Lifetime aired its highly anticipated documentary series Surviving R. Kelly last week, and after watching the six-part series, I couldn’t help but think about my own tween daughters. Hearing women tell their stories of alleged physical and mental abuse was difficult to watch, but the moms on Surviving R. Kelly inspired me to be a more protective mother.
The documentary interviews numerous women who have accused famous R&B singer R. Kelly of domestic violence, as well as both mental and sexual abuse. According to many of the people interviewed in the series, Kelly allegedly lures girls into his orbit when they are young teenagers and particularly vulnerable.
The heartbreaking struggles of the girls' moms on the documentary made me reevaluate my relationship with my own daughters. The strength, courage, and resilience of those moms showed me how fierce mothers can be when they are fighting for their children, and it also made me realize what’s at stake if I don’t protect my daughters through continuous communication and sexual education.
Mothers Alice Clary, JonJelyn Savage, and Michelle Kramer told harrowing stories of how they lost their young daughters to Kelly’s alleged manipulations and power plays. All three mothers detailed accounts of how they tried to save their children, and despite running into continuous roadblocks and possible threats, they fiercely continued to fight for their daughters’ safety. As I listened to the mothers’ heart-wrenching accounts and saw the way they pined for their children, I couldn’t help but feel their pain and agony.
In one of the most intense portions of the series, Kramer — whose daughter Dominique Gardner has allegedly been under Kelly’s control for years — flies to California to stake out a hotel she thinks her daughter is staying at. After a brief initial encounter with Dominique, Kramer is threatened with arrest if she sticks around the hotel, but she continues to fight. “I don’t want to get ugly, but I ain’t leaving this damn hotel,” she says after getting a call from Dominique. “I’m too damn close.” Eventually, in what seems to be a harrowing escape, Kramer is able to get Dominique out of the hotel and finally brings her home.
Today, Clary and Savage are still hanging on to the hope that they will get to bring their daughters home one day as well. In another heart-wrenching clip in the series, Clary pleads with police to do a wellness check on her daughter, Azriel, who she believes is being kept in Kelly’s Chicago studio. Police weren’t able to enter the building, and as a mom I could feel Clary’s agony. She is still fighting to get Azriel back, but it was the choice words she left for Kelly in the documentary that embodied the sentiment of a protective mom. “If I ever come across you again, it’s on and poppin',” she said. “And I don’t mind going to jail.”
The Clary family did everything right with Azriel. They were cautious, they took precautions, but their situation made me realize how important it is to develop a relationship of mutual trust. My own daughters are 10 and 13, and I would never want them to be in a place where they felt too pressured or embarrassed to talk to me. After watching the series, I knew I wanted them to be able to trust me, and I knew that I needed to talk to them openly about sex, STDs, and the dynamics of romantic relationships.
I come from a Muslim family, so I told my daughters about the religion's view on chastity before marriage, but I also felt it was important to explain to them that it was perfectly normal for teens to feel emotionally or physically connected to someone. Throughout the conversation, I continuously assured them that I would have their back no matter what happens. And my hope is that through mutual trust, my girls will let me know what is going on in their minds and with their bodies, so that I can be in a better position to protect them from potential harm.
The series also prompted me to talk to my daughters about men in authoritative positions. They will likely never meet Kelly, but they will encounter male teachers, doctors, spiritual leaders, and employers at multiple different points in their lives. I explained the difference between appropriate and inappropriate behavior and rhetoric, and I told them that they should trust their gut if they feel uncomfortable around any man. At the end of the conversation, I reiterated a sentiment of support, and told them they should talk to me about any questionable situations they encounter with the trust that I would listen to them without anger or judgement.
After watching the series, I’ve also enhanced my mommy radar. I keep a close eye on their body language and behavior to see signs of stress or concern. And when they come home from school or a play date, I casually ask how their day went, but I try to squeeze in one imperative question: “Did anyone say or do anything to you today that made you feel uncomfortable?”
I know all situations and family dynamics are different. But for me, as a mother, I hope that the power of knowledge, trust, and open communication will allow my daughters to let me protect them the best I can. Clary and Savage's daughters are still allegedly under the control of Kelly, and I pray that they are reunited with their families soon.
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673) or visit online.rainn.org.