tracking R. Kelly’s career of alleged sexual misconduct

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A disturbing Buzzfeed News story claiming R. Kelly lures women into “cult”-like sexual relationships, is the latest entry in the star’s timeline of lawsuits, public controversies and reports of illicit behaviour. 

Kelly is keeping six women aged 18 to 31 in various properties in Chicago and Georgia, where he physically abuses them and secludes them from their families, the website published on Monday.

The story alleged Kelly “controls every aspect of their lives: dictating what they eat, how they dress, when they bathe, when they sleep, and how they engage in sexual encounters that he records” and included testimonies from three women who had previously lived with Kelly.

Describing his allegedly controlling behaviour, one of the women claimed “Kelly held her against a tree and slapped her outside of a Subway sandwich shop in spring 2013 because she had been too friendly with the male cashier there”.

In a statement to USA Today, the Ignition (Remix) singer “unequivocally denied” the allegations via his lawyer Linda Mensch.

Joycelyn Savage, a 21-year-old woman who lives with Kelly, spoke to TMZ after the Buzzfeed story was published, saying she was “totally fine”. However the aspiring singer, whose parents held a press conference saying she was suffering from Stockholm Syndrome and begging for her return on Monday, declined to answer questions on where she was located, or if she was allowed to leave the house without Kelly’s permission. 

The story came from Jim DeRogatis, a freelance journalist who has reported on the cases against the singer for decades, stretching back to his initial bombshell report in the Chicago Sun-Times in 2000.

The R&B singer has a decades-long history of alleged sexual misconduct, settling numerous lawsuits out of court and was acquitted from a a 2002 child pornography case, stemming from an anonymous sex tape. He continues to be embraced by some fans, critics and the music industry, and save for a 1996 battery charge, he has never been found guilty of any charges related to sexual misconduct in a court of law.

This “blind eye turned” was criticised by feminist writer Roxane Gay on Twitter on Monday. 

When did R. Kelly’s troubles start?

On August 31, 1994, R. Kelly, then 27, married the up and coming R&B singer Aaliyah, who was 15 years old at the time, in Rosemont, Illinois. A falsified Cook County marriage certificate listed her age as 18, as DeRogatis later reported in the Sun-Times. Illinois prohibits adult men from having sex with girls under 17.

The marriage was annulled soon after and records were sealed.

The couple’s short-lived marriage grabbed headlines at the time, but the incident didn’t register as a major scandal for Kelly, whose career took off in the years following the annulment with three commercially-successful albums: 1995’s R. Kelly, 1998’s R and 2000’s TP2.com. He won three Grammys in 1998 for his chart-topping single I Believe I Can Fly.

When did his misdeeds first become public?

Kelly’s history of legal battles didn’t make headlines until 2000, when a Sun-Times article co-authored by DeRogatis detailed a disturbing lawsuit one women brought against the singer.

According to the article, Tiffany Hawkins, an aspiring singer from Kelly’s native Chicago, sued him in 1996 for $US10 million in damages. Hawkins alleged she “suffered personal injuries and severe emotional harm because she had sex with the singer and he encouraged her to participate in group sex with him and other underage girls”, with their relations beginning in 1991, when she was 15. The lawsuit was settled in 1998.

A second Chicago woman who was named in the lawsuit described Kelly’s “sickness” in the Sun-Times article, claiming she was involved in a threesome when she was 16 years old with Kelly and Hawkins.

Another woman in Los Angeles also told the Sun-Times Kelly began seducing her in 1999 at the age of 17, after they met on the set of his video for If I Could Turn Back the Hands of Time. “I think that he really does have some kind of sexual problem,” she said.

Over the next two years, Kelly settled three more cases out of court: Tracy Sampson, a former Epic Records intern who filed a civil suit against Kelly claiming he inducted her “into an indecent sexual relationship” at age 17; Patrice Jones, who claimed Kelly coerced her into a sexual relationship, impregnated her and forced her to get an abortion; and Montina Woods, who sued Kelly claiming he secretly videotaped her during a sexual encounter in his recording studio.

In response to the cases, Kelly’s attorney Gerry Margolis claimed the singer is innocent and accused Susan E. Loggans, the lawyer who represented Hawkins and Sampson, of making a career of filing false claims against him. “The cash machine is closed,” he said following Jones’ suit. “R. Kelly is no angel, but he is no monster, either. This latest suit is a collection of half-truths, distortions, and outright lies that we intend to fight and beat.”

What happened with the tape?

In 2002, Chicago police opened an investigation into Kelly after a videotape was anonymously sent to the Sun-Times, allegedly showing him having sex with an underage girl. The girl in the video was identified to the Sun-Times by her aunt, who said that her niece would have been 14 in the tape.

Shortly after, Kelly was indicted on 21 counts of child pornography, corresponding to various acts shown in the tape. Upon his arrest at his vacation home in Florida, police would find additional explicit footage of Kelly, prompting 12 additional counts of child pornography that would later be dropped due to a lack of probable cause for the search warrants. Kelly pled not guilty on all counts.

Kelly would not see trial for another six years, a stretch that saw his career reach new heights. He released multiple albums including Chocolate Factory, which produced the hits Snake, Step in the Name of Love and Ignition (Remix); and TP.3: Reloaded, which included the first chapters of his “hip-hopera” Trapped in the Closet.

Kelly’s trial began in 2008, and took only a few hours of deliberation for the jury to clear him of all charges. Thugh his spokesperson, Kelly thanked “(his fans) who stuck by him and supported him with such love… And most of all, he wants to thank God for giving him the strength to get through this.”

“If we do anything with this prosecution, it shows the world how difficult this crime is to prosecute,” Shauna Boliker, the lead prosecutor on the case, told the Sun-Times.

Did the trial hurt Kelly’s career?

Save for a 2013 interview with DeRogatis, which saw Kelly’s alleged misdeeds briefly returning to the headlines, the R&B singer has avoided controversy in recent years and continues to enjoy a successful music career, with Billboard naming Kelly the No. 1 R&B artist of the last 25 years in 2011.

He performed at the World Cup in 2010 and the official Grammys gala in 2011, and headlined the Coachella, Bonnaroo and Pitchfork Music festivals in 2013. His controversial autobiography Soulacoaster: The Diary of Me was published in 2012, with US cable television station IFC debuting its Trapped in the Closet rap opera TV movie later that year.

What happens now?

Buzzfeed’s new report won’t necessarily result in new legal action against Kelly. All of the women cited in the story are of legal age (17 in Illinois and 16 in Georgia), and welfare checks by police in both Illinois and Georgia in the past year didn’t lead to charges. In January, when contacted by police, one of the women associated with Kelly told authorities she was “fine and did not want to be bothered”.

with USA Today

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