Surviving R. Kelly by Leaving Neverland

How the Sinner Preys

Last week, I sat through two of the year’s most shocking and controversial documentaries: Lifetime’s Surviving R. Kelly and HBO’s Leaving Neverland. Both documentaries dive into the dark and twisted worlds of sexual abuse, child abuse, and how fame and wealth can allow one to almost get away with the unthinkable. R. Kelly and Michael Jackson are no doubt two of the most influential male singers of their respective eras. Hell, R. Kelly even pinned MJ’s 1995 comeback hit, You Are Not Alone.

Despite their immense talent, accolades, and unparalleled success in the music, the careers of both men have been marred by allegations, lawsuits, and claims of sexual abuse of young boys and girls. MJ is no longer with us, and R. Kelly is currently awaiting trial. The docs cover very graphic and disturbing details of how both men used their power and fame to prey on kids, teenagers, and their families. The docs show how easily they escape accountability for their crimes, giving meaning to the old saying, “you’re better off rich and guilty than poor and innocent.”

I highlighted in one of my older posts that since children don’t vote, they’re basically at the mercy of adults. Children have no real political allies, except for any adult that genuinely looks out for them in the best way possible. In the documentaries, mountains of evidence and first-person testimonies highlight that MJ and R. Kelly are probably horrible human beings. These men were enabled by a host of fellow adults who never set either man straight.

Families of victims, in some cases, looked the other way or received gifts and money from the superstars while their own children were abused. I’m no lawyer, but these documentaries laid out compelling cases against both men. I do believe the victims. I’ll examine the case of R. Kelly. It appears he preyed on teenage and pre-teen girls. There is a culture of sexualizing children, especially little girls, in my hometown that foster environments that create men like Robert Kelly. Sadly, R. Kelly isn’t alone; the music industry and society at large have long normalized the sexualization of children.

Jailbait and Pimpin’

R. Kelly isn’t the first and unfortunately won’t be the last person in the music industry who’s legacy is tainted by having sexual relations with underage youth. In fact, the music industry and Hollywood has no problem with pedophilia. The singer Jerry Lee Lewis is infamous for marrying his thirteen-year-old cousin. Music icon, Elvis Presley married his wife when she was only fourteen-years-old. He was a twenty-four-year-old servicemember at the time. The rapper Drake has come under fire lately for sliding into the DMs and texts of underage starlets. There are many problematic songs like Motorhead’s Jailbait and The Rolling Stone’s Brown Sugar, which glorifies and romanticizes pedophilia. Movies like Never Been Kissed and American Pie are classic coming of age teen movies from the 90s to perpetuate the same problematic ideas. Revisiting them as an adult, I noticed they made sexual and romantic relationships between adults and children, not a big deal, or worse, a funny joke.


Like the singer R. Kelly, I hail from Chicago’s Southside. I remember my high school days. Several girls I was interested in claimed to be dating men in their twenties, thirties, and some cases their forties. This wasn’t limited to my high school, either. It was common throughout many neighborhoods for adults to be linked sexually to underaged girls and boys. Such unions we just accepted in the community. As a teenage boy, you know you can’t compete with an adult man for a love interest’s attention. A few short years later, I realized those situations for what they were: grown adults preying on teenagers and children for sexual gratification. This problem is connected to pimp culture.

Chicago has an infamous history of Pimp Culture. However, pimping isn’t something unique to the black community by any means.

The truth is, prostitution and pimping have been around much longer than hip-hop. Bullough, a clinical professor at the University of Southern California, believes men began plying the trade sometime in the 1920s.

It was then that brothels, which until that point were often run by women, became outlawed. Women took to the streets to earn money and turned to men for protection.

In the case of Surviving R. Kelly, we see pimp culture come to its most extreme and logical conclusion. Apparently, the singer had a harem of underage and grown women being held in his possession at his Chicago and Atlanta homes. In his music, he fancied himself a player and pimp. The reality is that R. Kelly grew up a victim of child sexual abuse then grew up to be an alleged abuser himself. It’s a vicious cycle. For many people who don’t have the fame or status of R. Kelly, this is a reality too. Fortunately, many victims of abuse don’t repeat the cycle; sadly, some do.

…it turns out that family has a greater influence on the decision to go into sex work then previously thought. The study found that pimps and sex workers were often encouraged by family members to get into the business. Some grew up around sex work, normalizing the practice, and decided to take it on themselves when they grew up. In other instances, prostitutes would ask family members for protection and eventually ask them to act as pimps. About 30 percent of the subjects interviewed said they had family members involved in the industry.

Both R. Kelly and MJ’s situations show the downside of adults who suffered abuse and trauma during childhood and didn’t deal with said abuse. They became adults who abuse. It seems R. Kelly targeted girls, and for MJ, it was boys. Both men were enabled by many adults that surrounded them and wanted to be a part of the cult of personality that comes with celebrity. Neither man appeared to get professional help to deal with their troubled childhoods. Money and fame allowed them to create their own worlds where they seemed to be able to get away with anything they wanted. It’s no doubt that both men have ruined the lives of countless people, especially the young girls and boys that were their victims.

I admit to being a fan of these uber-popular musicians at one point. Their talent was undeniable, but their accused actions are unspeakable. Sadly the larger society has normalized sexualization of children for far too long. Even in my late teens, I was a bit weirded out by mainstream men’s magazine’s obsession with the Olson Twins turning eighteen (I’m looking at you, Maxim!)


In both instances, we see that children have very few allies that will protect them from adults who might prey on them. Fortunately, many adults who suffer abuse as a child do get the help they need and go on to live fulfilling lives. If you’re an adult and you suspect a child in danger, please get help in the safest way possible. For those of you out there still suffering, you are not alone, and there is help out there with adults who do care. Please contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline in the United States or call theChildHelpChildHelp USA National Child Abuse Hotline, 1-800-4-A-CHILD. Let’s break the cycle because all children deserve to have a life free of abuse of any kind.

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