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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

R. Kelly survivor Lisa VanAllen pens op-ed: “I was a ‘me’ before #MeToo”

Illustration for article titled R. Kelly survivor Lisa VanAllen pens op-ed: “I was a ‘me’ before #MeToo”
Photo: Scott Olson (Getty Images)

Last week, R. Kelly was taken into police custody on 10 counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse, kicking off what’s sure to be an arduous legal process that will hopefully end with the notorious abuser serving time for his crimes. For Kelly’s numerous victims, this moment may bring catharsis, but for one it also brings vindication. Lisa VanAllen, one of Kelly’s earliest accusers wrote about her experiences in a New York Times op-ed this week, detailing how she spoke out against Kelly’s behavior long before a social movement put value on victim’s stories.


“I was ‘me’ before #MeToo. The world had not yet carved a space for survivors, especially black girls, to be heard—in court or in our community,” VanAllen writes. “Thankfully, things have changed.” VanAllen testified against Kelly in 2008, when he was charged with 14 counts of child pornography related to an alleged sex tape featuring a 17-year old VanAllen and a 14-year old. As the prosecution’s main witness, she faced threats of violence from Kelly’s associates, slander from the defense attorneys, and a barrage of insults from members of her own community. Kelly was eventually acquitted of all charges.

Taking the stand was one of the most harrowing experiences of my life,” she writes. “I was barraged with questions for three hours, so much so I almost forgot who was on trial. 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.”

But, as VanAllen says, things have changed. Last month’s Lifetime documentary Surviving R. Kelly, in which VanAllen shared her story, built off of the momentum of the #MeToo movement and put public pressure on law enforcement to finally address the open secret of Kelly’s abuse. She says she never imagined this kind of vindication would come—“not for a young, struggling, black girl victim like me”—and, though Kelly could still go free, she remains hopeful. “This will not end the way it did before,” she writes. “It cannot.”

Read her full op-ed here.

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