R. Kelly's "I Admit" Has All the Hallmarks of Abuser Logic

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NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 25: R. Kelly performs in concert at Barclays Center on September 25, 2015 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Photo by Mike Pont/Getty Images)

R. Kelly's 25-year career has been marred by controversy and abuse allegations since almost the very beginning. In 1994, at age 27, he married 15-year-old Aaliyah, whom he'd first met when she was 12. In 1996, an ex-girlfriend sued him for emotional distress. In 2001, he was sued by an intern who had a sexual relationship with Kelly when she was 17. Between 2002 and 2004, there were child pornography trials, stemming from a tape apparently showing Kelly engaged in sex acts with an underage girl.

In 2017, three sets of parents accused Kelly of running a "sex cult," in which their daughters were being abused. Around that same time, three ex-members of Kelly’s entourage -- Cheryl Mack, Kitti Jones, and Asante McGee -- told BuzzFeed that the singer dictates what his girlfriends "eat, how they dress, when they bathe, when they sleep, and how they engage in sexual encounters that he records.”

In a 2018 Washington Post article, six women came forward with their stories of abuse by Kelly. The same story produced evidence of many music industry professionals actively covering for, or turning a blind eye to, Kelly's inappropriate behavior with young women. Demetrius Smith, his former tour manager, admitted: "We didn’t look at ages because their mamas let them stay out all night.”

For his part, R. Kelly has remained either silent or evasive. So when he released a 19-minute track titled "I Admit" (with its startling refrain: "I admit it, I did it"), it was no surprise that the track was quickly dissected.


Much of the online commentary has anticipated that this will result in an arrest of some sort, but given how long Kelly has been operating in plain sight, that feels depressingly unlikely, even in the age of #MeToo. There's no question that the content of "I Admit" is unabashedly self-indulgent and self-aggrandizing, but it also offers some insight into the mental state of abusers.

Kelly presents himself on the track as a victim first and foremost, whether within the realms of his own illiteracy ("I admit I can't spell… I admit that I couldn't read the teleprompter when the Grammys asked me to present"), his apparent financial troubles ("All these hits out but I couldn't put food on the table"), or the abuse he suffered as a child ("I admit a family member touched me, from a child to the age 14, while I laid asleep, took my virginity"). He declares that he "ain't seen [his] kids in years," but his apology to his children ("What you hearin' out here about dad, guys I'm sorry for this") feels more about making his critics feel bad than any genuine remorse for how his actions have affected his kids.

Ultimately, all of these confessions are used to deflect from the criticisms leveled at him. "I Admit" is a demonstration that not only is Kelly entirely unable to discern the difference between "drinking and smoking too much" and abusing women, he fundamentally doesn't understand why being sexually involved with very young women is any different to being intimate with age-appropriate women. ("I admit I f**k with all the ladies, that's both older and young ladies. But tell me how they call it pedophile because that shit is crazy.") He even seems to blame the parents of his "girlfriends" for putting them in his presence in this first place. ("Don't push your daughter in my face, and tell me that it's okay, 'cause your agenda is to get paid, and get mad when it don't go your way.")

Most remarkably, Kelly actively aligns himself with convicted rapist Bill Cosby, whom he seems to also view as a victim ("they tryna lock me up like Bill"), while also implying that any women in his company were somehow asking for it. ("I ain't chasing these ladies, no. These ladies are chasing me… they tryna play me.")

This shifting of responsibility, inability to acknowledge wrongdoing, and suggestion that he couldn't possibly be responsible for anything that happens to his sexual partners, no matter their age, are all hallmarks of abuser logic.

In May, Time magazine shone a light on the psyches of sexual offenders in an article about prison rehabilitation programs. In one documented therapy session, an offender said of his actions: "I didn’t think of a 14-year-old as a child. I thought of myself at that age being highly sexualized. I thought everyone was.”

In response to this, a licensed professional counselor interviewed for the story explained that:

"A sex offender often commits a crime by rationalizing it in some way: she wanted it, or my needs mattered more than hers. They convince themselves that a false notion is true -- a cognitive distortion. Therapists’ work often consists of challenging their clients’ false beliefs and encouraging them to develop a more realistic view of the world."

"I Admit" might be the most public, voluntary example of this type of rationalization we've ever heard.

If the Time article is to be believed, there is hope for offenders who receive the right kind of specialist counseling (a number of reformed convicts are featured). But as long as individuals like R. Kelly are free to operate in full view of the world and make public justifications for their behavior, it doesn't just do a disservice to abuse survivors, it acts as a means to further empower other abusers. If anything truly positive is to come from "I Admit," it must be the final straw that forces Kelly's enablers to acknowledge their own complicity, and do the right thing. Only then will the possibility of Kelly receiving appropriate consequences -- and treatment -- be possible.