Check out my sophomore article on Medium.com, entitled “Can You Feel Feminine While Being A Boss Ass Bitch?”
Check out my sophomore article on Medium.com, entitled “Can You Feel Feminine While Being A Boss Ass Bitch?”
By: Katherine Itacy, Esq.
Dated: January 7, 2018
I just finished watching the mini-series, “Surviving R. Kelly,” and the first thought that comes to my mind is:
I’m all about the criminal justice system. I’m all about proof beyond a reasonable doubt, and not passing judgment until one is proven guilty.
Hell, I’ve represented a few hundred suspected sex offenders myself, and there were really only one or two who seemed irredeemably evil. For everyone else, while I wasn’t overlooking their wrongdoing (or alleged wrongdoing), I was still able to see and acknowledge their humanity.
Many of my clients were abused when they were young. Several explained to me that their victimization led them to have blurred boundary lines regarding what’s appropriate between an adult and a minor. While it’s not an affirmative defense or excuse, it does help explain why some adult males sexually assault minors.
All of that being said, the allegations made on “Surviving R. Kelly” weren’t just about sexual assault. They also involved allegations of physical and mental abuse, as well as essential kidnapping, brainwashing, and intentional starvation of his alleged victims.
The documentary was excellently done, and from the legal disclaimers made at the beginning and end of each episode, it appears as if the filmmakers attempted to get comments from R. Kelly’s team as to the accusations. So it’s not as if it’s completely lopsided in terms of telling the “full” story.
Each episode was heartbreaking and disturbing. The claims made by multiple women as to the very particular M.O. (modus operandi) Mr. Kelly appears to have had with his alleged victims (including immediately calling him nothing but “Daddy,” (Yuck.), restricting their movements throughout the home, studio, or hotel, cutting off contact with the outside world, starving them or slapping them when they broke one of his “rules,” etc.) are compelling. They sound strikingly similar to claims made by other victims (or alleged victims) of sexual assault, sex trafficking, and/or domestic violence. Indeed, preying on impressionable, sometimes ‘damaged’ children, is a very common tactic among those who commit child molestation.
So, the mini-series got me thinking about something Dax Shepard has said on his podcast, “Armchair Expert with Dax Shepard.” During one of his episodes, Dax questions whether we, as a society, should ignore a person’s wrongdoings if that person contributes significantly to the world.
That question really resonated with me during the mini-series, because you have many journalists and radio personalities on the program pointing out how we, as music consumers, seemed to have completely separated R. Kelly’s personal life from his singing career. For decades!
And it’s so true. Amidst public allegations of child molestation and the production of child pornography, he sang at the opening ceremony of the 2002 Winter Olympics. And who can forget when he secretly married a fifteen-year-old Aaliyah after his team procured fraudulent documents to claim she was eighteen?
Sadly, he’s not the only talented person who’s been able to remain successful amidst disturbing sexual allegations. Think about Michael Jackson. Think about Elvis!
The mini-series did a great job of highlighting our society’s willingness to ignore the bad in order to consume the good.
I can’t deny my love for R. Kelly’s music. “I Believe I Can Fly” was the first song I sang along to that made me cry. “Step in the Name of Love” (I always preferred the remix, myself)? “Happy People”? His collaboration with The Isley Brothers on “What Would You Do?” I mean, come on!
I’m a R&B super fan. How could I not love his music? His voice?
But why? Why, as an independent, educated, strong woman, have I continued to overlook the damage he’s allegedly done to so many women, just because I love his powerful voice??
Why wasn’t I disgusted? Concerned about his female victims? Demanding more from society?
Why did it take me until this mini-series to really consider Dax Shepard’s question in a very real, personal way?
I’m educated on the devastating impact that sexual, physical, and emotional abuse has on a person, and especially on children. Why isn’t that the very first thing I think of when one of his songs comes on?
Obviously, humans have an incredible ability to compartmentalize. We can even compartmentalize trauma in our own lives in order to continue functioning on a day-to-day basis. The need to do that is completely understandable.
But we don’t need R. Kelly. And don’t hate me for saying this, but we didn’t need Michael Jackson. We don’t really need any artist.
Sure, they can make our lives so joyful. They can inspire us, pick us up when we’re down, set the mood. They can be part of the soundtracks to our lives. Music in particular can bring back ridiculously vivid memories of such wonderful events (weddings, family reunions, etc.). And one artist can completely change the course of a certain genre of music. I, as a music lover and student of the art form, can attest to that!
But if their talent is eclipsed by their personal wrongdoings, shouldn’t we do better to make it clear to the artist that those acts make them unemployable as a musician?
I learned that John Legend was the only other musician asked to speak who would agree to appear on the documentary. There were multiple persons who refused, despite their personal connection to R. Kelly.
Doesn’t that say something about the industry? About people being concerned about taking sides or standing out (and potentially upsetting their fans, thereby losing money by doing so)?
Thankfully, there have since been a lot of other musicians and actors who’ve come out publicly to denounce R. Kelly’s alleged behavior. But quite honestly, even with the #MeToo movement, there still hasn’t been enough in terms of famous/rich/influential public figures denouncing their colleagues and supporting the victims.
We owe it to the betterment of our society to do a better job letting musicians and athletes (and even sitting presidents) know that physical, mental, and sexual abuse will not be tolerated or ignored, no matter how talented or influential the wrongdoers are.
I’m really making an effort to look within myself and figure out why I’ve compartmentalized the actions of my idols. Why I’m not holding famous people to the same standard I’d hold any other citizen.
I’d strongly suggest that you all do the same.
While doing so, you can consider looking into the #MuteRKelly movement. We need to consider doing the same for other famous people whose actions aren’t deserving of our financial support.
To read more about my thoughts on sexual assault and how we, as a society, can potentially help prevent certain assaults from happening, keep an eye out for my upcoming memoir, From National Champion To Physically Disabled Activist: My Lifelong Struggles With A Diseased Body, And The Lessons It Has Taught Me Along The Way.
By: Katherine Itacy, Esq.
Dated: September 28, 2018
For those of you who don’t know, I used to make my living defending those suspected of, charged with, and/or convicted of a wide array of sex offenses. I represented these (mostly) men sometimes from the moment an allegation is made until the appeal is done and the sex offender classification level is imposed and challenged. On several occasions, I’ve even been around when additional allegations were made against them.
Unless you’re my friend on social media, you may not realize that, as a defense attorney, I almost never made public judgments regarding anyone accused of or charged with any crime—especially if no criminal charges were ever brought. In my opinion, unless I was able to review the alleged evidence and listen to and observe the testimony and demeanor of any and all witnesses, I don’t believe that I have enough information to make a “judgment” as to a person’s guilt or innocence. I’m also well aware as to how a false allegation impacts a person and their family for the rest of their lives.
Lastly, for anyone unaware, I am a staunch advocate for women’s rights, equity among all genders, and the civil rights of every human being on this planet. Despite my ethical obligations to my clients that I zealously advocate on their behalf and defend them to the best of my abilities, I never advocated for the commission of sex offenses; nor have I ever encouraged or engaged in victim blaming.
And I was and remain immensely proud of all of the individuals who came forward during the #MeToo movement with their own experiences with sexual harassment and/or assault. As a feminist and a cisgendered woman, I am intimately aware of the unwanted sexual advances of some cisgendered men. I also understand the shame, embarrassment, and/or fear that many assault victims/attempted assault victims feel when considering whether or not to come forward with their experiences.
In the instance of child victims, I also understand the concept of delayed reporting—that many are threatened with violence to themselves or their families if they tell anyone, or are bribed or induced into silence. Some are too young to realize what’s just happened to them until many years later.
Now, with all of those caveats out of the way, I’d like to take a moment to comment on The Kavanaugh hearings. Or, I should say, the public’s reaction to The Kavanaugh hearings.
I’ve seen Tweets, Facebook and Instagram posts regarding Dr. Ford, Judge Kavanaugh, and the Senate Judiciary hearings taking place on the Hill. I have to say that I was quite disturbed and disappointed as to just how many chose to believe the allegations lodged against the judge, husband, father, and coach, well before Dr. Ford was even sworn under oath. They were absolutely convinced that Judge Kavanaugh was a predatory monster who must be kept off of the Court. Some even cited to Anita Hill’s testimony almost thirty years ago, suggesting that she was the “foremother” of Dr. Ford’s testimony.
Of course, I am all for supporting victims. I am all for exposing the truth regarding any dishonest, unethical, or immoral behaviors or traits of a potential United States Supreme Court Justice. These appointments are for life, and the Court decides the constitutionality of some of the most life-changing, freedom-suppressing, and/or civil rights-depriving laws imposed by cities, states, and the federal government. A lot is at stake when a case is brought before the nine members of the Court, so their fitness for the Court is, of course, of the utmost importance to ascertain.
Being a bleeding-heart liberal, I am not stoked that this President has had the opportunity to impact the laws of our land for decades to come by filling some of the Court’s seats. But I am also, in the deepest recesses of my heart, still a defense attorney. I believe in our Constitution; in the (still-rather-broken-and-unjust) Criminal Justice System, at least its ideal state; in the Rules of Evidence, the presumption of innocence, and the right to confront one’s accusers.
Now, I’m well aware that these hearings are not subjected to the same standard of proof as a criminal case.
But I am appalled by the fact that the American public has taken to the streets (and especially social media) to destroy this man and his family’s reputation and way of life before the allegations even made their way into the light.
I am announcing that I disbelieve Dr. Ford? No. Am I stating that I believe Judge Kavanaugh is innocent of any and all allegations lodged against him? No. I do not believe that I have sufficient facts to come to either of those conclusions.
I’m just so concerned and alarmed by the fact that so many others seem to believe that they had the ability to pass judgment, just by the mere fact that an allegation was made!
Now, in many of these cases, it boils down to the words of the accuser and the accused. Most times, there is no forensic evidence. Many times, there are no witnesses. Often times, especially with delayed reporting, there is no way for the accused to provide an alibi. Unless the allegations are specific as to a time, date, and location, it’s hard to prove you weren’t there. Factors like drugs or alcohol, fuzzy memories, and the perceived or misperceived intentions of both/all parties can convolute things.
But the public opinions surrounding these allegations seem to come from more of a place of “we must believe and support the accuser and destroy and shame the accused” than any evidentiary standard that I’m comfortable living with. I’ve seen the devastation that comes from false accusations, especially when they’re of a sexual nature. The man, even if accused of assaulting someone their own age, is suddenly seen as a sexual predator to all. He suddenly is no longer fit to be around women or children (male or female children, by the way, despite the research that shows that most pedophiles have a specific age and gender preference for their intended victims). He can no longer go to his children’s school or sporting events, never mind coach any of their sports teams.
Now, once again—I am not stating that I disbelieve Dr. Ford. I am just scared about where we, as a country, go from here. I want allegations of sexual harassment and assault to be able to come to the light without any fear of reprisal or revenge or shame brought upon the victim.
But are we really comfortable with trying a person in the court of public opinion?? By way of distorted rumors and emotionally charged Tweets from those without any personal knowledge of the alleged events or regarding those supposedly involved?? Are you really okay with this? Would you be okay if you, your sibling, or your parent were subjected to the same standards we’ve resorted to?
I’m not suggesting that we disbelieve or dishonor or disrespect anyone. But the very thought of someone committing a sex crime (or attempting to commit a sex crime) has resulted in such collective disgust in this country that the person is believed guilty, essentially unable to prove him- or herself innocent. It’s hard enough to prove a negative without having any presumption of innocence afforded to you in the first place.
And this type of allegation never goes away for the accused, even if he is ultimately found not guilty. The allegation and all that accompanies it forever follows this person and his family around. It will impact the person’s ability to get or maintain a job; their ability to participate in community events; to socialize with others; to maintain familial and friendly relationships.
When I started practicing law just about ten years ago now, I was deeply concerned about the emotionally charged policy and rule-making that surrounds alleged sex crimes. Often times, it ignores facts, logic, and rational thinking in favor of being overly cautious and protective of potential victims. Sadly, as I’ve stated publicly and in Rhode Island Senate Judiciary Committee hearings, often times, creating laws or policies based upon emotion and these overly cautious instincts lead to unintended consequences that make society and potential victims less safe, not more safe.
Now…I don’t know what to think. I don’t know where we go from here, when we’re instantaneously passing judgment before hearing any of the alleged evidence or allowing the alleged perpetrator the opportunity to respond.
I’m not criticizing Dr. Ford. I’m criticizing the rest of us. Those who were so quick to choose sides, whether it was on the basis of gender, political affiliation, or the mere subject matter of the allegation. Those who may or may not have used Dr. Ford’s letter and allegation as a political ploy; a weapon to use, if and when decided necessary.
I’m afraid for the rule of law. I’m afraid for us, as a civilized society. I’m afraid that we’re so politically polarized that we’re now willing to throw away our standards and our rule of law in exchange for political gains. And potentially destroy lives in the process.
Where do we go from here? Please—I’d love to know, although I’m terrified of the answer.