Trigger Warning: This article discusses rape, sexual assault, and acts of violence
By now, we all know that R. Kelly is nothing short of a predatory monster. It’s hard to imagine a punishment harsh enough to be worthy of his crimes. Still, he has the right to fair trials (plural, since he’s being charged with a lot of crimes), one of which is currently underway.
August 18 marked the first day of Kelly’s federal trial for sex trafficking and racketeering, charges that stem from an apparent sex cult. Over the course of his decades-long career, he routinely directed his staff to scout and recruit minors from events he was headlining, who he would ultimately end up sexually assaulting. He would go so far as to isolate some of his victims from their family and friends, practically enslaving them and controlling their every move.
The trial is far from over, and so far several victims have taken the stand to tell their stories, describing how Kelly abused them. Below is some of the testimony we’ve heard so far.
“He Choked Me Until I Passed Out”
On the first day of the trial, Jerhonda Johnson Pace took the stand and told the jury that, back in 2008, she had been an R. Kelly superfan and showed up at one of his court hearings in an act of support. A year later, in 2009 when she was only 16 years old, the pair began a relationship. Initially, she lied and told Kelly she was 19 years old, but she later confessed that she was only 16. After telling him the truth, Jerhonda said Kelly didn’t seem to care. She said on the stand,
“He told me to continue telling people I was 19 and act like I was 21.”
Their relationship quickly grew sexual in nature, and the singer took her virginity and told her that he would “train” her to sexually please him. After that first encounter, she said he made her a blue drink he called “Sex in the Kitchen.” She explained,
“It was delicious and then I started to feel a bit ill.”
Pace said this relationship lasted for six months, during which his abuse and control continuously intensified, taking her phone away from her, dictating what she could wear, limiting who she was allowed to see, and ultimately physically abusing her, choking her until she passed out before their relationship ended.
“He Knowingly Gave Me an STD”
Faith (not her real name) took the stand on August 31, telling the court that, in 2017, when she was 19 years old, she met Kelly at an event and, even though she wasn’t a fan of his music, the pair formed a relationship that “quickly turned sexual”.
It started when she and her sister were invited to a concert after-party by his staff. Then in the weeks following, he paid to fly her out to concerts across the country and demanded sex from her at each stop. As it turned out, the singer knowingly had a sexually transmitted disease that he failed to disclose to Faith. He didn’t wear protection, thus passing it on to her without her knowledge.
“He Forced Me to Have Sex With Another Man As a Punishment”
Jane Doe #5 began a five-year relationship with Kelly when she was only 17 years old. Throughout that time, he told her he’d help her break into the music industry.
Like Faith, Jane was infected with a sexually transmitted disease that the singer failed to disclose to her. She also spoke in-depth about the control Kelly had over her during their relationship, even confessing the singer forced her to have an abortion in 2017.
Jane also told the court that Kelly had a lot of rules for her and his other live-in girlfriends during her time in the mansion. At one point, after breaking one of the rules, Jane said she was forced to have sex with a man Kelly called “Nephew” as a punishment. She said,
“He had been grooming ‘Nephew’ since he was young, like me.”
When the docuseries Surviving R. Kelly was released, Jane said she and the other girls were not allowed to watch it. Instead, they were forced to change the channel when it came on and were told everything in the series was false. Then, he asked them if they’d vouch for him publicly. She recalled,
“He said if there was a time to stand up and speak publicly, would we? And we said, ‘yes.'”
Shortly after its airing, she and another one of Kelly’s girlfriends sat down for an interview with Gayle King to discuss their reactions to the series. Throughout the interview, she said he would be on the sides, coughing as a signal to remind them to stay on script. She said,
“He was letting us know he was in the room with us.”
According to Jane, it wasn’t until January of 2020 that she stopped communicating with Kelly when she realized just how serious everything was. At trial, when she was asked what steps the singer had taken over the course of their five-year relationship to help her music career, she simply said, “none”.
“He Filmed Himself Raping Me”
Louis (not his real name) testified on August 30 and is the first male victim to come forward. He said he was working at a McDonald’s in Chicago in 2006 when Kelly’s car drove through. The singer had spotted one of Louis’ female coworkers and asked him to give her his number. After he agreed, Kelly slipped him his number as well. Louis was trying to break into the music industry, so when his mom called the number later and Kelly invited them to a party at his mansion, he was thrilled.
Louis attended the party with his parents and then went to the mansion alone in the days following where he rapped over a demo tape for Kelly, treating the moment almost like an audition. The singer was initially impressed and let Louis use his recording studio the next day. But when he played his newly recorded song for the artist, Kelly was unimpressed and the two went their separate ways.
Eventually, their paths crossed again when Louis attended a basketball game Kelly was playing in. The singer invited Louis back to his mansion again, but this time, Kelly asked him what he was “willing to do” to get into the music industry. Louis offered to carry Kelly’s bags and other such menial tasks. However, Louis said Kelly just kept saying “no” and ultimately asked him if he had any fantasies. Louis said on the stand,
“I said, I got fantasies. I told him I had fantasies of two or three girls at one time. He said, ‘You ever had a fantasy about a man?’ I said no. He crawled down on his knees and proceeded to give me oral sex. I said I didn’t like it, I wasn’t into it. He just told me, ‘Keep it between me and him. We’re family now. We’re brothers.’”
Louis was 17 years old at the time.
After this first encounter, their relationship continued. Kelly instructed Louis to refer to him as “Daddy,” filmed some of their sexual acts, and asked him to bring some of his underage friends to the mansion (who he also ended up assaulting). He even instructed Louis to engage in sexual acts with a stranger.
“He had come into the [garage], and he snapped his fingers two times, and a young lady crawled out from under the ring.”
The woman was instructed to perform oral sex on him, which she did.
Louis was so dedicated to Kelly that he even tried to pay off a witness at one of Kelly’s prior trials to protect him (he says Kelly had no knowledge of the situation). All in all, Louis did all of this in hopes to get into the music industry, but when he was asked what exactly Kelly did to help him start his career, he answered, “nothing.”
“He Raped Me After a Concert”
Another victim, Addie (not her real name) took the stand on August 30, telling the court that in 1994, when she was only 17 years old, she and a friend were invited to a concert after-party backstage.
Addie told the court,
“When the concert ended, a couple of minutes after, there were some gentlemen who approached me and my best friend, asking if we’d like to get an autograph. They asked if me and my best friend wanted to go and get autographs from Kelly.”
Addie said she assumed she wouldn’t be allowed to go backstage since she wasn’t 18 years old, but said the men never asked her age. Once she got backstage, she said,
“I told [Kelly] I was an aspiring artist as well. He also wrote down a [hotel] room number, suggesting to come by for an audition. I told him I wasn’t sure I was even allowed to be in the room, because I was 17 years old. He didn’t respond about my age.”
Once Addie and her friend were at the hotel, she said Kelly “wanted to play a game” to see who was a better kisser, her or her friend. At first, the girls kissed back, but she said she started to feel “overwhelmed.” She said,
“He started getting a little more aggressive and basically kind of moved toward the back of the room.”
He held her wrists and unzipped her pants and proceeded to rape her without a condom.
In her testimony, Addie said,
“I was in complete shock. I was just very introverted and shy and didn’t know what to say at all. I just basically went blank.”
After the rape, Addie and her friend ran out of the room, terrified. Her friend wanted to call the police and press charges but Addie was too afraid.
“At the time, I was very scared … I didn’t want to get victim-shamed.”
It’s worth noting that this specific event took place only a few days after Kelly married Aaliyah, who was only 15 years old at the time.
“The Girls Needed Permission to Leave Their Rooms”
Anthony is one of many of Kelly’s former employees to take the stand during his trial. During his testimony, he described the strangeness of Kelly’s mansion. He said,
“It was almost like the Twilight Zone when you went into the gate like you’re in this different world that was just a strange place”
He also spoke to some of the strict rules Kelly had in place for his live-in girlfriends. He explained that he often worked the phone, and would have people inside the mansion calling, requesting permission to move into different rooms of the house.
“They weren’t supposed to be wandering around. They had to get permission to do most things. They’d have to call either down to the studio or get ahold of Rob if they wanted anything, like food or things like that.”
Anthony also testified that he saw several cameras throughout the home, backing up multiple claims by victims that Kelly recorded them having sex.
Each of these stories is horrific on its own, and it’s heartbreaking to know that this only scratches the surface of the damage Kelly and his enablers have done to many, many more victims. Most of the people he’s assaulted over the years won’t ever take the stand, but based on these testimonies alone, it’s not hard to imagine the similar hell he likely put them through.
Kelly’s trial is just beginning and is expected to last well into September, possibly beyond. In the meantime, there’s some comfort in knowing he’s locked in prison and, if somehow he manages to escape his trial, he has charges against him in at least two other states that he can look forward to. But, based on the stories of these brave victims, it’s unlikely Kelly will be living outside of prison for a very long time.