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After Decades of Described Abuse, Time Is Up for R. Kelly

Activists protest R. Kelly outside Sony headquarters in New York on Jan. 16. Two days later, the record label dropped the singer. (Richard Drew / AP)

Pop singer R. Kelly has been accused of calculated sexual abuse against African-American women and girls for decades while also living the life of a celebrity. A bombshell report in 2017 included details from former members of his inner circle who described his “cult,” in which he keeps women isolated from loved ones and forces them to ask permission to use the bathroom or eat.

A Cook County, Ill., grand jury on Friday indicted Kelly, charging him with 10 counts of aggravated sexual abuse. The charges involve incidents that took place from 1998 to 2010 with four people, three of whom were underage at the time, said Cook County State’s Attorney Kimberly Foxx, who had previously called on accusers to come forward. Kelly, who denies the allegations, turned himself in to Chicago police Friday night. Meanwhile, federal and local officials are investigating a range of other alleged crimes.

In multiple accounts, including the six-part Lifetime docu-series “Surviving R. Kelly,” witnesses describe a complex network of friends and employees who have enabled Kelly to carry out his abuse without consequences. Some accusers believe that police complicity and Kelly’s tampering with the legal system allowed him to continue his abuse for so long.

The American Civil Liberties Union’s maya finoh and jasmine Sankofa write that the Kelly case is an example of the way the legal system has failed black women, girls and nonbinary people: “Because black women and girls have historically been dehumanized, considered unrapeable, and left without legal recourse, they become easier targets for abuse and are more reluctant to come forward.”

“Surviving R. Kelly” executive producer dream hampton said she had seen victims criticized for not seeking help from the police:

“I really didn’t know until I started reading these tweets directed at me and some of the survivors that we had some fantasy about there being some vice squad dedicated to kind of busting down doors for black girls and to save black girls.

We also have testimony … about the Chicago Police Department giving R. Kelly a heads up when one of the parents, for instance, had convinced the police to do a wellness check on their daughter. At this point, she was over 18. They couldn’t really make a claim, but they begged the police to at least check on their daughter and make sure that she was OK.

Someone in the Chicago Police Department—likely someone who worked security on their off-duty hours—called him, and told him it was happening. And they got the studio ready and got the girls out of the studio before the police arrived.”

In 2002, Kelly was indicted on 21 child pornography charges related to a video that allegedly shows him abusing a minor. He was acquitted in 2008. Attorney Michael Avenatti, who represents six clients who accused Kelly, said he has evidence that Kelly’s team threatened and paid off witnesses to “rig” the child pornography trial. Avenatti also said he has video shot in approximately 1999 that shows Kelly sexually assaulting a 14-year-old girl.

“He should never walk free another day in his life as a result of the over two decades of abuse that he dished out and participated in time and time again,” Avenatti said Friday.

Tim Savage, who believes Kelly is holding his 23-year-old daughter, Joycelyn, against her will, said that he has been waiting for the arrest. “I’d like them to be ringing that bell every hour on the hour, so I know my daughter is safe, until they finally arrest him,” he said. “It’s long past time to get this done already, and I can’t understand, for the life of me, what the hell they’re waiting for.”

Lifetime’s hampton said that many people interviewed in her documentary wanted Kelly to get help and stop hurting people. “I think that social death is a real thing and a possible, just thing,” she said. “So my hope is that we truly turn away from him. My wish was that it would’ve been 15 years ago.”

As for Kelly, “he is extraordinarily disappointed and depressed,” his attorney, Steve Greenberg, told The Associated Press. “He is shell-shocked by this.”

Naomi LaChance
Blogger / Editorial Assistant
Naomi LaChance has written for local newspapers such as the Berkshire Eagle and the Poughkeepsie Journal as well as national outlets including NPR, the Intercept, TYT Network and the Huffington Post. Her…
Naomi LaChance

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