'Surviving R. Kelly' docuseries followed by 20 percent surge sexual-assault hotline calls

"We often see the types of callers we get" follow a news cycle, the hotline network's head said. With the R. Kelly show, more people called "about childhood abuse."
R. Kelly performs in Atlanta
R. Kelly performs in Atlanta on Dec. 27, 2016.Prince Williams / WireImage file

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By Kalhan Rosenblatt

The "Surviving R. Kelly" docuseries led to a surge in calls to one of the nation's leading sexual-assault hotlines.

As the six-part series, which chronicles decades of the singer’s alleged sexual misconduct, aired on the Lifetime network from Thursday through Saturday, the hotline received 20 percent more calls than the prior week, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, which operates the line.

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The network's president, Scott Berkowitz, said the types of calls it gets often reflect news events.

"We often see the types of callers we get will follow the news cycle," Berkowitz said. "With the R. Kelly show, we were seeing more folks who are talking about childhood abuse."

When Christine Blasey Ford alleged in testimony before a Senate committee that she was sexually assaulted by Brett Kavanaugh when they were both teens, the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network announced that calls to its hotline rose 201 percent. Kavanaugh has since become a justice on the Supreme Court.

"We heard from older women during the Kavanaugh hearings, and fewer men and kids than a normal day," Berkowitz said.

He said that before Lifetime aired the series, it reached out to RAINN in advance in case it received an influx of hotline calls.

"We try and staff up as much as possible if we know something is coming up, and over the last year we added over 50 hotline staff because the demand has just kept growing and growing," Berkowitz said.

"Surviving R. Kelly" features testimony from women who accuse Kelly of mental, physical and sexual abuse, as well as interviews with associates and relatives of the singer, including his brothers Carey and Bruce Kelly. Tarana Burke, the founder of the #MeToo movement, and singer John Legend also provided commentary.

Kelly, 51, has consistently denied the allegations against him.

In 2008, Kelly, was found not guilty of child pornography charges in connection with a sex tape that appeared to show him having sex with an under-age female and urinating in her mouth. The jury decided they could not be sure of the identity of the girl on the tape, who did not testify. He has not been charged in connection with any other allegation of sexual abuse.

The musician, whose real name is Robert Kelly, was accused of holding six women in a sex cult against their free will in 2017, which he has denied.

NBC News reached out to Kelly’s representatives about the series and they said they had no comment.