R. Kelly charges spark conversation about wealth, fame and rape culture

Associated Press | R. Kelly walks to his vehicle after exiting a cigar lounge in Chicago on Monday, Feb. 25, 2019. A suburban Chicago woman posted the $100,000 bail for R. Kelly to be freed from jail while he awaits trial on sexual abuse charges. (Tyler LaRiviere/Chicago Sun-Times via AP)

Famed hip-hop artist and rapper Robert Kelly (R. Kelly) was arrested and charged with 10 counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse after turning himself in to a Chicago police district on Feb. 22.

Over a decade following a child pornography indictment, a contentious sex-tape trial in 2008 and the indictments of four women’s cases against the rapper, Kelly posted $100,000 bail on Monday. The rapper appeared in court later that day and pleaded not guilty on all accounts.

Lifetime’s “Surviving R. Kelly” docuseries, released in January, brought prominence to the victims’ experiences with the rapper through individual interviews. The common thread among each victim was naivety.

In the early stages of their encounters with the rapper, the girls said they were seduced by the notoriety that came from spending time with a celebrity. At the time, the victims were still young teenagers and said they had little understanding of the manipulation that Kelly employed to isolate them from their families, the blackmail to keep them silent and the vast influence he had to keep himself out of prison.

One of the most known instances of Kelly’s infamous behavior was when he married an underage girl. On Aug. 31, 1994 Kelly, 27 years old at the time, married 15-year-old rhythm and blues singer Aaliyah via a falsified marriage certificate. The marriage was annulled, and all evidence expunged after Aaliyah’s parents sued Kelly. Illinois’ age of consent is 17.

The seduction of wealth and women was easily marketed by hip-hop culture in the ’90s, and many times encouraged even today. Reggie Singletary, special assistant to the executive vice president and provost, related the hyper-masculinity of these personalities as a response to times in America when the African-American man was completely demasculinized. He suggested that masculinity was redefined as having mass amounts of wealth, women and fame.

“The complicity of a lot of people around him and the community that supported him perpetuated his behavior,” Singletary said. “They let his talent shine more so than his character and that removed a lot of accountability for the things he did.”

In over two decades of Kelly’s behavior, all allegations were settled out of court in efforts to protect the dignity of the rapper’s persona. The settlements oftentimes stipulated a confidentiality agreement, legally forbidding the victims to warn against the rapper’s repeated behavior and treatment of women.

In sexual assault cases such as Kelly’s, legislation oftentimes serves the wealthy population, therefore perpetuating the rape culture in our society, Singletary said.

“The fact that we have these non disclosure agreements that keep information from coming out prevents and hurts future cases because we don’t really know what’s going on,” Singletary said. “All we see is the settlement. We’re perpetuating the same culture and not holding people accountable.”

With the prominence of controversial sexual assault cases in the media, conversations have been sparked questioning whether this impacts a victim’s decision to settle or not pursue charges. The rationale behind this decision is influenced by their lack of trust in the justice system, which propels the victims to take the money rather than taking a loss in court.

“This R. Kelly case speaks more to the societal implications that we don’t even realize how many wealthy people are using these tools to evade responsibility and have no accountability to actually solving the problem,” Singletary said.

When asked about the morality of a non-disclosure agreement in sexual assault allegations, San Luis Obispo, Calif., senior Shelby Rocco-Rubatzky, expressed her disdain for the stipulations of R. Kelly’s past settlements.

“There should be no loopholes regarding sexual assault and abuse,” Rocco-Rubatzky said. “Sex isn’t really the point here. It’s about the emotional abuse. It’s about the fact that he [Kelly] preys on these young girls who don’t understand what a healthy adult relationship looks like.”

Rocco-Rubastzky said she believes Kelly is a master manipulator, and that because of his stardom, many people ignored and even supported his behavior.

With movements like #MeToo, #MuteRKelly and #TimesUp, many are asking whether Kelly’s not guilty plea will stand up against the testimonies of his alleged victims?

If convicted, Robert Kelly could face up to 70 years in prison.