News & Media

R. Kelly, Brett Kavanaugh, and the Familiar Cry of Abusers

Olivia Epley

Founder of Millennial Girl, Interrupted, a senior in a small Connecticut high school. I've been through many treatments and recoveries and am eager to share the lessons I've learned!

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I saw this in the comments section of a news article first (The New Yorker, so there’s gotta be something intellectual to it, right? Maybe?), so much credit to that thoughtful woman. I’ve been on a bit of a spree with talking about various nefarious actors I’ve encountered- I previously had wanted to steer clear, but that dam’s broken-  and as I’ve been doing so, a terrible story has been playing out on the news.

I had a poignant dream a few nights ago. In it, I was sitting at one of my old high school’s round lunch tables, in a slightly modified dream version of the school’s cafeteria and main congregating area. For some reason, the partner I reference here was there, though he never went to the school. I began screaming at him, hurling at him all of the things I knew that he’d done. In the dream, he began crying, told me I was lying. I screamed and screamed and he was crying, and people comforted him, rubbed his back as I screamed.

This was the night after the Gayle King interview aired.

I had a similar, visceral reaction to the Brett Kavanaugh hearings, when they dominated the news cycle for a week or so. My body became consumed by the constant beating my memory was taking. Even more than bodily PTSD, however, was the frightening sensation of familiarity that befell me as I watched both, curled tightly into myself with a blanket over my legs and tucked up to my chin.

There is a way of conducting themselves that only manipulators and/or abusers who are caught have. And anyone who has ever been under the thumb of anyone like that knows exactly what I’m talking about.

I watched Brett Kavanaugh’s contorted features, spitting, pursed lips with a deep pit in my stomach, lurching sometimes when it ebbed too closely to what I knew. I’ve seen that vitriol before. It’s the vitriol that men who are caught red handed have.

This kind of man has been taught that getting away with their manipulative and abusive behavior is a given. They’ve always had their problems swept under the rug by parents, managers, other guiding figures, so they’ve never had to meaningfully face the consequences of their actions. Brett Kavanaugh reeked of it, his eyes dripped with it.

I know these men. I’ve been under their thumb. I’ve had to soothe outraged offenders before, when they were spotted. The number of “I’m sorry”s I’ve had to hush men with far outpaces the good times I had with them. An “I’m sorry” brings them back to base camp, where they’ve done nothing wrong and will face no consequences.

Brett Kavanaugh lashed out. He blamed the Clinton family and the mainstream media, somehow, for his indiscretions. More particularly, he blamed them for fabricating the charges against him. Anything to avoid accountability for objectively credible, immoral behavior towards women. It was their fault, it was a big conspiracy to make him seem guilty! Republicans soothed his worries with high praises at the hearing, hoping to offset the unflattering, probing questions by the Democratic attendees.

Fast forward to the last few weeks. It looks as if R. Kelly isn’t going to get away with what he’s done to women. It’s not for lack of trying, though. Kelly appeared for an aired interview by Gayle King, in which he ranted and raved, at one point standing up and melting down, hurling insults towards perceived conspirators, shifting blame and, as SNL hilariously pointed out this weekend, desperate to be a “victim.”

That’s one of the primary MO’s of an abuser. Be the victim at all costs.

An ex of mine did this. As I’ve discussed, behavior was tossed around in all directions to make it seem as if it was anyone but his fault. Every indiscretion was delegated to someone else in his life, and I ate it up. Learning the truth was agonizing, and when I confronted him with it, he turned into a vicious attack dog, all pretense of romance and softness gone with the wind, for it was never real. But there was something even more agonizing about the hearings, about these men I’ve known, that deserves daylight.

The most unsettling part of the Kavanaugh hearings, of the R. Kelly interview, for me, is the women who aren’t being believed. Comments sections reek of people who eat up the excuses of enraged, defensive, faux-victimized men.

I’ve shared my stories, but anonymously, with no details or identifiers and with the worst bits omitted. When I was given the opportunity to go to the police, I balked and turned it down. I’ve never wanted to undergo the kind of treatment that the brave Kavanaugh and Kelly accusers are undergoing. The moment there is an identified defender, and that defender is a well coddled man, the scales tip against anyone who deigns to make an accusation. Watching that futility, the beautiful composition of Christine Blasey Ford and her inevitable discreditation by the anointing of Kavanaugh, hurt my heart in ways that are hard to describe.

It almost felt as if it was me not being believed.

Luckily, I haven’t had much of a problem being believed, in private circles. I’ve stuck to people who I trust to identify these men to. There’s overwhelming evidence in each instance, and it’s simply a matter of showing it to whoever needs it in order to “prove” myself. In this case, a few folks still don’t believe me, people who are caught up in the conspiracies, people who don’t want to see what’s right in front of them because it makes them uncomfortable, or ruins a fantasy. R. Kelly, the flawless, suave musician, was a fantasy. Brett Kavanaugh, the frat boy turned legal powerhouse who could do no wrong, was a fantasy. And these men I’ve known, their innocence and the auras they maintain, are fantasies too.

Ask anyone who’s dealt with abusive men in their lives about the hearings and about the interview. I nearly guarantee that they’ll recognize their abusers in them.

Ultimately, it looks like R. Kelly will likely not get away with what he’s done. His victims, Michael Avenatti, and others are coming for him, and they’re coming on strong. I’m trying to focus on that outcome, rather than all of the people who still believe him.

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One thought on “R. Kelly, Brett Kavanaugh, and the Familiar Cry of Abusers

  1. These men, younger and older, get angry when confronted with lies because they have been brought up to feel entitled to being believed. This immoral sense of entitlement is beginning to fade a bit as more women attain the stature to be believed no matter what the situation, as white men have been up to now.

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