Surviving R. Kelly: Let's Talk About the Wheel

If you’ve been on social media, have watched TV, or talked to basically anyone recently, you might have noticed that the hot topic of debate at the moment is Lifetime’s new documentary series titled “Surviving R. Kelly”. If you haven’t heard about it, the documentary series focuses on the testimonies of women who claim they are survivors of the multiplatinum singer’s alleged domestic and sexual abuse. Accusations against the singer include sexual abuse, especially involving minors, physical abuse, false imprisonment, and being the leader of a sex cult.

After hearing about the series, my curiosity got the better of me and I decided to give it a watch. With each testimony from R. Kelly’s victims, former employees, family members, and journalists who have interviewed the singer, my heart sank. “How can someone do this to another human being? How has this been going on for so long?” I asked myself throughout all six episodes. It’s the same questions I have seen many others asking across social media platforms. It’s the same questions my family and friends have asked. “How can one person have so many severe accusations against them and just get away with it?”

It seems impossible to know that these things happen in the world, that one human being could so horribly abuse another human being, without facing any consequences for their actions. That is, until I remember that I am an advocate who works with survivors on a daily basis. Throughout the documentary series, I was horrified by what I was hearing, but there were times when I would hear what a person was saying and remember a specific call I had received a day ago, a week ago, a month ago. I remembered hearing experiences from callers and their feelings of defeat, and suddenly, it didn’t seem so impossible.

I was also reminded of the why of the events with the help of clinical psychologists and advocates that were interviewed throughout the series. Each one reminded me that abuse is a cycle of power and control. It seems impossible that someone who has so many horrible accusations against them such as R. Kelly does would be able to continue to abuse women and children, but it isn’t because R. Kelly is a powerful man who has a lot of control.

In advocacy, we have a tool that we frequently use to help callers identify the components of their abusive relationship. We call this the “Power and Control Wheel”. It looks like this:

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Before becoming an advocate, I had no idea this wheel existed. I had never seen it until my training. I was also unaware of the depths of power and control in an abusive relationship. I think we are all aware of the more obvious signs that someone is being abused such as physical abuse and sexual abuse, but I have come to realize after studying this wheel and hearing firsthand accounts from victims that there is so much more to abuse than that.

Abuse is intricate as you can see. It isn’t just physical and sexual. Abuse includes economic abuse, threats, coercions, isolation, and blame. These examples of the power and control displayed in an abusive relationship is laid out on a wheel because it is just that. Abuse goes around and around in a seemingly never-ending loop.

Abusers continue their behavior because they gain power over their victims and then control every aspect of their life. This was true for each of the women who spoke out in the documentary series against R. Kelly. Each survivor spoke about how R. Kelly allegedly used his power as a well-known celebrity to then gain control of every aspect of their lives.

But here’s the thing about the cycle of power and control, while it is seemingly never-ending, it can certainly be broken. It is possible to end the cycle of abuse. Many of our own callers have found freedom and so can you. There is a way to stop the wheel from turning and we can help. If you happen to see this wheel and you recognize your own abuse in it, give us a call. We’re ready to talk with you, 24/7.