R. Kelly: Why So Many Ignored the Warning Signs


The music industry has a long history of adult male musicians mentoring, dating and marrying young girls — and music itself has long paid tribute to underage girls, she said. The Beatles sang: “She was just 17, and you know what I mean.” Elvis Presley met Priscilla when she was 14, and Jerry Lee Lewis married his cousin Myra Gale Brown when she was 13, though it devastated his career.

“It’s a situation ripe for men taking advantage of young girls,” Ms. Powers said in the documentary. “Sexual predation as an inconvenience in pop music is so old. It’s been going on for decades, centuries.”

When Chance the Rapper said this in the final episode of the documentary, he was speaking to a greater problem: that black girls are not believed when they speak up, and that they experience “adultification” — meaning they are perceived as older and less innocent than white girls, so there tends to be less shock when they are sexualized.

This has been supported by research, most notably in a 2017 study published by Georgetown Law which found that adults see black girls as “less in need of protection as white girls of the same age,” according to Rebecca Epstein, one of its authors.

A Times Opinion piece this week brought up the film “NO! The Rape Documentary,” created 20 years ago by the filmmaker Aishah Shahidah Simmons. It was initially rejected by distributors, and in 1998, an executive from HBO told Ms. Simmons: “Let’s face it, very unfortunately, most people don’t care about the rape of black women and girls, and therefore we’re concerned that there won’t be many viewers who will tune in.”

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In an essay this week, my colleague Aisha Harris, a television editor, examined how “two cultural touchstones” helped keep people laughing at Mr. Kelly, thus helping to shape the public’s perception of the accusations.


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