What is especially sinister about child molesters is that they often take advantage of a child’s ignorance about sex to perpetuate the assault.
When Oprah Winfrey spoke to admitted child abusers and their therapists about the tactics and strategies they used to groom their victims, one of the most disturbing revelations was when the predators described how they could manipulate the assault so that it felt good for the victim.
“That confuses the child into blaming themselves when it’s never the victim’s fault,” Oprah said during the interview. Oprah was the victim of a rape at age 9, and molestation from age 9 to 14.
There are several instances in which famous African-American men—only after having spoken about their early sexual encounters (often with women who were much, much older than they were)—realized or, more often than not, were told that they might have been victims of sexual abuse.
In part 3 of The Root series Keeping Black Men Healthy (read parts 1 and 2), we look at celebrities who shared these personal stories of child abuse, with a particular emphasis on the aforementioned kind of abuse: men who either did not understand or did not completely agree that they were, in fact, sexually assaulted as children. The stories of R&B star Chris Brown and New York City radio and TV personality Charlamagne Tha God come to mind.
Their experiences shed light on the role that race and gender can play with regard to sexual predation, and how young black men are not often raised to think of themselves as capable of being victims of sexual activity. In fact, some black boys perceive most sexual activity as “a source of pride—or a rite of passage—instead of abuse.”
R. Kelly’s experience sits on the side of the spectrum that suggests he had a healthy awareness of the foul play taking place during his assault. In his 2012 autobiography, Soulacoaster: The Diary of Me, the R&B icon describes how he grew up in a house full of women who walked around half-naked, and that one woman in particular would have a young Robert take pictures of her and her partner having sex.
Another woman began to sexually abuse Kelly when he was 10 years old and did so for several years. The silver lining to this—however faint—is that Kelly described how he felt ashamed about the molestation, which is a normal reaction for a young child who was forced into such horrid acts. It suggests that he immediately knew something was awry.
Robert would go on to gain notoriety for an infatuation with dating underaged females and was accused of child pornography, which is evidence, perhaps, of how these sorts of things are cyclical and perpetuate themselves from victim to abuser and back again.
When Brown told The Guardian that he lost his virginity at age 8 to a 14- or 15-year-old girl, it sent commentators into a frenzy. The Root’s Keli Goff argued that a lot of his issues as an adult likely stemmed from that traumatic incident, especially since the trauma went undiagnosed: Brown attributed the incident to normal activities that typically occur in the country.
The Root columnist Jozen Cummings weighed in from a man’s perspective, explaining that as shocking as it may be for some people to believe, 8-year-old boys think about sex, and some of them are already having it—consensually. While the incident may have been characterized as “rape” from a legal standpoint (because both Brown and the girl were under the age of 18), Cummings suggests that the charged language we use to label these sorts of incidents doesn’t translate the same in certain parts of the country where this behavior is the norm. It’s probably why Brown was allegedly grinning and chuckling during the interview when he told this story, and why he might react to the opinion (or fact?) that he was raped with skepticism and denial.
The CNN anchor spoke about being sexually abused as a child in his 2011 memoir Transparent but first spoke about it during a televised interview with a group of young men who accused Atlanta mega-church pastor Eddie Long of sexually abusing them.
During the interview, Lemon was well-versed on the issue and wanted to communicate the fact that child abusers don’t fit a certain profile—they come in all shapes and sizes.
Charlamagne Tha God
In early 2013, shock-jock radio personality Charlamagne Tha God tweeted about how he received fellatio from a 20-something-year-old female when he was just 8 years old:
His suggestion that he may have some unprocessed thoughts and feelings to work through as a result of that happening is duly noted. However, every now and then the radio emcee references this incident in a humorous manner during his radio program, seemingly brushing it off or downplaying its relevance in his life.
In a candid interview with The Root in 2012, the R&B singer described the sexual abuse he was subjected to, beginning at the age of 6, and explained why it took him nearly 12 years to tell anyone about it: “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.”
Patterson profoundly summarizes how early abuse and sexuality are irrevocably linked because those experiences thrust young children into an introduction to sex that they didn’t get “to discover on their own.”
Who can forget Perry’s appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show, when he spoke about the sexual abuse he endured as a child by four different adults, including a friend’s mother, and the ongoing physical abuse he received from his father and grandmother.
Perry described how the molestation, particularly by the adult men, left him confused sexually:
How could it not? I knew I liked the little girls in the neighborhood, but this man was doing something to me and my body kept betraying me. It took me all of my 20s to figure out what this was that this man had given me to carry inside of my heterosexuality that did not belong to me. This is why so many men will not talk about this—the shame of having to admit that. And there is no textbook definition for what molestation does to someone. Each individual is different.
Read more about black men who were sexually abused as children here:
Diana Ozemebhoya Eromosele is a staff writer at The Root and the founder and executive producer of Lectures to Beats, a Web series that features expert advice for TV and film’s most complex characters. Follow Lectures to Beats on Facebook and Twitter.