The “Surviving R. Kelly” docuseries by Dream Hampton hits all of us hard. This series has captivated us because R. Kelly is a well-known, high-profile celebrity – but sexual violence against children is perpetrated every day by people far less famous.
At Chicago Children’s Advocacy Center, we respond to more than 2,000 reports of child sexual abuse each year. These cases come to us from reports to the Chicago Police Department and the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services. We provide crisis intervention, advocacy and mental health services to all of these children for free. More than half of these children are Black, and 75 percent are girls. The offender is almost always someone the child knows and trusts.
Sadly, we also know that only about one-third of incidences of sexual abuse are ever reported to authorities. This means that right now, there are thousands of other child victims in our city who are surviving without the support they desperately need and deserve.
The “Surviving R. Kelly” docuseries causes us to feel hurt and angry and to ask what we can do now. While difficult to watch, films like this help educate all of us about the changes we need to make to our world to end sexual violence.
We can and must take action. We are all responsible for the safety of children in our city.
As a society, our culture is starting to shift to one that believes victims and allows survivors to come forward without fear of retaliation or blame. This culture shift must include Black girls. A 2017 report from Georgetown Law, “Girlhood Interrupted,” reminds us that Black girls are more likely to be subjected to implicit bias from adults that may view them as hypersexualized due to their race. Dream Hampton’s docuseries highlights an ongoing case where this implicit bias may have contributed to victim blaming, systematic inequities and lack of support for those harmed.
All of this is infuriating. It’s what we work against every day at ChicagoCAC. How can you turn anger into action?
Learn the warning signs of sexual abuse and the concerning behaviors that could lead to sexual abuse. Our website has more information on how to keep children safe at ChicagoCAC.org/resources.
Believe children when they tell you about sexual abuse. They aren’t making it up. We know that children rarely lie about this. Approach these conversations from a non-judgmental and supportive place.
Don’t look the other way. Report suspicions to the Illinois Child Abuse Hotline (1-800-25-ABUSE) or to police, and reach out to community organizations like ChicagoCAC for help in supporting survivors.
Talk to your children about boundaries and consent, and about healthy sexual development. Talk to your children’s school about how they are delivering sex education to students.
It’s time that we prioritize educating ourselves and professionals who work with children about child sexual abuse. We must stop cycles of abuse by ensuring that intervention and treatment services are available for children and their families.
Need help? At ChicagoCAC, we provide crisis intervention, advocacy, forensic interviewing, therapy and support when children and families need it most. We also provide prevention education. To learn more, visit us at ChicagoCAC.org and send an email to Training@ChicagoCAC.org.
We stand with the courageous survivors who came forward to share their testimonies in “Surviving R. Kelly.” Black girls deserve better. They deserve to be believed and supported by everyone. Join us in battling child sexual abuse until, by working together, we end it!
Chicago Children’s Advocacy Center