He has been accused of having sex with minors. At 27, he married a then 15-year-old Aaliyah, an R&B singer. She died in a plane crash in 2001. Some women also say he runs an emotionally abusive sex cult.
But in more than two decades of persistent allegations, the R&B star at the centre of them, R. Kelly, has never been convicted of a crime, and in no serious way has his career suffered.
The lifetime docuseries “Surviving R. Kelly” regarding his history of alleged sexual abuse has once again brought forward the issue of sexual violence.
His case has many wondering why the musician hasn’t been apprehended yet, even after weeks of protests that have drawn international attention.
The #MuteRKelly campaign to punish him legally and commercially hopes to change that. The movement calls onto the world to mute the singer as a penance for his depraved conduct.
The effectiveness of this penance, however, remains subjective. Nonetheless, what does society have to make of these unending acts of sexual violence despite measures to curb them?
It is hard to explain why people continue to commit such despicable acts, says Saleh Mutabazi, a software developer. Mutabazi is of the view that the fault lies with society not fully understanding how to deal with abusers.
“When we talk about #MuteRKelly, for some it could be somewhat harsh but if we are to fight this battle we need to be ruthless with the perpetrators, this is the only way we can let them know that they can’t get away with demeaning fellow human beings,” he says.
Norine Mutoni, a pharmacist, says sexual violence is still prevalent because of society itself. At times when victims come out to share their experiences, the public tends to judge them, with some accusing them of playing the victim card.
“You can imagine how painful this can be for the victim. Few would still come out to share their experiences or even seek justice because they know no one will believe or even stand with them in such dark moments,” Mutoni says.
She, therefore, advises that if society is to overcome sexual violence it should be more understanding, slow to judge and most importantly, stand with the victims.
At times when the perpetrators are not penalised, victims feel betrayed and see no purpose in reporting such cases, says Rogers Kayitare, adding that this is obviously one of the major reasons why violence still exists.
“Imagine all the people who have come out with testimonies pinning R Kelly for violence but the man is still out there enjoying freedom. Tough measures should be placed to handle these cases and they should be in no way lenient to those who choose to betray people’s rights, all women and men need to be treated with love and respect,” Kayitare says.
Nice Budandi, an event organiser at Smart Africa Secretariat, thinks a lot has been done to curb cases of sexual violence applauding the media for creating awareness and exposing the perpetrators.
For those who turn out to blame victims, Budandi say victims should never be indicted because nobody would intentionally place themselves in such a position.
“Actually, society has a bigger role to play, first in raising children better, raising them to love and respect each other, but also, in encouraging accountability. Crimes should be exposed and the perpetrators punished, we need to stop protecting them,” he says.
Budandi says each society has its own ways of dealing with criminalities, explaining that a hashtag might work in one country but make things worse in another. He is, hence, of the view that people should not try to emulate others but work with what works best for them, noting that in Rwanda, awareness and public discussions have proven to solve some problems.
What activists say
Molly Tsitsi Chimhanda, project manager at Women in News Africa, shares her view explaining that victims can never be silenced, particularly now because they are learning to speak out more and deserve the right to be heard.
First step starts in acknowledging that sexual violence is everyone’s problem, she says.
“The lessons on sexual violence should be discussed at home, in school, church, basically any social institution that contributes toward shaping who we are in life. So the lessons should start from early childhood and be continuously taught throughout one’s life,” Chimhanda says.
Sexual violence is a community wide issue and therefore looking at it in isolation as just a women’s issue or as ‘men being the main problem’ will not take away from the reality that everyone, from politicians, government, all persons regardless of gender, are impacted by it in one way or another. Let’s accept the reality first, she highlights.
Gender activist Solange Ayanone says many factors play a role in the rising cases of violence, citing the leading cause as patriarchal systems that still prevail in society.
Men want to be dominant and because of these faulted egos, some end up committing the unspeakable.
With this, Ayanone suggests that it is upon society to change the mind set but most importantly, condemn the perpetrators instead of being silent.
“Society has to avail information on cases of sexual violence and preserve proof. Victims need to be supported, the most important thing we can do is to denounce committers of violence,” she says.
Reacting to sexual violence with serious repercussions is yet the best way to fight the vice, Ayanone adds.
Clement Kirenga, a gender activist, says cases of violence are likely to be influenced by different factors, including male superiority and domination attitudes (patriarchy).
Some research and practices indicate that sexual violence is caused by the negative masculinities of males who have attitudes of thinking that they should dominate women through sex.
Many societies, including the US, patriarchal systems still exist, he points out.
“Studies also attribute sexual violence to high levels of testosterone hormones found in males than females (but the theory is clearer in mammals than humans). These levels are likely to cause dominant and aggressive behaviours in males,” Kirenga notes.
Media is also seen as a factor, according to Kirenga. It sometimes portrays women as objects of sexual desires. Men, on the other hand, are influenced by what they watch, for example, on YouTube which ends up in such mischievous acts.
Kirenga also points to alcohol and other drugs as causes of the unending sexual violence. “Studies show that a number of intimate partner violence or rapes of acquaintances under which R. Kelly’s case can be categorised are caused by alcohol.”
The activist, hence, stresses that men need to understand that they don’t have any right to sexually violate women under any circumstances. In fact, men should interrupt sexism whenever it is being discussed, he says.
He also calls onto religious leaders to interpret and preach against such immoral behaviour in a manner that respects women’s rights.
“Men and women should use all possible means such as social media, traditional media, and village meetings, among others, to condemn and burn such acts,” Kirenga says.
How can society put an end to sexual violence?
Alex Mucyeza, Drone Pilot
Sexual violence is caused by selfishness of the culprits. Sensitising the youth to engage in different activities that would occupy them and keep them productive can be helpful in preventing such crimes. Furthermore, people should understand that impacts of sexual violence are brutal that is why they should refrain from them.
Sexual violence in all forms should be taken seriously and reprimanded with serious punishments. This calls for everyone being involved by not tolerating violence in any form. People need to speak up and challenge violence, otherwise if we all act unconcerned, society will still be attacked by this.
Doreen Kakuru, Cashier
It is sometimes hard for victims to seek justice, especially when high-profile abusers are involved, but what can be done is to provide a more conducive environment where victims don’t find it difficult to come forward and report such cases.