Content warning: Sexual assault, R. Kelly

Like many survivors of sexual violence, 17-year-old Kaiann Kathryn initially stayed quiet about being sexually assaulted.

She was only 13 and 14 years old when the assaults happened, and both of her assailants were men with power and influence in the Chicago music scene. Afraid of what would happen if she spoke out publicly, she’d only told a few close friends and family members over the years since.

“Trauma is isolating,” Kaiann explains.

She certainly isn’t alone — it’s estimated that 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men in the United States are raped over the course of their lifetime, and younger people are at the highest risk of sexual violence.

But experts also believe that sexual assault is largely underreported due to shame, embarrassment, and fear of not being believed.

Black young women and girls may face an even higher risk of victim-blaming, as research has shown that Black girls are seen as older, more promiscuous, and less innocent than their white peers.

Being ostracized without support could lead to more trauma, so rather than taking the risk, many survivors are surviving quietly, keeping their assault a secret like Kaiann used to do.

People weren’t just talking about whether or not to keep listening to R. Kelly’s music — they were also responding to hearing the survivors speaking out in their own words. It showed survivors who on social media was willing to support them.

But then came the docuseries “Surviving R. Kelly.” The 6-part series, produced by filmmaker dream hampton, aired from January 3 to January 6 on Lifetime and exposed the story of R&B singer R. Kelly’s alleged sexual and physical abuse of teenage girls and young women.

For many people watching, “Surviving R. Kelly” drew a stunning parallel between the rise of Kelly’s success and the growing power he’s used against his victims ever since those first allegations came up, decades ago.

The show’s premiere drew an audience of 2.1 million viewers, breaking ratings records for Lifetime and sending R. Kelly’s name and related hashtags trending on Twitter.

That’s when Kaiann decided she’d had enough of the silence

So much of the content of “Surviving R. Kelly” was familiar to her: The Chicago music scene where R. Kelly began his career, the power dynamics between predatory men and vulnerable girls, the lack of support for Black girls and women.

These accusations aren’t new to Kelly’s career. In fact, they’ve been in the public eye since the 90s and Kelly has even settled several lawsuits in the past.

In spite of all of this, the three-time Grammy award-winning singer has had a successful career with music producers, fans, and fellow artists continuing to support his music.

But the magnitude of the online conversation that happened while the docuseries aired? That was something new.

People weren’t just talking about whether or not to keep listening to R. Kelly’s music — they were also responding to hearing the survivors speaking out in their own words. It showed survivors who on social media was willing to support them.

“It felt like there was a new climate of awareness, and I really wanted to capitalize on that,” Kaiann says.

“Surviving Loudly is about not letting society’s expectations of survivors dictate your journey and your healing,” says Kaiann. “[It’s about] surviving trauma out loud. Rejecting shame and guilt, taking control of your healing, and owning your journey.”

On January 5, in spite of the fear and shame that had kept her from speaking out before, Kaiann tweeted about her experiences with sexual assault.

“I’m here 4 calling out abusers,” she said in one tweet. “Time to hold these men accountable.”

The volume of the response to her tweets surprised her

She received direct messages of support and encouragement, plus more stories of sexual assault.

She inspired other survivors to tweet about the abuse they’d experienced. Many of these incidents happened in the Chicago music scene as well, but Kaiann also heard stories from all across the United States.

For Kaiann, this was an opportunity to boost awareness of how common sexual abuse is, as well as a chance of healing for the survivors reaching out. Seeing so many stories at once reminded her that surviving doesn’t have to happen quietly — if you have the right support.

That’s why she decided to amplify survivors’ voices by bringing them together under #SurvivingLoudly.

#SurvivingLoudly is a hashtag and Twitter account collecting some of the many stories that sexual assault survivors are sharing in the wake of “Surviving R. Kelly.”

The purpose is to effectively make these stories of survival louder by having them in one place, so that none of the participants have to feel like they’re speaking out in isolation.

“We are louder together,” she says.

While the show’s focus on R. Kelly is significant, the resulting conversation is now about more than his abuse.

“The ‘Surviving R. Kelly’ conversation brought attention to a larger issue,” Kaiann says. “Survivors being silenced, and abusers being enabled, supported, and respected. Even adored.”

As a result — as clinical psychologists and sexual abuse experts explained in the docuseries — these victims can feel judged, isolated, and like they have no choice but to deny any wrongdoing on the part of their abusers.

But #SurvivingLoudly is directly challenging the idea that survivors should be silent and ashamed

“Surviving Loudly is about not letting society’s expectations of survivors dictate your journey and your healing,” says Kaiann. “[It’s about] surviving trauma out loud. Rejecting shame and guilt, taking control of your healing, and owning your journey.”

#SurvivingLoudly is also one of several hashtags founded by Black women and currently transforming the public conversation on sexual assault.

#MeToo, founded by Tarana Burke, has been at the center of charges against prominent Hollywood figures like Harvey Weinstein. Oronike Odeleye and Kenyette Barnes created #MuteRKelly to halt support for R. Kelly’s music and career.

Kaiann was thrilled when singer Kehlani shared the #SurvivingLoudly hashtag, along with some encouragement: “you are all SO BRAVE.”

“I want every person struggling to know that they are not alone,” Kaiann says. She hopes that increased awareness and education about sexual assault and consent will lead to less vulnerability for Black girls and women.

“The good news is these are fixable issues. But it’s going to take work.”

Today, that work includes primetime television, powerful organizing campaigns, and help from celebrity platforms to get people talking about sexual violence against Black girls.

Each survivor with a story to tell is taking a huge risk to tell it. But as Kaiann helps normalize these conversations through #SurvivingLoudly, she helps put down the foundation for other survivors to speak.

By following the leadership of Black women and girls like Kaiann Kathryn and Tarana Burke, we could build a world where survivors can feel support, rather than judgment.

Maisha Z. Johnson is a writer and advocate for survivors of violence, people of color, and LGBTQ+ communities. She lives with chronic illness and believes in honoring each person’s unique path to healing. Find Maisha on her website, Facebook, and Twitter.