Surviving R. Kelly premiered on Lifetime this weekend, giving voice to many of the women that the infamous R&B singer has abused over the last few decades.
The six-part docuseries shed light on R. Kelly’s illegal marriage to then-15-year-old Aaliyah and his unnatural proclivities for abusing and having sex with underage girls. And it appears Surviving R. Kelly has also inspired many watching to come forward with their own stories of sexual assault and abuse. In the wake of the documentary’s premiere, calls to a sexual abuse hotline have increased.
On January 3, the night of the Surviving R. Kelly TV premiere, RAINN, the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network tweeted the phone number for its National Sexual Assault Hotline as a resource for viewers watching the documentary. The tweet said,
“Watching or reading about ‘Surviving R. Kelly’ and need to talk? The National Sexual Assault Hotline is here 24/7—800.656.HOPE and http://online.rainn.org.”
The hotline seeks to connect survivors to means of emotional support, information, and resources. And as the Daily Beast reports the hotline received a 27% spike in calls that Thursday. And they just keep coming.
The Lifetime documentary is the first of its kind to report in-depth on the many allegations of sexual assault and misconduct that have come against Robert Kelly since illegally marrying Aaliyah in 1994. At the time, R. Kelly was 27 and Aaliyah was 15. Kelly’s tour manager Demetrius Smith revealed in the documentary that he forged paperwork, alleging Aaliyah’s age as 18.
In 2002, a graphic sex tape surfaced showing R. Kelly engaging in a sexual encounter with a minor. The girl was 14 at the time and the tape featured footage of R. Kelly urinating on the girl, including in her mouth.
In 2008, R. Kelly was acquitted of all charges. He never served jail time and continued releasing music under RCA Records.
In 2017, he was accused of holding three women hostage in a “sex cult,” as reported by BuzzFeed News. In 2018, a former sexual partner of Kelly’s, Faith Rodgers, took legal action against him, claiming he did not disclose he had an incurable STD before engaging in intercourse with her, intentionally infecting her.
The list of abuse claims goes on and on, with the documentary featuring more than 50 interviews detailing R. Kelly’s misconduct.
It’s no wonder the documentary sparked so many triggered people to call the hotline. The content is graphic and very acutely points to a psychologically disturbed abuser. An abuser no one has been willing to say no to for decades.
An increase in hotline traffic is apparently pretty common after stories of sexual abuse and trauma get news coverage. After Christine Blasey Ford testified against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh last September, RAINN experienced a 147% increase in calls. Similarly, the hotline received 33% more calls after Donald Trump’s Access Hollywood tape was released in 2016.
So what does this tell us? It tells us that we need brave women like Christine Blasey Ford; it tells us we need documentaries like Surviving R. Kelly; it tells us we need to keep calling out abuse, sexual misconduct, and misogyny. It tells us we need movements like #MuteRKelly and #MeToo because these movements, documentaries, and these brave women show us how important it is to stop sweeping abuse under the rug.
When we see women testify, when we watch women on TV bravely recount their stories of sexual violence, other women are inspired to speak out. If it takes documentaries like Surviving R. Kelly to inspire abused women to call a hotline, then we need more documentaries.
We need to keep these conversations from becoming taboo, these marginalized voices from becoming silenced, and to do that, we have to talk about them until people listen, until there is justice.
If you are a survivor of sexual assault or abuse and need to talk, the National Sexual Assault Hotline is available 24/7 at 800.656.HOPE or at http://online.rainn.org.