Since #MeToo went viral in 2017, it has transformed our culture for the better. The movement, created by activist Tarana Burke in 2006, has helped survivors and allies push back against rape culture and rally to hold abusers accountable, ousting media moguls, comedy icons, world-renowned chefs and politicians. Invoking the legacies of Harriet Jacobs, Rosa Parks, Recy Taylor and Anita Hill, Black women survivors have carved out spaces to raise awareness, disrupt sexual violence in the Black community and, most importantly, heal. However, the movement hasn’t quite had the same impact in the music industry, specifically in hip-hop and R&B.
In this piece, writer Kellee Terrell spoke to Asante McGee, one of the women who appeared in the Lifetime docuseries “Surviving R. Kelly.” McGee talks about her accusations of emotional abuse by R. Kelly during their relationship, the scrutiny she faced for coming forward to the media, and why Black survivors need to be treated as human beings who deserve support, not just as a means to boost page views and ratings.
When I went on the record with journalist Jim DeRogatis, it wasn’t an easy decision. The Savages — parents to Joycelyn Savage, another woman in R&B singer R. Kelly’s sex cult — had reached out and told me to call the trusted journalist. I did, and while I told him my story, it was off the record. But soon after, I knew what I was going to have to do: I was going to have to put my name and face to my story.
I was definitely worried. I didn’t want to be labeled as “one of R. Kelly’s girls,” but I knew I had to warn other women and, quite honestly, the world, and open up about how he groomed, abused and tried to control me. “Asante, do it,” that voice in my head urged me — and I did and don’t regret it.
But when that BuzzFeed article came out, I wasn’t prepared for what came after it. People were DM’ing me with threats, calling me a liar. Blogs were laughing at me, saying I was too old “to let” R. Kelly abuse me or how I should have known better. Yes, I’d heard all of the stories about him in the past, but I didn’t believe them because, like most fans, I didn’t want to. I thought that since he was acquitted, the rumors couldn’t have been true. I never imagined this is what would happen to me.
I was also a woman in love, who had left a yearslong abusive marriage and swore I would never get into another relationship like that again. So there I was, not seeing the red flags, believing that he loved me and would protect me. But when the red flags got too hard to ignore — he was telling me what to wear, making other women have sex with one another, I had to ask him when we could eat or use the bathroom — I was terrified. After years of dating and three weeks of living with him, I packed up my things and left.
No, I can’t change the past, but I hoped that I could change the future by stopping the next girl from being a victim. I wanted to show other survivors they are not alone. But it was me that needed help because after coming forward, I fell into a deep depression and nearly had a mental breakdown.
Then came Lifetime’s “Surviving R. Kelly.”
While I’m grateful to people like filmmaker dream hampton and others who believed us and cared for us, I didn’t always feel supported by the network and the higher-ups. An article is one thing, but a TV series that broke the internet is something completely different, and we were just not prepared.
When the show debuted in January 2019, we kept begging them to provide us with on-site therapists to help us through it, but were told that they didn’t have the resources for that. Instead, they could get us counselors to talk to us over the phone. But I needed someone right there, in my face, to talk out my feelings. That night, I remember being numb, crying on the floor. I couldn’t even watch the second episode the next day.
As survivors, we deserved better. Here we are, telling our stories, sharing our pain, while they profit from it, win awards, with no regard for our mental health.
It’s a shame.
Thankfully, I am doing better.
Over the past few years, I have learned many lessons, including never do a press conference without a lawyer present. I have published a few books, I am dating again (it’s still scary to trust), and I even started an organization, G.A.S. The Fuel Behind The Fire, that helps both women and men survivors. I still have some trolls but, overall, I’m lucky.
So I’m honest with survivors who are debating whether or not to come forward: Be prepared for the worst, hope for the best, and even when folks try to pull you down, remember your voice is still important.