R. Kelly Is an Abuser but We Are All Guilty
His ex-wife put it best when she said that R. Kelly can go straight to hell. It now looks as if authorities in Georgia are on a path to help him get there, but that won’t relieve the sense of guilt plaguing the music industry and an entire generation of fans who now have to live with the unforgivable truth: we all enabled his behavior and dozens of young black girls suffered because we chose to turn our heads.
When the Lifetime docuseries “Surviving R. Kelly” aired on Jan. 3, the internet broke into two camps: shock and shame, with viewers over the age of 30 squarely falling into the latter. The six episodes focused on decades of abuse allegations against the former “King of R&B” and although some of the salacious details presented were new to the general public, the bulk of his behavior was always hidden in plain sight, dangled in front of fans as they lined up to hand over their hard-earned cash for a little “Bump and Grind.”
When the truth isn’t convenient, people tend to overlook the obvious. The phenomenon is just as prevalent during the #MeToo era as it was during the OJ Simpson trials, but makers of the recent Lifetime series are hoping to weigh on the public conscience for support and encourage other victims to come forward so that the man once revered for his talents can finally be held accountable for his sins.
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If you haven’t seen the show, this is the basic premise: Robert Kelly has used his fame to lure women of color into abusive sexual relationships, where several victims claim they were intimidated, beaten, starved and forced to do whatever “daddy” wanted or suffer the consequences. Many of the victims were underage girls enticed by his promise to mentor their music careers.
One woman pounded her foot on the floor inside the home where she and other women were once held in separate rooms – she was illustrating how she would ask “permission” to leave her room. She would bang on the upstairs wooden flooring until he responded from below – if he didn’t respond, she was not allowed to leave. There were times she desperately pounded on the floor for hours.
Like his home, his studio was fitted with individual rooms where young girls were kept and not allowed to speak to anyone but him. The sister of one victim claimed she saw buckets in the corners of each room that looked and smelled like they were being used as toilets. People from the music industry thought the situation was bizarre, but like the rest of us…turned their heads. After all, R. Kelly was one of the world’s most famous and talented musicians at the time – the truth was inconvenient.
The truth was so inconvenient to fans and executives that they, that we, were all willing to dismiss the mountain of accusations and charges stemming over the course of his entire career. Allegations of his criminal behavior go back as far as 1994, as The Cut outlines chronologically:
- Aug. 31, 1994: 27-year-old Kelly marries 15-year-old Aaliyah
While Aaliyah’s age is listed as 18 on the falsified marriage certificate, she is underage when she secretly marries the R&B singer at a Sheraton Gateway Suites in Chicago. Neither person ever admits to being married, and just months after the ceremony, the marriage is annulled.
- December 2000: The Chicago Sun-Times publishes first major investigation into Kelly’s alleged sex crimes
In December 1996, Kelly is sued by an aspiring singer named Tiffany Hawkins, who alleges that he “engaged in inappropriate sexual conduct” with her when she was 15 and he was 24. The R&B singer claims that Hawkins was spreading “false allegations,” after which he countersues her, but he later settles the initial lawsuit for an undisclosed amount of money. This investigation is first reported by Jim DeRogatis, who has doggedly investigated Kelly’s alleged behavior for decades.
- January 2001: DeRogatis receives first Kelly sex tape from an anonymous source
Because editors at the Sun-Times worry that the woman in the video could be underage, they turn the tape over to Chicago police. DeRogatis later receives another sex tape of the singer having sex with a girl who is alleged to be 14, after which Kelly is indicted on multiple child-pornography charges. In 2008, Kelly is found not guilty on all counts.
- August 2001: Tracy Sampson sues Kelly for allegedly having sex with her when she was 17
In the lawsuit, obtained by Chicago public radio station WBEZ, the woman claims, “I was coerced into receiving oral sex from a girl I did not want to have sex with. I was often treated as his personal sex object and cast aside. He would tell me to come to his studio and have sex with him, then tell me to go. He often tried to control every aspect of my life including who I would see and where I would go.” Kelly reached an undisclosed deal with Sampson in March 2002.
- April 29, 2002: Patrice Jones sues Kelly
Jones, who says she first had sex with Kelly when she was 16, claims he also coerced her into having an abortion. While MTV reports that Kelly’s lawyers planned to fight this case in court, the singer later settles out of court.
- May 24, 2002: Montina Woods Sues Kelly
The third lawsuit comes from Woods, an adult dancer who claims that Kelly taped her during sex without her consent. Kelly again settles for an undisclosed amount, and Woods signs a nondisclosure agreement.
- July 17, 2017: BuzzFeed publishes explosive investigation about Kelly’s alleged sex cult
In a horrifying BuzzFeed report from DeRogatis, the reporter who broke the story on R. Kelly’s alleged sexual abuse of underage women nearly 20 years earlier, the singer is accused of running a sex cult that preys on young black women. The investigation focuses on two women who are allegedly being held at Kelly’s rental properties — a 19-year-old from Georgia and an 18-year-old from Florida who was 17 when she met Kelly — whom he allegedly submits to emotional abuse. According to the report, this includes “dictating what they eat, how they dress, when they bathe, when they sleep, and how they engage in sexual encounters that he records.”
- In a later report on Jezebel from reporter Anna Merlan, a woman who was once in Kelly’s inner circle describes seeing the sex cult as “witnessing Stockholm syndrome.” Another woman, Jerhonda Pace, breaks her NDA to speak about having sex with Kelly while she was underage, following DeRogatis’s reports.
- October 23, 2017: Kitti Jones speaks out about alleged abuse
In a report for Rolling Stone, Kitti Jones details the alleged physical and emotional abuse she suffered while they were in a relationship together. According to the report, Kelly starved her, coerced her into sexual encounters with women, physically abused her, and constantly monitored her.
- April 16, 2018: Woman accuses Kelly of intentionally giving her an STD
In a criminal complaint filed April 9, an anonymous woman and her lawyer told Dallas police that the accuser was “victim of several forms of criminal misconduct by Kelly, including, but not limited to, unlawful restraint, furnishing alcohol and illegal drugs to a minor, and aggravated assault.” The woman reportedly had a relationship with Kelly when she was 19, when she was allegedly being trained to be in his cult.
As a result of the series and public backlash, detectives in Georgia have renewed interest in claims that women are still being held against their will to serve an aging, narcissistic, abusive star. They are asking for victims to come forward and the public for any information that may help their investigation. At the moment, at least one woman, Joycelyn Savage, is still hidden within R. Kelly’s world, kept from seeing or speaking with her parents.
Isolation from family and friends is key to the cult-like environment Kelly is accused of creating – the other factor in his successful career as an abuser is the public’s lack of attention and empathy. We were presented with claims spanning nearly 30 years, and we did nothing. We all knew about the sex tape with a minor, and we did nothing. He literally wrote a song titled “I Admit,” and yet, we still did nothing. He has proven himself as the “Pied Piper” he claimed to be, not just luring in women of color but his entire fan base. He flaunted his behavior and fans lapped it up. But it is time to face reality and our complicit reactions – it’s time to #MuteRKelly for good and stand up for those who are still not strong enough to stand up for themselves. It is time to hold him accountable…and to apologize to the women of color that we as a society have dismissed as victims.
If you haven’t watched the series, you should. If it makes you uncomfortable, good. Time’s up for R. Kelly and time’s up for our neglect. We can all do better and we damn well better start now.