As It Happens

'It's a win for us,' co-founder of #MuteRKelly says of charges against R&B star

After years of "yelling into a vacuum" R. Kelly's alleged sexual abuse of young girls, Oronike Odeleye is thrilled that prosecutors have finally brought criminal charges against the R&B singer.

Oronike Odeleye has spent 2 years trying to make R. Kelly face consequences for alleged sexual abuse of girls

R. Kelly was charged Friday with aggravated sexual abuse involving four victims, including at least three between the ages of 13 and 17. (Earl Gibson III/Getty Images for BE)
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After years of "yelling into a vacuum" about R. Kelly's alleged sexual abuse of underage girls, Oronike Odeleye is thrilled prosecutors have brought criminal charges against the R&B singer.

Kelly was charged Friday with 10 counts of aggravated sexual abuse against four victims, including at least three between the ages of 13 and 17.

The musician has been repeatedly accused of sexual misconduct and abuse for decades and was acquitted in 2008 on child pornography charges. Kelly, through his attorneys, has consistently denied the allegations.

Oronike Odeleye, who co-founded the #MuteRKelly campaign alongside Kenyette Barnes to boycott the singer, spoke to As It Happens host Carol Off about the charges. Here is part of what she had to say.

What does it meant for you that R. Kelly has been criminally charged?

It means that finally, after so many years of work on so many different people's part, the justice system is taking our claims of sexual abuse seriously and really putting their efforts behind bringing this person to justice.

We've been kind of yelling into a vacuum for so long, but finally people are looking at the evidence and taking it seriously. So it's a win for us that it's gotten this far.

Kenyette Barnes, left, and Oronike Odeleye, right, launched the #MuteRKelly campaign. (Submitted by Oronike Odeleye)

Why has it taken so long?

So many things have to align sometimes in our culture for progress to be made.

Although there have been dozens upon dozens of women and families coming forward, and there's been physical evidence for years that has, you know, circled the internet and the barber shops of our community, we just weren't in a place as a society to really value the black women who were bringing these allegations, and to value them more than someone who is famous and wealthy and beloved in our community.

Because of the convergence of your Me Too and your Time's Up, you know, women coming forward and telling their stories without shame, I think we're finally at a place to be able to look at it objectively and see that these women are valuable, their claims should be taken seriously, and that they are more important than, you know, a Grammy or a song or, you know, wealth and fame.

I wonder about this this bombshell documentary, six hours long, called Surviving R. Kelly. What role did that play in getting to the point we're at today?

It played a huge role.

I think for a lot of people, they had heard kind of one-off things here and there over the years, but being able to watch the full documentary and see the width and the breadth and the depth of this man's depravity, to see kind of how overwhelming it is — and that only being the story from eight different women, and there being many, many, many more out there who had brought charges — I think it kind of opened people's eyes.

And what came out so clearly in that documentary is the sense that he had been running a sex cult with these young women. That's what this suggestion is in that documentary.

Absolutely. And I think that, you know, people were able to see how kind of easy it is to manipulate the mind of a young woman who's 14, 15, 16, who's never had a serious relationship in this manner, many of whom had never had any sexual experiences beforehand.

Demonstrators gather near the studio of singer R. Kelly on Jan. 9 to call for a boycott of his music. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

But he doesn't seem to be, and didn't seem to be in the course of that, concerned. ... Why do you think he had this impression that he had some kind of immunity?

I don't think that he thinks that he's doing anything wrong. As someone who claims that he was also sexually abused as a child, I think there's a level of arrested development there where he does not see himself as different from the young people.

He also has a wall of people around him who are committed to keeping him out of jail because they make money off of him. He is a money-maker for so many people. 

I think all of those things kind of coupled together, he's just been insulated from the consequences of this for 30 years. So he doesn't think that he's ever going to go down.

You launched this Twitter hashtag #MuteRKelly. You did that two years ago, way before the documentary. Why did you do that?

When I heard the family that's here in Atlanta were trying to get their daughter back from him, it really just kind of shifted something in me that these families could keep coming forward every year almost for the past 30 years, yelling into a vacuum, into silence, about what was going on with these young black women.

And I wanted to amplify their voices and amplify the voices of the victims so people would start paying attention.

I was very naive in thinking that this would be a kind of quick turnaround ... but it clearly has not been a quick fix. It's taken us two years to even get this far.

But, you know, I'm just so grateful that it was able to pick up the momentum that it has, because these families have been asking for help for decades and we've been ignoring them and it just had to end.

Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from Associated Press. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.