Yesterday, Buzzfeed broke a story about legendary creep R Kelly holding women in a ‘cult’. R Kelly has been involved in deeply disturbing allegations of child sexual assault involving recorded sexual acts with a 14 year old girl before. He’s also faked a marriage certificate in which the late R&B legend Aaliyah’s age was listed as 18 when she was actually 15 in order to marry her in a marriage that was later annulled when the truth of her age came to light. The new allegations post a similarly dark picture. The marriage was later annulled.
Buzzfeed‘s report mentions that R Kelly is housing women, who are drawn to him because of his star power and promises that he’ll help them make it big in the music industry, in properties he owns in the United States, where they have to ask for his permission for everything from leaving the premises to using the bathroom. He also allegedly instructs them to call him “Daddy” and inform him what colour underwear they’re wearing every day, and has women on hand to teach them the kind of sexual acts he enjoys and how to perform them.
The women are all just above the age of consent in those states, which makes what he’s doing legal, although the parents of the women all seem deeply concerned and helpless.
R Kelly has since made a statement saying he denies the allegations that he’s holding women in a cult because he isn’t holding anyone against their will, but it of course ignores some of the scariest parts of the story, which is the culture of abuse that stems from men using their positions of power to act with impunity against young women.
While reporting on the story, Slate made an interesting point: that all of the acts reported in the Buzzfeed article on R Kelly are legal, and parallels can be made between those acts and others we see in the real world outside of Hollywood. Instructing them to call him Daddy and telling him the colour of their underwear wouldn’t out of place in a dominant-submissive relationship, cutting them off from their families is a key sign of emotional abuse, and luring girls into your inner circle with promises of stardom and fame is deeply immoral. These are all things that happen in different forms and ways in the real world all the time, and Christina Cauterucci’s articulation of this idea in Slate makes it clear that while R Kelly’s case is a bizarre extreme, it’s really the blowing up and magnified realisation of behaviours that we see commonly around us, but may not feature in headline grabbing articles in Buzzfeed. It makes you realise how deeply enmeshed we are in a culture of rape and misogyny, and it clearly takes the worst and most bizarre events to make us think about ourselves and the world we live in.