Disgusted, sad, and angry are just a few of the feelings I was left with after watching the Surviving R. Kelly documentary on Lifetime. I am disgusted by his actions and the allegations against him, sad for his victims, and angry at those who stood by and helped this happen. Although this documentary is currently a trending topic, for me it’s an opportunity to discuss the underlying issue and “elephant in the room”. There are a lot of R. Kelly’s roaming free and disrupting the lives of girls and women across this country, and there are a lot of onlookers and bystanders that are helping them continue to do so. Sexual abuse is unfortunately not uncommon in the black community. Sadly, I know more women who have experienced some form of sexual abuse than women who haven’t. I am one of the ones who did. Watching Surviving R. Kelly triggered memories from my past that I never shared with anyone, except for my husband, until now.
I was molested by a family member as a child. That was more than 25 years ago. I want to be clear about how long it took me to speak out about it because I’ve seen some people blaming the victims of R. Kelly’s abuse for not speaking out earlier. What those people don’t understand is the shame victims of sexual abuse feel. We often suffer in silence because we feel ashamed, alone, and afraid. As a child, I didn’t tell my parents because I was scared and thought I would get in trouble. As an adult, I still haven’t told them because I don’t want to break their hearts and I honestly just don’t want to deal with the drama that may ensue afterwards. For a long time, I blamed my mother for not protecting me, but now I don’t blame either of my parents for what they didn’t know and had no reason to expect would happen.
For years, I buried this secret as deep as I could inside of me and numbed the pain with alcohol and sex. Looking back, I cry for my younger self and the things I experienced because I had no guidance or help with coping with the trauma of being sexually abused. As a young adult, I walked through life making terrible choices because I had no one to tell me that what happened to me wasn’t right and wasn’t my fault. Although I have since found healing, to this day, I still struggle with trusting people. I have moments when I wonder who I would be or how different my life would be had I not been sexually abused. I wonder if I’d have a greater desire to become a mother if I didn’t experience firsthand how ugly this world can be. It definitely changed me and had a huge impact on my life. I want those who are aware of the sexual abuse happening in their own homes and families to know that the pain from sexual abuse never fully goes away. Not talking about it won’t make it stop. Pretending like it didn’t happen won’t make it disappear. If you know that it’s happening and you do nothing, you are just as responsible as the abuser. If you know someone who is suffering, seek help for them.
I debated about whether I would speak out about this, but finally decided that I had to because I am a firm believer that our stories and testimonies have the power to give other women strength and hope. I believe that our lives have purpose and everything that we experience is meant to, in some way, help someone else. If you are a silent victim of sexual abuse, I want to be one to tell you that it wasn’t your fault. I hope that by sharing my story, it in some way helps you to feel less alone and more inclined to seek healing.
Mothers, sex and sexual abuse can no longer be a taboo topic. It is necessary that you not only talk to your children regularly, but pay attention to them, listen to them, and don’t write off changes in their behavior as “just being a teenager”. Looking back, I gave my parents plenty of signs that I was in turmoil, but they chalked it up to puberty. They tried to protect me from the outside world the best they could with strict rules, but that didn’t help when my abuser was in the home. I truly believe that if I had open and honest conversations about sex and sexual abuse with my parents, I would have felt more comfortable going to them when something out of the ordinary happened to me. I don’t think that it’s ever too early to have discussions with children about where they should never be touched on their bodies and what to do if they are.
“It takes a village to raise a child.” -African Proverb
Children who are broken grow up to be broken adults who often pass their hurt on to others. Turning a blind eye to the damage that is being caused in our community, even when you can’t see how it’s directly affecting you, may come back to haunt you. If you see something, say something. Do something. Speak up for the voiceless. Protect those who are currently powerless to protect themselves. Our children are all of our responsibility. The quality of the world we all live in depends on all of our actions. We must all be held accountable for ending generational cycles and keeping future generations safe.