The R. Kelly in our midst

The story of R&B singer R. Kelly’s life and love has been told for many years. I have watched videos and read articles of women accusing him and journalists being castigated for exposing him. In response, R. Kelly has sang songs claiming that he is being witch hunted because he is a successful black man. So far, the latest documentary series ‘Surviving R. Kelly’ seems to be the one with the most impact. The docuseries brings together all the women that have allegedly suffered abuse by Kelly and the buildup is agonising. My main concern with the docuseries is not on R. Kelly but on the fact that there are very many R. Kelly’s in our midst who continue to inflict harm and sexual abuse on vulnerable women and girls in our communities.

For instance, a famous school proprietor recently died in Uganda and during his funeral it emerged that he had had children with several women some of whom were his students. Stories were told of how he would pick the girls and take them out of school for a treat and eventually sleep with some of them. I also recall the story of a young lady who came to me seeking help on radio over a man who had impregnated and abandoned her. As a young child, she’s lived in the man’s home with her mother who worked as his family’s house help. Several years later they bumped into each other and all he could see was a fine lady, not the young girl he’d helped to raise. She on the other hand was attracted by the material things he offered and she gave into his advances which resulted in an unwanted pregnancy and the man denying responsibility. Over the years, I have interacted with countless girls who have walked into offices for jobs and left with a proposed sexual encounter. I have observed older, rich, powerful people manipulate and take advantage of people they consider of lower status. Someone in need of school fees will fall prey easily with the promise of fees being paid. One in need of a job could easily give in to advances because there is a promise of a job.

As the R. Kelly storm brews, we should look around us and call out people we know that are asking for sexual favours in return for anything. One might argue that it was consensual but when you are in a position of power, and before you help someone with their career, you first have to mess with them, you are evil! Power is magnetic, therefore, it is no surprise when young girls are attracted by one’s perceived superiority or celebrity status. While R. Kelly may have done things and used all his power to silence his victims, eventually they talked. I still hope for a time when women will speak up as soon as someone messes with them so that we don’t have many falling victim yet the perpetrators could have been stopped in their tracks. We also need to believe victims when they say they are being harmed because it is the fear of victimisation that promotes silence and encourages abuse and sexual violence to thrive.

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