R. Kelly Fans, Please Stop Blaming the Victims

She Matters: Just because you want to keep listening to his music—despite all the sordid details—doesn’t mean you get to shame teenage girls.

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Singer R. Kelly

Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for Clear Channel

I can’t say I’m all that surprised about the backlash against the folks who have been denouncing R. Kelly lately. I called on people who still supported him to rethink that position after the Village Voice interviewed Jim DeRogatis—the journalist who broke the story of R. Kelly’s sexual conduct with underage girls nearly 15 years ago—in a story that has now gone viral.

Since then, seemingly every major site that blacks and feminists frequent has run an article calling for readers to stop supporting a “monster” by not purchasing R. Kelly’s latest album, Black Panties. Over at Hello Beautiful, where the site ran a full-on “We Love R. Kelly” piece after hosting a listening session for his latest music, there was backtracking after the Village Voice interview. The writer of the original article, Leigh Davenport, said that she now feels “shocked” and “horrified” by the depth of the allegations against one of her favorite singers. “I was, perhaps willingly, quite ignorant to the details of R. Kelly’s offenses,” she said in a follow-up interview on the Hello Beautiful site.

So many of us are just now putting a clichéd two and two together about exactly what R. Kelly has been accused of by dozens of young women in Chicago. And as many of us rightfully balk at his misdeeds, there are those who acknowledge his alleged actions and still do mental contortions of Cirque du Soleil proportions to avoid holding him accountable for anything.

I’ve read countless commenters who wondered, “Where were these girls’ parents?” as if their parents knew every move they made at 14 and we weren’t all doing our damnedest to elude our own parents. Then there were people—women, even—blaming the victims, who were teenagers, as more or less fast girls who knew exactly what they were doing when they chose to have sex with a man twice their age in exchange for tennis shoes, Coach bags and promises of a fairy-tale life.

“Question: At 14 years old did you know who and what you were doing with your body ... I did,” one woman wrote on Facebook.

Oh, really? Did you? Never mind. It doesn’t matter. Whether or not a 14-year-old girl fully understands the grown-up ramifications of sex is actually irrelevant. Statutory rape is illegal in most states in America, including Illinois, where the age of consent is 17.

The same woman, echoing a popular sentiment, followed up to say, “I'm not rooting for these kinds of relationships, I just don't see it as criminal but what you said stood out to me ‘in America’ because in other countries this is more than OK.”

That’s meaningless. Why would what is acceptable in some distant corner of East Neverwhere matter when we’re discussing the South Side of Chicago? We’ll get to the laws of other lands another time, but can we not be distracted for a minute from what is going on here?

Like I said: mental contortions. Folks seemed to be trying to prove DeRogatis’ striking assessment in the Voice: “The saddest fact I've learned is nobody matters less to our society than young black women. Nobody.”

Seriously, people?