Surviving R Kelly

Are you mentally prepared to watch ‘Surviving R. Kelly’?

I'm going to show my age here (or my youth, depending on who is reading this), but my Senior Class Song in 1997 was "I Believe I Can Fly" by R. Kelly.

Now, at the time, I voted against it because I thought it was too cliche for a class song.  But, as motivational songs go... I guess the lyrics are pretty appropriate for a graduating class. 

Honestly, I can't say that I paid much attention to R. Kelly after that day.

I remember hearing something about his sex tape.  I remember hearing that Dave Chappelle did a parody of it. I liked a few of R. Kelly's songs.  

But, let's just say I was R.Kelly ignorant.

And then, a few of my friends started posting #muteRKelly on their social media accounts.  A few blogs starting popping up on my feed about John Legend being a hero for speaking out.  (And notably, about other celebrities who refused to speak out). And the more I heard about this new Lifetime series "Surviving R. Kelly" the more that I felt compelled to watch it. 

I was MISSING OUT on something important.  And there is nothing in the world that I hate more than being left out of something important. 

My husband said he was "not at all interested" in watching the six episode docu-series. Little did he know that not only would he watch it, he would actually become quite interested in finishing it.  

I thought I was prepared to watch it.  I was so NOT PREPARED.

Unlike fictional shows like 13 Reasons Why which created controversy for the storylines that were said to glorify suicide or trigger depressive episodes, "Surviving R. Kelly" claims to be a true story about real people and the trauma that they have endured.

Now...they include a disclaimer that R. Kelly has denied all of the allegations. In fact, he has threatened a lawsuit over the series and is supposedly launching a website against his accusers. And he has no convictions for any of the alleged crimes that are discussed.  And, in my quick research on the posts on the Mute R Kelly Facebook page, there were quite a few defenders of R. Kelly. 

But despite all of R. Kelly's denials, the testimonials of these women are compelling.  And to be totally upfront, I've only watched the first three episodes so far. 

Importantly, the producers of the series also include trigger warnings in every episode and PSA's from Alyssa Milano and others about violence against women.  Included in all commercial breaks are messages that say: 

“All women deserve to be free from violence, sexual assault, harassment and shame,” Tarana Burke , #metoo founder

A Few Things to Know Before You Watch "Surviving R. Kelly"

  • The women share very graphic accounts of traumatic sexual abuse.  

If you have a history of sexual abuse, please have support before, during and after watching this show.  It may, in fact, be very triggering for you and potentially unsafe for you to watch.  Go here as a starting point for help. 

  • The women share very graphic accounts of violence often seen in domestic violence relationships including being held against their will, being degraded and controlled.

If you have ever been in an abusive relationship or been the victim of violence, emotional abuse, or abuse of power in a relationship, please have support before, during and after watching this show.  If you are currently in one of these relationships, DO NOT WATCH THIS SHOW with your partner.  Go here as a starting point for help. 

  • If you have children, you are more than likely going to be very angry!

Throughout the episodes, there are adults that are covering up, denying, hiding, or down-right assisting in the alleged events.  

From R. Kelly's older brother saying that liking young girls is just a "preference" to studio producers turning a blind eye to underage girls in the bedroom of the studio, to his manager for coordinating the forgery of the marriage certificate so that R. Kelly could marry 15 year old singer Aaliyah, there are adults all around that failed to take even a tiny action to protect any of the girls involved.  

It is criminal failure to protect and it is infuriating. 

  •  I can almost guarantee that you will leave every episode wanting to fight someone.  And yet, you also leave feeling extremely helpless.

The call to #muteRKelly seems warranted and yet not even close to enough.  Basically, people want to take away his power by attacking his money.  Don't buy concert tickets, boycott his sponsors, don't download his music -that's the basic idea. 

Only, it's even more maddening, because his music downloads are UP 16% since the release of the show.  

  • You need someone to talk to about this show.

I can promise you that you will not be able to watch this one without discussing it with someone.  You need an arena to vent, to process, and to think about what you saw and heard.  

There is a therapy concept called vicarious trauma - it means that hearing the trauma of others and bearing witness to their pain can leave you feeling emotionally charged (either spun up or tuned out). 

You can be traumatized by just listening to the trauma history of others. 

After binge-watching three episodes, I definitely felt the effects. 

  • You might feel guilty.

Remember, when I told you that I really had no idea what was going on with R. Kelly all of these years.  Then, I found out from others that they DID know or had at least heard many of the stories.  

I felt guilty.  I felt like I had turned a blind eye to an important story.  I felt responsible in some way for these girls.

Logically, I know that I am not responsible.  But, I like the music.  I laughed at the Dave Chappelle thing.  I didn't care enough to learn more. 

Final Thoughts

So, watch the show if you are interested in hearing the stories of children who seem very credible to me.  

I believe them. And I believe their stories are important. 

But, please be aware of what you are in for.  

It is totally and 100% okay to choose not to watch because it is very likely that it will affect you in a deeply emotional way.  

Please be strong enough to know when it is better for your own mental health to avoid watching.  And get yourself help first. 

And I can jump on board with not attending R. Kelly concerts and not listening to his music, but it doesn't feel like justice.  

I have three more episodes to watch.  Because, if nothing else, I will hold the space for these women to share their experience and know that people in this world understand that they were NOT to blame for this. It was not their fault.  They were not stupid.  

They were babies. 

And

AGE IS MORE THAN A NUMBER. 

If you want to follow along with ways that I incorporate play therapy techniques and theories into my parenting and play therapy training, please subscribe to the mailing list.

About the Author Jen Taylor

Jennifer Taylor, LCSW, RPT is an experienced child and family therapist and public speaker who specializes in trauma, ADHD, and conduct problems. Discover more about her diverse clinical background and family. Reach out to Jennifer with questions or comments by emailing at info@jentaylorplaytherapy.com

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