A Trail of Trauma: How Unhealed Wounds Created a Sexual Predator

R. Kelly and his two co-defendants, Derrel McDavid and Milton Brown are charged with child pornography and obstruction of justice charges in connection with sexual encounters with five alleged victims.

Kelly has dodged rumors and allegations for over two decades. Rumors ran rampant in Chicago about his affinity for young girls while he hung out in the Hyde Park neighborhood before his first album dropped. From the moment he was sued by victim number 1 in 1991 for sexually abusing her when she was 15 our collective minds should have addressed these red flags. Instead, R. Kelly was able to continue making hit records, tour the world and make millions while leaving a trail of young girls and women who suffered sexual, mental, emotional, and physical abuse at his hands.

How was he able to continue this behavior unchecked by those close to him, the music industry, and fans?


Kelly’s long history of abuse began in his childhood. In a 2012 interview with Tavis Smiley, the disgraced singer admits to being sexually abused by a family member. At the time, he was around 8 years old when the abuse began by a female family member and continued until he was 14 years old. He says the abuse “woke up his hormones” and “enhanced his curiosity before it was time”. In a 2016 interview with GQ magazine, Kelly went into detail about the years of sexual abuse and how it awakened him sexually.

“At first, I couldn’t judge it,” he says to me when I ask him if he realized at the time that a really bad thing was happening. “I remember it feeling weird. I remember feeling ashamed. I remember closing my eyes or keeping my hands over my eyes. I remember those things, but couldn’t judge it one way or the other fully…And did that change over time? “Over time, yeah. I remember actually, after a couple of years, looking forward to it sometimes. You know, acting like I didn’t, but did.”-R. Kelly 8/20/2016-GQ Magazine Interview

Kelly never received counseling or help after years of sexual abuse. As is typical in our communities at times, the sexual abuse was “swept under the rug” by his family. As a result, R. Kelly became hypersexual. According to the Foundation for Post-Traumatic Healing and Complex Trauma Research, 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men in the United States today were molested sexually before the age of 18. The foundation says that children who are sexually abused endure mental and physical changes.

“Physically, the child will experience changes in the brain, developmental delays, and maladjustment in school. The child who is sexually abused can experience internal injuries-A victim of childhood sexual abuse experiences anger, shame, and despair that often is directed inward causing huge problems such as impulsiveness, aggression, delinquency, hyperactivity, and substance abuse”. (Teicher, 2000; Finkelhor, 1986).

Darren D. Moore, Ph.D., is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and owner of I AM MOORE, LLC, a counseling and consulting practice in Georgia providing individual, couple, and family therapy services, including mental health. Dr. Moore is also Core Faculty and Associate Director for Clinical Training and Supervision, in the master’s Program in Marriage and Family Therapy at the Family Institute, Northwestern University.

Dr. Darren Moore is a licensed psychotherapist and owner of the counseling and consulting practice, I Am Moore, LLC, and says the impact of sexual abuse and trauma has long-term effects that can last through adulthood that include depression, anxiety, and acting out sexually. He says, specifically in the Black community stigmas surrounding sexual abuse still remain especially as it pertains to the abuse of Black boys.

“When we think about the African American Community, we can speak about the stigma of mental health overall and the reluctance to consider seeing a mental health professional. Another taboo that exists in the Black community is talking about young male victims. We live in a society where it is not viewed as an issue and we don’t allow space for the experiences of young boys.”

Dr. Moore also says, “when it comes to young Black boys and sexual abuse there is a silencing of their voices sometimes it’s done by themselves based on what the perceived reaction will be by those closest to them.”

In Many Ways, R. Kelly is Still a Victim

Kelly’s accusers have been repeatedly criticized for “waiting too long” to name their abuser but that is quite common for victims of sexual trauma and abuse. R. Kelly has perpetuated the same in that he has never named his abuser. Often victims feel the need to protect their abuser and Kelly has done the same for decades.

His lawyer recently argued for leniency in his Brooklyn sentencing that Kelly’s childhood trauma led to hypersexual activity and reduced cognitive ability. According to Insider, Kelly’s lawyer submitted two reports from psychologists that allege Kelly’s older sister sexually abused him and his brothers for years. Kelly’s landlord and a family friend also allegedly sexually abused him, according to the memo. In earlier interviews, Kelly has described his sexual abuse as a “generational curse”.

According to the Times Up Foundation, “Victims sometimes cope by focusing on their perpetrator’s loving side and shutting out the abuse, maintaining contact to elicit such affirmative behavior from the abuser. Often, victims may blame themselves for the encounter and convince themselves — or be convinced by the abuser — that an assault was not what they thought it was”.

When talking about his abuser in a previous interview, Kelly said he forgave them. I, definitely forgive them. As I’m older, I look at it and I know that it had to be not just about me and them, but them and somebody older than them when they were younger, and whatever happened to them when they were younger. I looked at it as if there was a sort of like, I don’t know, a generational curse, so to speak, going down through the family. Not just started with her doing that to me.”

Sexual trauma, Narcissism + Wealth, Power, and Celebrity Create the Makings of a Sexual Predator

While not all victims of sexual abuse become abusers themselves, R. Kelly was different. Having never healed from his own sexual abuse, the need to control everything and everyone in his environment combined with the wealth and influence that came with his celebrity status, Kelly was given free rein to exist in plain sight. Dr. Moore says unhealed sexual abuse can affect a victim’s perception of power. There’s a need to regain the control and power they lost when they were victimized.

Surrounded by those who were mesmerized and attracted to his celebrity status and wealth, R. Kelly became accustomed to the word “Yes” and his predatory ways were ignored by those who were more concerned with the perks that came with being a member of Kelly’s entourage instead of the disturbing trail of young girls Kelly was allegedly in contact with.

In Protecting and Supporting Sexual Predators and Abusers Society Reflects its Values

As long as Kelly continued to sell millions of records and sell out worldwide tours, the music industry also ignored his antics in his personal life. R. Kelly is not alone in alleged sexual misdeeds. Trey Songz, Russell Simmons, and rapper Mystikal are just a few artists who have made headlines recently for alleged abuse, rape, or misconduct in recent years.  The R. Kelly trials have only highlighted how little society cares about the protection of Black women and girls.

In spite of the decades of allegations against Kelly, his music continues to be played at parties, gatherings, on streaming services, and on some radio stations with the majority of his biggest supporters being Black women. In spite of concrete proof that Kelly engaged in behavior with underaged girls, like with R&B Star Aaliyah, with whom he married when she was 15, he is still supported by many in the community who believe he is being unfairly attacked because he is a Black man of incredible talent and genius.

Dr. Moore says these attitudes contribute to the breakdown of the Black community. “We view Black girls as highly sexual and disposable”, he continued “and because of that, we allow things to happen that shouldn’t happen. We don’t hold those who harm Black women accountable”.

There are so many who saw R. Kelly in the late 80s, and early 90s hanging out at Kenwood High School, McDonald’s, and in Hyde Park with young girls. Would there be so many victims if his behavior wasn’t addressed decades ago?

Black women and girls are disproportionately affected by sexual violence, and it is a subject often ignored. According to the National Center on Violence Against Women in the Black Community :

  • For every Black woman who reports rape, at least 15 Black women do not report.
  • One in four Black girls will be sexually abused before the age of 18.
  • One in five Black women are survivors of rape.
  • Thirty-five percent of Black women experienced some form of contact with sexual violence during their lifetime.
  • Forty to sixty percent of black women report being subjected to coercive sexual contact by age 18.
  • Seventeen percent of Black women experienced sexual violence other than rape by an intimate partner during their lifetime.

The statistics are alarming and represent an ongoing struggle to give voice to Black victims of sexual abuse and trauma. Dr. Moore says it is a huge weight for Black women to carry. “We expect Black women to be able to deal with it, manage it, cope with it and deal with the abuse, raise children and take care of the community simultaneously.”.

Is there any chance for healing and/or redemption for R. Kelly?

Like his alleged victims, Dr. Moore says a victim cannot move forward without removing the weight of holding secrets or pretending as if nothing happened.

“You have to uncover, to discover so that you can recover”.

He says any victim, including R. Kelly, can be helped but it takes intentionality, consistency, hard work, and effort. Kelly must first acknowledge that he needs help. “As someone who has enjoyed a long history of not having to deal with consequences or take accountability, Dr. Moore says it make takes a while to break through to him.

“This individual will require something more significant and severe. Nothing can happen without starting with some accountability and if that isn’t there, it creates a barrier that will contribute to the problem not being addressed.”

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