What 'Surviving R. Kelly' Teaches Us About The Cycle of Abuse & Control in Society


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With a soaring and recognizable voice, R. Kelly recently put out a song, which could be called a confession in response to the allegations of sexual battery abuse, domestic violence, and child pornography against him: “I admit, I f*** with all the ladies, the young and old ladies, but tell me how they call it pedophile because of that, s*** that’s crazy.”

“I Admit” was played at the end of a long, raw, emotional, and dark six-part series on Lifetime called “Surviving R. Kelly.” I listened to these lyrics with my stomach in a knot and barely contained rage. What had I just watched? I watched the same dynamics play out in front of me that I, and many others, have experienced while being sexually exploited and controlled by pimps.

R. Kelly has molded himself into this caricature of the ultimate alpha male, who can do whatever he wants with impunity to anyone he wants. After all, he got away with it once, why not again...and again? After all, he had power, prestige, fame, money,everything; for decades his reputation has been protected and his victims branded as “greedy” and “liars.”

This is what every pimp does - what every abuser - does. He is the one that is in charge, and, in his narcissism, sees himself as untouchable. Society makes him believe that he can never be held accountable since his role has been glorified in music and popular media for decades.

Sexual violence has become way too common in our society. So common, it seems, that we are willing to go completely blind for the sake of our own pleasure and need to be entertained. R. Kelly has lived in this kind of protection for decades, covered by adoring fans who saw him as innocent even in light of evidence to the contrary. The women didn’t even seem to matter. Their pain, their suffering were inconsequential in the light of his talent.

People didn’t want him to stop making the music they wanted to hear. In this way, society becomes complicit and an accomplice to his horrendous crimes. Being a survivor, every story I heard from each of the women met with my own. I felt their pain deeply, knowing the humiliation, shame, and bravery it takes to expose those parts of your story to others. The cost is so high for the survivor, and it seems so low - too low - for the perpetrator.

Yet, “Surviving R. Kelly” is trying to change that, along with the #MeToo and #muterkelly movements. By speaking out, survivors are hoping to see this cycle of abuse and control end. If you want to stay comfortable, don’t watch this series. It is deeply disturbing and unsettling, and, for me, a painful reminder of what it is like to continue to see my own abusers get away with what they did to me. They were protected by their position, their power, their influence.

This is too often the reality in our society. Those who have the money, the power, and the influence have the ability to harm others without consequence, solely because of their image and position. There is nothing just about this, and this docuseries shows us that when someone in power has tendencies toward sociopathy, or psychopathy, they will use that power to use others for whatever desire they have - no matter the cost.

R. Kelly is no different than a pimp sexually exploiting others for his benefit. Ultimately, it isn’t about the dollar sign behind what you are being sold for, it is about a person who delights in having total control over another human being. And now, in response to this series, we see how a perpetrator responds when they begin to feel their power being taken from them. They play the victim, the one who is abused, who has all the excuses for what they do. And for nineteen minutes, R. Kelly does that in “I Admit.” He is telling the truth, but not the full truth. It is the truth according to him, to try to explain why he is the way he is. The question is, will our society finally see past the smoke and mirrors, or will we all choose to forget, and let him continue to harm countless others?

Will we finally believe, like the last chapter of the series is titled, that black women’s lives matter? Because I am a Caucasian survivor of sex trafficking, I cannot put myself in the direct experience of these beautiful women of color, but I do know what it is like to be under the control of another person, to have their power and position rule over my every move. I know what it is like to be brainwashed and made to be loyal. These women deserve to be honored and dignified in every sense of the word.

These survivors’ voices are powerful. They are no longer keeping secrets, and their rage and pain deserve to be answered with justice. The question that this series left me with is: What now? How will every one of us who sees this series respond? It reminds me of this quote by William Wilberforce, the English abolitionist: “You may choose to look the other way, but you can never say again you did not know.”

Once each one of us is exposed to the truth spoken through the mouth of a survivor of evil, every one of us has a choice to make. We can continue to participate in the collective narrative of denial, minimization, and silencing, or we can join the voices of those harmed and say, “Enough is enough! We are done listening to the voices of the perpetrators over their victims.” Taking this stand isn’t as rewarding as joining in with the dominant, strong voice, but if evil is allowed without consequences, as seen in this series, it will always continue.

If you would like to watch the series, you can click here. Keep in mind that this series includes sensitive language surrounding sexual abuse. If you are in a place of healing, take pre-caution when watching and have a plan for support.

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About the Author


Grace is a survivor of human trafficking who is working on a degree in professional psychology. She is passionate about being a part of the movement to end slavery by providing trauma-informed services to fellow survivors after her schooling is finished. She is an avid reader, loves to create art and music, play with animals, and take note of the little bits of beauty that make up ordinary life.