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What’s Going on with R. Kelly? A Guide

Elika Roohi

R&B artist R. Kelly was arrested in Chicago recently. The arrest followed the release of Surviving R. Kelly, a series on Lifetime, which brought to light allegations of sexual abuse of underage women by the singer. Accusations against the star have been ongoing for decades—here’s everything you need to know about what’s happened and why it took so long to get here.

The early years

Marriage to Aaliyah

When Kelly released his debut album, Born into the 90’s, in 1992, keen listeners noticed lyrics that said, “Little cute Aaliyah’s got it.” This was assumed to be a reference to Aaliyah Haughton, who at the time was 13 years old.

Aaliyah was a protégé of Kelly’s, and he reportedly married her in 1994, when she was 15 and he was 27. Vibe magazine published a copy of what they reported was the couple’s marriage license in August 1994, which listed Haughton’s age as 18. Kelly, for his part, always publicly insisted that the wedding never happened.

The marriage was annulled the following year when Aaliyah’s family became aware of it. Six years later in 2001, Aaliyah died in a plane crash at age 22.

First reports of abuse

In 2000, the Chicago Sun-Times published a report of Kelly having sexual relationships with girls as young as 15. This was the first story about the singer from reporter Jim Derogatis, who has spent his career from that point forward investigating Kelly and attempting to bring him to justice.

According to the story, Chicago police had twice investigated allegations that Kelly was having sex with an underage girl but dropped the investigations because she would not cooperate.

This was indicative of a pattern to come. In 2001 and 2002, Kelly faced a litany of charges that seemed to have no consequences. Tracy Sampson, an aspiring rapper and former intern at Epic Records, filed a lawsuit against Kelly, claiming that he initiated a sexual relationship with her when she was 17. The case was settled out of court for an undisclosed sum.

He was then sued by Patrice Jones, who alleged she was 16 when she began a sexual relationship with Kelly. She also accused Kelly of pressuring her into terminating a pregnancy. He was also sued by Tina Woods, who alleged he secretly taped their sexual encounter, and that the tape was sold. Both cases were settled out of court.

In June 2002, Kelly was indicted on 21 charges related to child pornography. He was arrested in Florida and later released on bail. After years of delays, the artist finally went to court in 2008 to face the charges of child pornography, by which point had been reduced from 21 to 14 counts. He was found not guilty on all counts.

That BuzzFeed article

In the intervening decade, Kelly’s alleged indiscretions mainly stayed out of the news. However, an explosive article published by BuzzFeed in July 2017 drew all allegations against Kelly to light once again. The story accuses the singer of holding a group of adult women against their will in a sex cult.

The BuzzFeed story seemed to burst the dam that was holding back accusations against Kelly. Afterwards, one woman broke a nondisclosure agreement to say that she began a sexual relationship with Kelly when she was 16. Rolling Stones published an interview with a woman who supported all the claims made in the BuzzFeed piece.

The fallout from Surviving R. Kelly

Despite all the accusations against the singer, nothing has yet been proven with regard to allegations of sexual abuse of underage girls. Kelly has publicly denied everything and, when he has been brought to court, has settled all cases.

In January 2019, the documentary Surviving R. Kelly premiered to big ratings, which renewed calls for the singer to be investigated. In February, it came to light that prosecutors investigating Kelly are looking into a newly surfaced video that appears to show the music star having sex with a young woman.

A grand jury in Cook County, Illinois, indicted Kelly on 10 counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse—a Class 2 felony—involving four alleged victims. The indictment accuses Kelly of sexual acts with three children older than 13 but younger than 17. There was no age range listed for one of the alleged victims.

Following these charges, he was arrested on 22 February and released several days later on bail. Kelly maintains his innocence, pleading not guilty to all charges and calling the charges lies.

That wild interview

Kelly went on CBS News for an interview with Gayle King earlier this week. The artist was questioned by King about the allegations of sexual assault for more than an hour; however, a single second, captured in a dramatic photograph caught the attention of many.

The moment from the interview sparked many reactions, from those who commended King for her composure during the moment to those who said it speaks to the universal experience of black women in America to those who suggested that it was nothing new for people to feel intimidated by emotional displays by black people.

The same day that the interview aired, Kelly was arrested (again) for failing to pay $161,000 in back child support. Failure to pay child support in any amount over $20,000 is a felony under Illinois law.

What took so long?

With accusations of sexual misconduct against R. Kelly dating backing to the early 1990s, many are wondering what’s taken so long?

The artist has been the subject of investigations and allegations for nearly three decades; however, he’s managed to evade consequences by settling cases out of court, winning over a jury and women deciding not to press charges. In addition to this, things seem to have just fallen through the cracks—for instance, the six-year gap in between the charges of child pornography and it being brought to court.

“For so long, people have wanted something to happen, anything to happen,” Kenyette Tisha Barnes, the co-founder of #MuteRKelly, a campaign to encourage streaming services and radio stations to stop playing Kelly’s music, said to The New Yorker. “But, for some reason, it hasn’t. #MuteRKelly is attempting to trust the process, understanding that within that process are systems and cogs that move at a turtle’s pace. Yet it’s time for the collective D.A.s and federal prosecutors to make an indictment.”

See also: Harvard Dean Under Fire for Representing Harvey Weinstein

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