Rahsaan Patterson was just a child when he got his big break with a part on Kids Incorporated, but it wasn’t until many years and a transition to a music career later that he revealed — first to his family, and then to the public — the sexual abuse he endured beginning at age 6.
Now, with four albums to his name, he’s partnered with RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) to raise awareness about the issue, which he says too often goes unaddressed in the black community. At a recent event in Washington, D.C., Patterson performed his new single, “Don’t Touch Me,” the proceeds of which will go to the organization’s work supporting survivors of sexual violence.
The Root talked to Patterson about his childhood, his unique role as a black man speaking out about sexual abuse and why he’s on a mission against silence and shame.
The Root: You’ve said you were sexually abused when you were 6 and you weren’t able to share it with your family until you were 18. Why was that?
Rahsaan Patterson: There was a feeling of powerlessness. In my case, it was violent and there was bullying attached to it. It created the fear of “Don’t tell anybody, or I’ll really hurt you.” It was an ongoing thing, and it happened in church, often.
TR: When you were on Kids Incorporated, were you still being abused at that time?
RP: I was 10 years old at that point, so, yes, it would still occur then.
TR: How does your experience going public with your story of sexual abuse compare to your experience coming out as gay?
RP: The stigma of being an openly gay black male in the music industry has its stigmas and effects, but I really am not focused on that. People will always have their opinions, and there will be people who despise it and look down, but I am who I am. But my purpose is to live the best life I can live.
As far as the sexual abuse, I’ve absolutely been supported. A lot of people have written me and sent me messages on Facebook and such and expressed their gratitude for my having the courage to speak out. It’s allowed them to confront their families and expose their truest purpose. I’m here for those who are at a place in their own lives when they’re ready to go into the issue and really focus on it.
TR: When and why did you decide to speak publicly about the abuse that happened to you?