R. Kelly was helped by a network of complicity, common in workplace abuse, that allowed crimes to continue for decades.

Peggy cunningham, Dalhousie University and Minette Drumwright, University of Texas at Austin

R&B singer R. Kelly was convicted of extortion and sex trafficking charges on September 27, 2021, after being exposed as the leader of a decades-long plan to recruit girls, boys and women to have sex with.

During the six-week trial, the jurors heard heartbreaking testimony from a succession of survivors of Kelly’s abuse. Witnesses also revealed how members of the 54-year-old family the entourage assisted, enabled and helped cover up the crimes of the singer.

What teachers who have unethical behavior investigated For many years, we found that the patterns revealed in Kelly’s trial are classic examples of how unethical, even criminal, conduct can persist in organizations for long periods of time, often as an open secret and often an open secret. endorsed by others.

Beyond the ‘bad apple’

Our unethical studies and illegal behavior – from fraud to sexual harassment – they have looked at sectors such as business, journalism, healthcare, sports, and government. We found that despite policies and laws designed to prevent it, this behavior is rife in many organizations.

While there is a tendency to focus on the “bad apple” – the perpetrator and their despicable behavior – in cases of unethical behavior, our research demonstrates the need to look beyond the individual to understand how and why unethical behavior thrives and persists.

Repeatedly, we have found that the perpetratorsLike Kelly, don’t act alone. They often have active facilitators, groups we call “complicity networks” that support abuse in various ways. They also have passive enablers, groups we call “complacency networks” that turn a blind eye to what is happening.

In all workplaces, people are embedded in networks of social relationships that they value and want to maintain. However, we find that if someone falls prey to the charms of a predator, usually powerful men like Kelly, they gradually lose perspective. Your desire to be “part of the team” comes to dominate other considerations, including standards of ethical behavior.

These facilitators often have no intention of doing bad things, but bad behavior is contagious and prejudices can blind them to their own increasingly bad behavior. They are also subject to situational and organizational pressures, such as settling for others or trying to please powerful figures.

Run interference

At Kelly’s trial, the prosecution presented 45 witnesses who provided evidence from managers, assistants, bodyguards, and other members of Kelly’s entourage that not only recruited and turned over underage girls and boys for Kelly to have sex with, but he also covered it up and fixed the singer’s problems when they occurred.

We’ve heard stories like Kelly’s over and over again: a charismatic leader use your star power and rewards, but also fear and intimidation to attract people from inside and outside your organization to a loyal network of followers. The followers do your leader’s orders, execute interference, and deflect criticism.

Perpetrators control and shape information and construct myths to enhance their experience and greatness. Members of the complicity network be a victim of such storytelling and myth building.

Our research, like the evidence at Kelly’s trial, shows that bad behavior metastasizes and spreads through the network of complicity. The prosecution provided evidence that Members of Kelly’s network also behaved illegally and unethically.. For example, a former tour manager, Demetrius Smith, testified who bribed an Illinois state employee to obtain a fake ID for underage R&B singer Aaliyah so Kelly could marry her.

Typically, perpetrator and network misbehavior creates a toxic organizational culture where abuse and unethical acts become the norm and everyone in the organization suffers, not just the victims.

Our research also shows that, in general, many people beyond the complicity network know about misbehavior but act like bystanders You are unwilling to report abuse or take steps to stop it. They form a network of complacency that, through their passivity, also allows the aggressor’s misconduct to continue.

The prosecution in Kelly’s case provided evidence that Kelly was enabled by a silent network.

Lifting the veil on abuse

The question that many people will have is how is it possible that the people in Kelly’s networks have allowed themselves to carry out activities so blatantly unethical, and now we know, criminals, for so long.

Our research shows that network members often suffer from “moral myopia“- a condition in which ethical issues are not clearly focused at the time of abuse – and” moral silence “- in which people do not raise or speak about ethical issues even among other members of the network.

They can also be governed by a self-interest bias. Certainly, it was in the self-interest of those around Kelly to build her brand, contribute to her success, earn her favor, and keep their jobs.

This self-interest bias can cloud moral views.

There is also a framing bias, in which events are portrayed and presented in a deceptive light. In the final arguments, the defense attorney framed Kelly’s behavior like that of “a playboy” and that he was only involved in “perverted sex”, that “is not a crime”.

If Kelly’s inner circle framed the star’s behavior in this way, it would seem less horrible and abusive to them, and it could be rationalized or dismissed.

If persistent unethical behavior is to be stopped, convicting the perpetrators alone is not enough. Our research suggests that complicity networks should also be addressed and facilitators’ behavior exposed and, where appropriate, punished. Organizational leaders can learn to identify not only the perpetrators, but also their networks of complicity. Meanwhile, members of the network themselves must demonstrate that it is in their best interest to expose perpetrators, such as Kelly, and they lift the veil on the great harm that abusive behavior causes.

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Peggy cunningham, Business Professor, Dalhousie University and Minette Drumwright, Associate Professor of Advertising and Public Relations, University of Texas at Austin

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