partner violence – like the mental and physical abuse R. Kelly has allegedly purported. This rate is 35% higher than that of white women.

Packnett wrote:

‘A predator must carefully select his prey, and young black women are perpetually among the most in need, the most abused, and the least likely to tell. They’re an all-too-perfect victim for a calculating, sadistic mind.’

Impossible to ignore is the role of R. Kelly’s status. He is a Grammy award winning artist with more than two decades of hit songs and platinum albums.

The newest allegations against R. Kelly are an illustration of a disturbing pattern of the inability to hold powerful men accountable for their actions. There is an inherent desire to protect their reputation and assume the best.

In the case of an artist – someone responsible for good times with friends on the dance floor, memories of singing along to your favorite songs, a track coming on that takes you back to a certain place and time – there’s the undeniable need to hang on to the prospect of innocence. Time will tell if the newest allegations serve to condemn R. Kelly in the public eye, and what will become of his alleged victims. My theory, however, is that Bump n’ Grind or Ignition will continue to play – and the sordid affairs of his personal life will fade into the distance. It’s my sincere hope that I’m wrong.


This article has been updated to reflect that financial abuse occurs in 99% of all domestic abuse cases, and the effects can negatively impact survivors for years after they escape. Leaving an abusive relationship is only the first step, and many people can feel financially overwhelmed once they are out and on their own. The article focuses on rebuilding your finances after escaping an abusive relationship, providing tips on budgeting, building credit and getting back into the workforce: "Starting Over: Rebuilding Your finances after escaping a financially abusive relationship". (December 22 2018)

Victims of domestic violence often stay in their situations for financial reasons. To aid this, we've updated this post with a guide that includes seven recommended steps from domestic violence experts that victims can use to gain control over their finances and escape their situation: "Secret financial escape plan for domestic violence victims". (September 27 2018)