Last month several men accused famed hip hop star Afrika Bambaataa of repeated sexual abuse. The men claim that Bambaataa abused them during the 1980s:
During an interview with Shot 97, [Ronlad] Savage alleged that Bambaataa – real name Kevin Donovan – forced him to perform oral sex on him several times when Savage was around 13 or 14 years old. At the time, Bambaataa would have been around 21 years old.
“I was a kid when this happened,” Savage claimed during the interview. “I wanted to be down with the in-crowd, not really understanding that what Bambaataa was doing to me was molesting me. I knew it was wrong. I had these feelings that were like, ‘Yuck.'”
Continuing, Savage said that he did not come forward sooner because he “feared” Bambaataa, head of the influential hip-hip collective Universal Zulu Nation, and felt “shame” about what had allegedly taken place.
Three more men came forward following Savage’s accusation:
Hassan Campbell, 39, has now claimed he was sexually assaulted by Bambaataa, head of the influential hip-hip collective Universal Zulu Nation, on several occasions when he was 12 and 13 years old.
“He is a pervert. He likes little boys,” Campbell alleged.
A 51-year-old man named Troy also accused Bambaataa of molestation, telling the publication: “I’ve been dealing with this for years. It’s a shame this didn’t come out earlier.”
Meanwhile, a third, 50-year-old man who wishes to remain anonymous said: “I know what Ronald Savage is saying is true because he did it to me.”
It is not surprising it took this long for someone to come forward. While it is probable that some famous hip hop artists commit abuse, hip hop culture and black culture make it virtually impossible for victims, particularly male victims to come forward. The community does not like to discuss these issues, and when they do, it tends to take on an adversarial tone. In a community where masculinity is often exaggerated, male victims face much risk in coming forward. The victims are often held reasonable for not telling or have their sexuality questioned.
I think we can see this in the acts the men reported. All the abuse they reported is oral sex. While it is possible that Bambaataa, if guilty as accused, only engaged in that activity, it seems unlikely. It is more likely that someone who could get away with frequent abuse for years would have eventually escalated to sexual intercourse. It does not mean that happened, although I think did it. Yet these men are not likely to say that because of the negative impact it could have.
There is another dynamic that is also unpleasant to talk about, yet likely plays a role in why some victims may not report it: the lack of male role models. These abusive men may be the only “positive” men in the victims’ lives. The boys may balance having a safe place to go, food to eat, money, and someone who seemingly cares about them over reporting the abuse.
Bambaataa denies the accusations, claiming:
“I never abused nobody. You know, it just sounds crazy to people to say that, hear ‘you abused me,'” Bambaataa said. “You know my thing is you know all my people back then, you know the hundreds of people that been around me. If something like that happened, why you never went to none of them?”
Assuming the accusations are true, what reason would a child have to think that the adults around him who are as enamored with the musician as he is would help him? What reason would a child have to think anyone would believe him? Or perhaps things like this may keep him quiet:
Zulu Nation, the international hip-hop organization Bambaataa founded in the 1970s, has repeatedly denied the claims against Bambaataa. The group rebutted the accusations, including a bizarre denial that claims the sexual abuse allegations are part of a United States government plot to discredit and destroy the organization.
Setting the conspiracy theory aside, it is understandable that Zulu Nation would defend Bambaataa. The question now is whether the allegations are true. Given New York state’s statute of limitations, none of the men can press criminal charges. They could file a lawsuit, although they would not receive much money.
I suspect the allegations are true primarily for the reasons I outlined above. There is little for these men to gain by lying. It opens them up to too much negative attention and backlash. So far four men came forward. We will see if more decide to share their stories.