Sexual Assault In The Music Industry


In January 2019, Chris Brown was detained in Paris amidst rape allegations. Many celebrities immediately came to Brown’s defense, including Justin Bieber, who infamously replied to Brown on Instagram, “No one can touch you ur the GOAT.” Rapper Live Like Davis tweeted, “I’ve never met a female who didn’t want to have sex with Chris Brown, so i’m not believing he raped anybody.” Fans on Twitter were quick to add that the opportunity to have sexual relations with Brown could only be a consensual one. Brown has a history of violence against women, yet many members of the public quickly dismissed the accusations.

While this reaction was certainly disheartening, it exposed how quickly people will show their support for abusers, even before a verdict has been reached. Male celebrities often go unscathed after accusations of sexual assault, with minimal legal or reputational consequences. Our justice system has historically favored the perpetrator in sexual assault cases, especially if they are white and/or come from wealth. But why does the public continue to support and defend these artists, instead of showing their support for the victim?

A disturbing trend in music is that fans are quick to disregard allegations brought against artists they love and continue to show their support as a fan, often while also belittling the accuser.

The #metoo movement brought allegations to light from years and decades past and has told a story of evolution and protest, and exposed the silence that has existed in the past. However, sometimes when action against musicians take place, new storms arise. In 2018, BØRNS lead singer Garrett Borns was accused of sexual misconduct with a minor. Borns denied the allegations, but was still dropped from the Austin City Limits lineup. Despite the troubling accusations, many of his fans were unphased and unwavering in their support for the artist, and expressed anger towards the festival for dropping him. This kind of reaction on social media reaffirms rape culture, which is especially troubling with younger, more impressionable fans.

The recent Lifetime documentary series Surviving R. Kelly has once again brought to light the artist’s long disturbing history of sexual, emotional, and physical abuse of young women and girls, often taking advantage of their fandom. In 2008, R. Kelly appeared in court in Chicago for child pornography charges, after six years of allegations of sexual misconduct and sexual relations with minors. As one of the most successful R&B artists of the 20th century, the trial shook the music industry. When walking into the courtroom, Kelly was bombarded with reporters and fans showing their support. Kelly would ultimately meet his next underage victim here. The crowd shouted, “Free R. Kelly!” and “R. Kelly is the world’s greatest pedophile!”

The reaction to the accusations against R. Kelly was pretty consistent with what Adult Swim’s cartoon Boondocks predicted in 2004, after the release of Kelly’s infamous sex tape. In the episode, some characters hope for R. Kelly’s innocence, solely because they enjoy his music. Throughout the episode, R. Kelly denies being the person in the sex tape, even though it clearly appears to be him. In the end, R. Kelly is acquitted and the courtroom breaks into applause and celebration. The show accurately predicted both R. Kelly’s acquittal and the public’s perception of the allegations. Abusers often don’t face consequences for their actions, and at the time, R. Kelly seemed to be no different.

In late February 2019, R. Kelly turned himself in to Chicago authorities on 10 counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse. However, Kelly was shortly released on bail, and in an interview with the ever-calm Gayle King, he exploded in aggravation, screaming that people are falsely against him. With various videos, testimonies, and other means of evidence, only time will tell what lies in the future for R. Kelly and his victims.

The music industry caters to the listeners. As listeners, that gives us power to advocate for ethics in the industry. Music fans can and should refuse to support artists who have a history of abuse. This is a small way that we can collectively show support for victims.