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Takaways from Surviving R. Kelly: We must do better

Following the airing of the Surviving R. Kelly docuseries (which will be re-aired on Monday 2/25/19), the many news stories covering it and the felony charges against the R&B singer which bring to light a video of R. Kelly sexually assaulting a 14-year-old girl, staff at PCAR have been talking about the series, the latest news  and its implications for our work, our organization, and our movement.

We’ve been talking about the fact that the abuse R. Kelly inflicted upon many young women and girls has been largely ignored by mainstream media and the sexual violence field for over 20 years.

We’ve been talking about the fact that these stories are not an anomaly, but a piece of the larger narrative for Black women and girls who are subjected to violence and trauma, who do not find justice, and whose abuse has consequences that reach far beyond just sexual victimization.

We’ve been talking about how Black women have led the way for more than 20 years in demanding justice for these survivors, keeping this issue in the forefront, and asking us all to  #MuteRKelly.

And we’ve been talking about how as part of the largely white, mainstream anti-sexual violence movement that has not adequately included or minimized the experiences of survivors of color (particularly Black women and girls), we must continue to learn and do more to help create an equitable and just movement and be accountable to survivors of color. We hear and acknowledge our co-workers, partners, and survivors who are asking us to do better.

We all have a role to play in creating safe environments and it’s time for us to take action. We invite you to share these ideas and resources with your staff and community partners:

  • Viewing the series and the public discussion around Surviving R. Kelly may bring up an array of emotions and could be triggering for anyone, especially survivors of color, impacted by sexual violence, domestic violence, and childhood abuse. It’s important to exercise self-care, to share self-care tips with others, and seek support. Here are two resources that we’ve found helpful:

  • Recognize that this story can impact you, your family, your co-workers, your communities, and other survivors of sexual abuse. There's help available if you or a loved one needs support. Find your local rape crisis center here:
  • In prevention efforts, recognize that sexual assault is a serious and widespread problem that affects our communities unequally. Black women and girls experience sexual violence at higher rates than other groups of women. Survivors are often perpetrated against because of their perceived vulnerability and likelihood of being believed, and Black survivors face additional systemic barriers that are rooted in racism. For example, in a recent study, college students perceived a Black victim of sexual assault to be less believable and more responsible for her assault than a white victim. Additionally, women of color often do not feel safe to report their sexual assaults as a result of criminal justice system’s history of treating European-American perpetrators and victims differently than perpetrators and victims of color (Women’s Institute for Leadership Development for Human Rights, “The Treatment of Women of Color Under U.S. Law: Violence”).
  • Follow and amplify the leadership of the women of color who have been advocating for survivors in their communities all this time.
  • For white folks who are advocates: we don’t need to be the experts; we can learn from the work of the experts, and show up in the ways they request of us. When discussing this series, make sure to frame this docuseries within the larger context of racism and unequal treatment of Black women and girls in this country.  Refer to, look to, and amplify the messages, voices, and expertise of the women of color who have already been advocating on behalf of survivors.

It is vital that we hold those who commit sexual harassment, abuse and assault accountable, regardless of their position in the community, their power, their fame, or their wealth. PCAR, along with our many partners in the anti-sexual violence and liberation movements, demand accountability for R. Kelly and justice for those he harmed.  Additionally, we call on other white people in the mainstream sexual violence movement to increase our own learning, be accountable to survivors of color, and take action to help build a world of equity and justice.


Thank you each for your continued commitment to eliminate sexual violence and to continuing the conversations that will move us forward.