Over the last year it seemed that suddenly the U.S. had decided to take allegations of sexual harassment and abuse seriously. From Hollywood to New York to D.C., men in positions of power have rightfully lost their jobs and become pariahs.
There are a few men, however, who seem immune from repercussions. Chief among them are harasser in chief Donald Trump and troubled R&B giant R. Kelly. (And yes, film director Woody Allen too.)
Like Trump, Kelly has a string of sexual harassment and abuse allegations against him stretching back decades. In 1994, he married singer Aaliyah, who was then only 15, after producing her debut album, Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number. (The marriage was quickly annulled.) Since then, there’s been a steady drip of stomach-churning accusations, first brought to light in the Sun-Times through the dogged reporting of Jim DeRogatis (who, as the paper’s pop music critic, wasn’t expected to do investigations) and legal affairs reporter Abdon M. Pallasch. In 2000, the two wrote about a 1996 lawsuit brought by a woman named Tiffany Hawkins, who said Kelly had sex with her when she was 15 and he was 24; Kelly settled. In 2001, an anonymous source sent DeRogatis a video tape allegedly showing Kelly having sex with an underage girl. The police, unable to identify the girl, could not prosecute. In 2002, DeRogatis received another tape—this one apparently showing Kelly having sex with and urinating into the mouth of a 14-year-old girl. In 2008, Kelly was acquitted of various child pornography charges. In July of this year, DeRogatis wrote a story published in Buzzfeed alleging that Kelly keeps several women in a “sex cult” based at properties in Chicago and Atlanta, where he brainwashes, abuses, and sexually assaults them.
Yet the career of the self-appointed Pied Piper of R&B chugs along. “While Charlie Rose, Matt Lauer, Kevin Spacey, Louis C.K., and other stars have promptly seen their careers implode after their alleged behavior was exposed, the music industry seems unconcerned about the charges against Kelly,” DeRogatis wrote in the New Yorker in November. “His record label, Sony Music, refuses to comment, and Live Nation, the global concert promoter, continues to stage his shows.” Following the Buzzfeed report, a few of Kelly’s 2017 tour dates were canceled, reportedly because of low ticket sales. But according to the artist’s website, he’s slated to perform in LA on New Year’s Eve, New York City in January, and Detroit in February.
Harvey Weinstein allegedly sexually assaulted a number wealthy film stars with privileged access to media. Most of Kelly’s alleged victims are women of color who are not at all well-known. “The tragic truth,” Karen Attiah wrote in the Washington Post, “is that Kelly’s alleged acts are dependent on the invisibility of black women and girls in the United States—as long as black women are seen to be a caste not worthy of protection and care in American society, his actions won’t receive widespread outcry and public pressure.”
Trump has managed to weather the post-Weinstein backlash by being the most powerful person in the country. Kelly has survived by carefully choosing women who are among the least powerful. It’s a strategy that continues to serve him well. v