How Many Red Flags Is Enough?

Why are we so unwilling to confront child abuse?

Steve QJ


Photo by shahin khalaji on Unsplash

If you lay out even a few of the red flags pointing to R. Kelly’s decades-long history of child abuse, it feels like a bad joke.

There was his raunchy debut single, “She’s Got That Vibe," in which he sings about how “little cute Aaliyah," who was 12 years old at the time, “turns him on.”

There was the sex tape where he mentions over and over and over again that the girl who appears with him is only 14 years old.

There were the rumours about his marriage to Aaliyah when she was just 15 years old (he bribed a government employee to make a fake ID stating that she was 18).

There was Aaliyah’s hit single, Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number, written and produced by Kelly, in which she sings about “going all the way” with a mysterious older man.

By the early 2000s, Kelly’s crimes were common enough knowledge to be a punchline on Chappelle’s show. Yet despite several other women coming forward to accuse him of abusing them as children, despite a string of lawsuits that he settled out of court or had dismissed on technicalities, most people spent more time critiquing his weird musical soap opera, than his predilection for statutory rape.

R Kelly didn’t just abuse those girls, he wrote songs about it. He videotaped it. He coerced government officials to help him do it. And somehow, it still took almost thirty years to put the pieces together.

A couple of months ago, I wrote an article about the sexualisation of children. And, at least in a few cases, I got an insight into what causes this problem.

“Sexualising children is nothing new…” said one commenter. “I am so over the concept that [kids] magically became adults at 18…” protested another. “You chose outrageous, isolated examples…” claimed a third.

And who knows, maybe they’re right. Maybe it’s unreasonable to talk about child abuse until there’s been “enough” of it. But that begs the question; what is the appropriate time to be concerned about sexualised behaviour around children? Let’s try to pin that down, shall we?

Would it have been unreasonable to sound the alarm when R Kelly wrote suggestive…



Steve QJ

Race. Politics. Culture. Sometimes other things. Almost always polite. Find more at