*Trigger Warning: Contains discussions about child sexual abuse, violence & racketeering*
This week on the podcast we discuss American music artist R. Kelly. The 54 year old artist broke into the music scene as a teenager, has made millions through his music career, selling over 75 million records and winning three Grammy awards.
Kelly was also widely known as ‘the pied piper of RnB’, following nearly 30 years of ongoing sexual abuse allegations against him. It is shocking to note how long he, a man of great power and fame was able to continue to abuse young women in his position before his September 2021 prosecution.
Channel 4 and Netflix released a documentary titled ‘Surviving R. Kelly’ in 2019 which interviewed a number of his alleged survivors. The documentary over 6 hours long, showed major patterns that these girls were minors ranging from between 12-16 years old. They would be asked to appear in music videos or join him and his team at young hang outs such as McDonalds or on his tour bus. It was alleged that R. Kelly would target very young girls especially those with aspirations to be singers.
Concerningly, the documentary noted that many of R. Kelly’s staff were aware and facilitated him meeting such young women. A former tour manager for Kelly testified during the New York trial how he had bribed a government worker on Kelly’s behalf, to get the singer Aaliyah a fake ID so that Kelly could marry her when she was just 15 years old in 1994. Kelly was then 27 years old. The marriage was annulled a year later. During rumours of a relationship, journalists and presenters would ask about the relationship status but both denied they were in a relationship. This was just the beginning of abuse rumours to circulate.
In 1996, Kelly was sued for personal injury and emotional distress by an individual who claimed to be 15 at the time they began to have sexual intercourse.
In 2001, Kelly was sued by his intern and alleged she was used as his personal sex doll.
In the early 2000’s a sex tape was leaked perpetrating to show R Kelly performing sexual acts on a minor. This video then was circulated widely. Jokes were made in the media; this was turned into cartoons and people widely discussed this, it would seem without the seriousness of what was actually displayed in the tape by someone in a great deal of power. He remained a music star with deals and a record label behind him. He performs at the Superbowl in 2001.
In 2002, two further court cases commenced against Kelly for impregnating a minor and videotaping another without consent.
Also in 2002, Kelly was charged with 21 counts of making child pornography with one girl. It took 6 years to get to trial. By the time the case got to trial the alleged victim denied it was her in the videos. The aunt of the girl who originally recognised and identified her stated in the Surviving R Kelly documentary how she was offered a 6 figure salary to discuss this with Kelly’s team. The trial fell apart and Kelly was acquitted.
Between 2002 and 2004 Kelly was charged with a further 12 counts of making child pornography in Florida, where he was arrested at his holiday home.
At the same time of such allegations, R. Kelly hit the big time. Between 2005 and 2012 he wrote the ‘Trapped in the Closet’ album, a tale of sex and lies.
In the years that followed many rumours circulated that Kelly had begun a sex cult and had trapped women in his property without phones or the ability to leave dictating “what they eat, how they dress, when they bathe, when they sleep and how they engage in sexual encounters that he records”.
In 2018, one of the survivors broke the non-disclosure agreement to confirm she had sex with Kelly when she was underage.
In 2019, Kelly was sued by a former partner for intentionally infecting her with an STI.
In the 2019 documentary one of his survivors’ documents how she was videoed by R. Kelly without consent and how she was made by him to perform sex acts on another survivor who she later found out was underage. A number of women documented how they were filmed without consent and made to perform sex acts without consent.
Of focus in the documentary was his wife Andrea Lee who was married to Kelly between 1996 and 2009. She bravely discloses how over the years, Kelly became controlling of every aspect of her life whilst also hiding the abuse he was conducting against other young women. Only on his arrest did she realise the control and abuse she had suffered for years before.
Two weeks after the documentary ‘Surviving R. Kelly’ was broadcast in 2019, Kelly was dropped by his record company. Planned concerts in the US and New Zealand were cancelled.
Later in 2019, Kelly was charged with recruiting and transporting underage girls over state lines for illegal sexual purposes, including the production of child pornography, as well as conspiracy to obstruct justice by destroying evidence and bribing or threatening witnesses.
It is in 2019, after the documentary is released that more survivors come forward to disclose the abuse they suffered by Kelly over the previous three decades.
In 2020, there were allegations of victim tampering, with large bribes and threats to distribute sexually explicit photographs whilst awaiting trial in New York.
In similar circumstances to other high profile abusers in positions of power, it is reported there were numerous compensation payments and non-disclosure agreements entered into but Kelly largely continued with similar behaviour.
Federal prosecutors charged Kelly in July 2019 with child pornography and obstruction charges, with that trial delayed due to the pandemic and to allow the New York case to proceed.
Jurors in a New York federal court heard from multiple witnesses over the weeks-long trial of behaviour by the singer, with a common theme of Kelly using his fame and power to subject his victims to sexual and physical abuse. He was found guilty of racketeering, sexual exploitation of a child and kidnap. Kelly faces a mandatory minimum and up to life in prison, according to a Department of Justice statement. Kelly’s sentencing hearing is set forMay 4th, 2022.
This however is not the end, as Kelly has yet to be tried for crimes in the three other jurisdictions where he faces prosecution.
It is also likely that other survivors may now find the strength to come forward.
One of the most shocking things is how long rumours circulated, for almost 30 years before Kelly was convicted.
It is another stark reminder that people in positions of power, impressionable to young individuals, use such power to abuse their position. Sadly this case also identifies how many others who worked or were in Kelly’s company were aware of the abuse being perpetrated.
Alan Collins is one of the best known and most experienced solicitors in the field of child abuse litigation and has acted in many high profile cases, including the Jimmy Savile and Haut de la Garenne abuse scandals. Alan has represented interested parties before public inquiries including the Independent Jersey Care Inquiry, and IICSA (Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse).
Internationally, Alan works in Australia, South East Asia, Uganda, Kenya, and California representing clients in high profile sexual abuse cases. Alan also spoke at the Third Regional Workshop on Justice for Children in East Asia and the Pacific in Bangkok hosted by Unicef and HCCH (Hague Conference on Private International Law).
Disclaimer: The information on the Hugh James website is for general information only and reflects the position at the date of publication. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be treated as such. If you would like to ensure the commentary reflects current legislation, case law or best practice, please contact the blog author.
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