Last week, R. Kelly (whose given name is Robert Kelly) was charged with 10 counts of aggravated sexual abuse. For many survivors of Kelly’s alleged crimes, justice was a long time coming. In a new New York Times op-ed, a woman who spoke out in Lifetime’s documentary series Surviving R. Kelly shared just how long.
Lisa VanAllen was one of the women who appeared in the sex tape that was a key piece of evidence during Kelly’s 2008 trial. VanAllen was 17 when the group sex tape was filmed; the other person in the video was allegedly his 14-year-old goddaughter. Ultimately, Kelly was acquitted on all charges when the second woman refused to testify.
VanAllen, who did testify, said that in addition to the trauma from the abuse she suffered she was also put through the wringer by people who called her character into question.
"Taking the stand was one of the most harrowing experiences of my life. I was barraged with questions for three hours, so much so I almost forgot who was on trial," VanAllen wrote. "I was belittled and embarrassed. I was dragged for bad things I had done in my past. I was called a 'streetwalker.' They wanted me to feel like trash."
Things did not improve after she left the stand; afterward, VanAllen said she was called "a liar, an extortionist, and the girl who had the threesome" by the public and the media.
Lifetime's documentary series helped get the voices of these survivors to the public. However, it's worth noting that it likely would not exist without Tarana Burke spearheading the #MeToo movement, and allowing women to finally feel free to talk about their experiences with sexual misconduct. It's worth noting that Black women, specifically, have historically not been believed when they come forward to share their own sexual abuse stories.
VanAllen's hopes that Kelly does not walk away from this trial a free man — again. "If convicted, [Kelly] could face up to 70 years in prison," she wrote. "More than 10 years after I nervously faced Rob in court, I know one thing: This will not end the way it did before. It cannot."
If you have experienced sexual violence and are in need of crisis support, please call the RAINN Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).
If you are experiencing domestic violence, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotlineat 1-800-799-7233 or TTY 1-800-787-3224 for confidential support.