Surviving R. Kelly: Episode 4

[Content Note: Child Sexual Assault]

Surviving R. Kelly. Episode 4: The People vs. R. Kelly

Here we go on Episode 4. Take a moment to mute this hashtag in your settings if you need to. Big trigger warning for child sexual assault, R. Kelly, the works. I've been dreading all day coming home to watch this. It's not easy, but I think it's important. These survivors were so brave to come out here and tell their truth. They deserve to be witnessed.

The screen text opens with the "R. Kelly has denied" boiler plate and honestly if that was deliberate shade on the part of the documentary folks then well done because at this stage it provokes an actual visceral rage response. Like, "Oh, he denies the stuff that was on tape? The stuff that went on in an illegal marriage that was annulled? The stuff alleged in the zillions of lawsuits he settled? SURE, WHY NOT, WHAT EVER ARE WORDS."

It's the flippancy that angers me most, I think. "Oh, yeah, I deny everything or whatever." Because he doesn't need to be plausible or specific. No one has ever held him accountable. He thinks he's untouchable, I reckon. A flat denial isn't PLAUSIBLE. He could at least make up some PLAUSIBLE lies. But the choice not to bother is part of that same control game we talked about: the more his victims know that the world knows, the more helpless they feel to get any help. If the world doesn't know, then you might think "I just need to tell someone and they'll help me!" If the world DOES know and ISN'T helping you, what is left except defeat and depression?

There's a radio announcement stating they are choosing to end playing all of Kelly's songs, and it's so sad that I'm IMPRESSED that they actually took that stand.

Instead of statutory rape, they charge him with child pornography; same penalties but easier to prove without a known date of filming. (Also, I'm assuming they didn't have a cooperating witness? Since the girl's family denied it was her?) (I don't know yet, though.) (Also, if she wasn't cooperating, that is HER RIGHT and we're NOT going to shame rape survivors for being unable to re-live hell on demand.) (But I don't know those details, stay tuned.)

Women are showing up for him, cheering him.

Holy shit. Immediately after posting bail, he goes to a kindergarten sing-along. "After R. Kelly pleads not guilty, he goes straight to a South Side church, he goes straight to an event, where he is admired by young children. Here he is being prosecuted for allegedly having sex with an underage girl, and ministers, civil rights leaders in the city of Chicago wanted to play up the side of him that did the 'I Believe I Can Fly'." These men just threw that poor girl under the bus. Is there any wonder why her family would deny it was her when the story broke? Everyone is determined that he be the hero and she be a slut who deceived him or something else that makes it magically not his fault.

I'm struggling to follow this. A year later, he's arrested on new, additional child porn charges... what?? Why didn't they subpoena his home(s) and find all the tapes? There were bunches of them! I know life isn't like Law & Order, but were they even trying? Oh, okay, they DID find some photos in his Florida home in the initial 2002 arrest. (Why did we jump forward to the 2003 arrest? I'm not sure; it's been a long day for me.) Now the screen says March 2004. I'm going to have to rewind, hang on, I'm so sorry.


June 5, 2002. He pleads not guilty and posts bail. Screen text: "Miami. January 23, 2003." He's arrested again on additional porn charges. Screen text: "During his initial arrest at his Florida home in 2002, police found photographs of R. Kelly allegedly having sex with an underage girl." Ohhhh, okay, so I think the photos were FOUND in 2002, but they took a few months to process all the material? That would probably be clearer to people who aren't ill at the moment. I apologize, ya'll.

"March 17, 2004." A Florida judge concluded that police didn't have appropriate reason to search the area where they found the camera and photos, so he tossed the evidence. Watching lots of L&Or episodes causes me to assume they didn't get their warrants in order.

Over this period of 1-2 years (no speedy trial? did the defendant keep asking for more time to tour or something?) R. Kelly keeps dropping new hits. "The albums were still selling because the community was supporting him." God.

It really does not feel like my lane as a white person to criticize the Black community for how they responded to all this, because white people have our own record of supporting our own predators. I have to think that everything might have been different if (a) the internet, rather than having to go out and BUY a TAPE in order to see it really was him and (b) had white people not spent our entire history framing innocent Black men. Having said that, I keep coming back to Mikki Kendall saying that everyone knew and no one cared because it was happening to Black girls. Our culture failed them in the worst possible way. Also, hey, while we're talking about people to blame, it sounds like the authorities--all of which have been white so far that I've seen--utterly fucked up how to properly put together a case, so way to go, police-guys.

"Step in the Name of Love" was released as a beautiful love ballad and that gave him "another layer of covering", Tarana Burke points out. ...I notice that the hits he's dropping whilst on bail aren't raunchy raunch-fests about sexing young girls, gee, I wonder why.

Oh no. "Andrea Kelly's mother called me. She was concerned about not hearing from her daughter." [TW: self-harm] Oh god. She was willing to commit suicide, but instead went to the national domestic violence website. On a list of 17 questions, only 2 questions were things Robert hadn't done to her. I'm crying again, this is just. Hang on. I'm sorry.

Adewale: "We often look at women and we blame them. 'All you have to do is leave.' But it's not that simple." He talks about psychological blocks, but I keep thinking about those security guards at the door who won't talk to Andrea. Psychological blocks are a thing! But so are men with muscles and weapons and things.

She ran in the middle of the night with $2,500 in a duffel bag and her three babies. Andrea: "I would rather die knowing that I tried to get away from him, than to die right there in that house."

Andrea: "Robert, you can deny all that you want to. For that, you can go to hell." I love her so much.

Sparkle: "I can't remember any artists speaking out against Robert regarding this tape. It made me feel I didn't want to be a part of this industry that I had grown to love." AND THIS RIGHT HERE. Everyone is so anxious about not losing R. Kelly's genius, but how many people did he drive away? How many geniuses did we miss out on? They talk about how many execs were willing to overlook a few rapes because he was generating so much money for basically everyone in the business.

"And so then he does this weird 'Trapped in the Closet' stuff." Which admittedly I know almost nothing about. It's an episodic series of songs which form chapters and are up to 33 chapters so far so-- oh god are we really building to society letting him get away with rape because we want resolution to our stories?? "If he hadn't done Trapped In The Closet, I think his career would've been really in trouble a lot earlier." IS HE SCHEHERAZADEING HIS WAY OUT OF A RAPE CONVICTION?

Ann Powers: "I think at some point he figured out that playing sex for laughs was a way that he could continue to avoid absolute condemnation for what he might have been doing behind the scenes." OH. So he's done religious songs and love ballad songs to save his image, and now he's doing funny songs.

Lemieux: "He wasn't so much a guilty pleasure for audiences at this point as he was like a bad boy, like an antihero. You know that he's bad, you know that he's dirty. The accusations are now a part of pop culture as much as he is." Why is the prosecution dragging its feet so much? It should not take YEARS to put together this case, and it's giving him a chance to spin his image as much as he likes. "We, at this point, have seen Dave Chappelle's 'Pee On You' sketch. We've seen the 'Trial of R. Kelly' episode on The Boondocks. We associate him with urinating on somebody. That's a punch line. That's a joke."

HIS TRIAL IS DELAYED FOR YEARS. An article saying it's been five years and counting flashes on the screen. What the hell is happening? "It's in R. Kelly's interests to delay the trial as long as possible. He'd much rather have a 21-year-old girl on the stand than a 14-year-old girl on the stand."

Screen text: "May 20, 2008. After six years of delays, the trial finally begins." Oh god. Robert's legal team contended it was his younger brother Carey on the tape. Carey who confided to Robert as a child that he'd been abused, and Robert didn't believe him. Bruce (older brother) alleges that Robert offered to pay off Carey (younger brother) if Carey retracted some of the things he said about Robert whilst defending his own good name. Robert's team denies this offer took place.

"Women lined up to show support for R. Kelly." A woman on tape demands to know where the parents of the girl was when the tape was filmed. I've seen this asked a lot on here and it always puzzles me. For one, were your parents with you 100% of the time? You never had time alone, time they didn't know what you were doing? Or, if you did, they failed all those times? Does anyone seriously believe, outside of rape cases, that parents should be with their children 24/7? How is that supposed to work? When does school happen, how do the parents go to their jobs?

For two, even if parents wrapped their girl in a ribbon and sold her to R. Kelly for a suitcase of cash, he ultimately made a choice to abuse her rather than feed her popcorn while he calls Child Protective Services. This always comes up in celebrity child rape cases--that the parents were greedy or bad or foolish--but there is NOTHING a parent can do to MAKE a celebrity rape a kid!! That choice is the celebrity's choice and no one else's! If someone left a kid on my doorstep, I would not be thinking AW YEAH FREE KIDDO, I would be calling protective services because I would be thinking about the safety of that kid! Most people would!

Even if the parents 100% knew what R. Kelly was planning and condoned it and tossed their daughter to the wolves, that wouldn't make him one iota less guilty because he could have NOT ABUSED HER. So "where were the parents"? I don't know! I don't care! I only care about where the girl was and who was abusing her. I think I'm going to have to pause here. I'm only 15 minutes into a 45 minute episode and I'm sorry, I just. I have to take breaks. We'll pick up tomorrow.


Here are some things I said today about the Lady Gaga apology. I don't know.

I don't know what to say about Lady Gaga's apology. Obviously, as a white person myself, I'm not the one who needed the apology. So that's the first thing that probably needs saying.

I think the apology had a LOT about why she chose to work with him, and NOTHING about why she's failed to speak up between then and now. Which, to me, always seemed the bigger crime. Like, ok, let's pretend you didn't know when you worked with him. You *definitely* knew after, because people told you. So why the silence? Why the silence so long after the documentary dropped, even?

This isn't just someone who worked with him. This is someone who made survivors--predominantly white survivors--part of her performances, part of her image, part of her platform. Why was she willing to believe white survivors but unwilling to believe the Black survivors who spoke up after her collaboration with him?? I would've liked her apology to address that. Because the truth is probably "I didn't believe them" and/or "I didn't think I could be wrong about someone I liked and found charming."

And if we're being honest, the misogynoir of "I believed the stereotype that Black girls are hyper sexual and greedy, and that he was a victim of Black women. THAT'S why I believed white survivors and not Black ones, because of racist stereotypes I'd absorbed and not unpacked." To me, that would be a useful and meaningful apology: interrogating why she's spent YEARS disbelieving Black girls. This isn't just about one extraordinarily bad collaboration; it's also about a choice she made every day from then until now.

It didn't feel like that was addressed at all. She apologizes for staying silent so long, but there's no unpacking of why, or how she should've done better. Given that she essentially *has* to apologize now (because it would be professionally harmful to not drop him like a hot potato now), it feels like the bare minimum at the midnight hour. The apology feels incomplete, and doesn't assess the systemic racism in play.

Anyway, I'm white and my opinions matter very little on this, but I wanted to speak up because I know the Gaga stans are going to come in hard for anyone who expresses even mild dissatisfaction with the apology.

I want to clarify that I don't think it's *plausible* she didn't know, just that even IF we pretend that she didn't know, her silence afterwards is still profoundly upsetting. In closing, I'm glad she felt sufficiently pressured to apologize, but I don't think the apology does nearly enough or addresses all the problems with her behavior, and the timing feels suspect.


When we last left off, R. Kelly was heading to court after 6 years of happily letting the prosecution drag its feet. I have a LOT of questions about what the hell the DA was thinking.

"There were young girls at the courthouse every single day. They were fans. Somehow they got to talk to him."

It's 2008 at this point. We had internet in 2008. So there goes my theory that maybe fans would have supported him less if they'd been able to google the tape and see it online. ....well, I say that, but I don't actually know if the tape is online. I don't want to google child porn. So I guess there's a valid reason for not checking it out to see if it's him on there. But surely it would have been easy to take stills of his face from the video and circulate those? Twitter is 2 years old at this point. Blogs exist. I remember Shakesville writing about the verdict. Somehow this feels so recent and yet so long ago.

Screen text: "Jerhonda Pace, student. Met R. Kelly at age 14." Jerhonda would skip school as a freshman to attend the public trial; when she saw R. Kelly, she'd tell him to keep his chin up and he'd thank her for her support.

Sparkle talks about how she was offered a high six-figure bribe to sit down with Robert in front of the cameras and insist they were good now. "I didn't take the money because I can't be bought. I'm stand up for my family."

This FEELS like an open and shut case. The tape is grim but obviously what it is; the victim is known; the victim LOOKS her young age on the tape. Oh no. Sparkle's older brother takes the stand and insists that it's NOT the niece on the tape, even after a dozen witnesses have identified her.

"When they said Not Guilty, every reporters' face was like *drops jaw, mimes writing* 'Not guilty? You've got to be kidding me.'"

Producer: "With women that came out against him and said, 'I was in an underage relationship with him. He did this to me, he did that,' what...?"

John Petrean, juror: I just didn't believe them."

WHAT?!?! EXCUSE THE FUCK ME?!?! Oh god, oh god, oh god, oh fuck this motherfucker.

John Petrean: "I just didn't believe them--the womans. I know it sounds ridiculous. The way they dress, the way they act. I didn't like them. I voted against-- I disregarded all what they said."

Sparkle talks about how hard it is to win a criminal case without a complaining witness, or at least without having the family come forward and insist it wasn't her. God, I just. I really do think I'm going to throw up. That motherfucker.

Sparkle: "I really don't know if my family was paid off. I know the family was still hanging out with him. My brother-in-law was still playing guitar on a lot of his songs." Oh. God, that poor girl.

Toure talks about interviewing him after the trial and Robert being nervous. "I asked him, just point blank, 'Do you like underage girls?' His crisis manager stood and ran into the shot, 'No!! You can't ask him that!! You can't ask him that!!! *waves arms* And Kelly said, 'no, no, I want to answer that."

Cut to the interview. Toure: "Do you like teenage girls?"

Kelly: "When you say teenage, how old are we talking?"

Toure blinks. "Girls... who are teenagers."

Kelly: "Nineteen?"

Toure blinks again: "Nineteen and younger."

Kelly: "I have some nineteen-year-old friends, but I don't like anybody illegal, if that's what we're talking about, underage."

Toure just stares at him.

Toure (back to now): "This is the first easy, obvious, simple softball question. 'Do you like teenage girls?' You just got off a child pornography trial. Obviously you're gonna say no, and then we'll more on to something a little harder. And I'm thinking, 'Don't let him see that he's made a huge mistake. Cause his face and the question made him seem like *creepy grin* 'Wow, teenage girls. Wow, I love this subject.' I assumed that that would get cut out. When it finally aired, I was like 'Oh my god, they AIRED it.'"

Andrea talks about how she left with nothing. "If you look at my restraining order, my order of protection, it was actually the JUDGE who crossed it out and wrote 'He is to have NO contact with the children.'" Andrea talks about how he stopped paying child support (which is criminal) and she struggled to raise their three kids without that money. How hurtful it was for people to assume she only came forward in retaliation for him not paying child support.

Screen text: "Since their divorce was finalized in 2009, R. Kelly has reportedly stopped paying child support on several occasions." WHY is this even left up to men? WHY? Why doesn't it go through a court appointed handler so that they can issue a warrant? Women shouldn't have to repeatedly go to court to beg that the courts make their husbands fulfill their LEGAL OBLIGATIONS.

Andrea insists that the deciding factor on when and how she came forward was whether her children could emotionally handle the revelations. I understand that completely. Andrea and the other victims don't owe it to the world to come out against their own needs and self-interests. THERE WAS A GODDAMN TAPE. There were WITNESSES. And the world still called them liars and sluts. They're allowed to nope out.

Would everything have been easier and more convenient if Andrea had come out at the same time and in the same way as Lisa and the others? Maybe? Or maybe that would just be seen as TOO coincidental, TOO convenient, and now it's a vast conspiracy. The great thing about victim blaming is that it's unfalsifiable and you can always blame them for something. Sparkle was just "bitter". Lisa was just a "slut". Andrea was just "vengeful". It's so much easier to believe dozens of women are bad than one man.

A year after the trial, Robert calls Jerhonda--the 14 year old girl who supported him at his trial. God, she was just a baby. Her pictures look so YOUNG. She looks young to me NOW, she's got to be 24 or 25 at the most. I just. Protective feels. I think I'm going to have to take a break for a minute before whatever is about to happen. I don't know how to deal with what's about to happen to Jerhonda; this is like a horror movie but real.

He told Jerhonda to come up to his house, bring a bathing suit, "don't let anyone know where you're going and from now on when you talk to me, you're gonna call me Daddy." Oh no.

"And I said 'okay'. And he said 'okay, what?' and I said 'okay, Daddy.'"

Oh god. I can't deal with... how do you even summarize... he's just... manipulating this young girl into doing whatever he says because she doesn't know how to say no to THE R. Kelly. This is one of the many reasons WHY it's an ethical imperative to stop enriching and making famous these abusers; because that fame and money makes it hard for their victims to assert boundaries with them! He tells her to undress and she doesn't know how to refuse once he orders her to stop asking questions.

"I stopped him [from touching] and said 'I'm a virgin.' He said 'Well, that's perfect. That means I get to train you and I get to take your virginity.'" She tells him that she's 16. He tells her to tell everyone she's 19 and "act 21".

Miss Info (media journalist) points out that journalism treated post-trial R. Kelly as an innocent blank slate and how ridiculous that was; just because he wasn't found guilty doesn't mean he's a squeaky clean innocent guy.

Jerhonda talks about him taking her virginity. It hurt, but she just assumed that was what sex was like. "If I wanted to brush my teeth, I had to let Rob know; if I wanted to take a shower, he had to know." She wasn't allowed to use her phone to call people. She said she didn't like the Chicago Bulls. He slapped her in the face and said she wouldn't be allowed food. "The No-Eat list is somebody who 'disobeys Daddy'." Holy shit, it IS a cult. "That's when he decides to starve you. The longest I've gone without food at his house was three days. I was surviving off water and some peanuts that I had."

There's three minutes left in this episode and I don't know how to make it to the end.

"Back in 2009, Rob pretty much just sent me out on a hunt" for more girls. Screen text: "Dominique Gardner met R. Kelly at age 17." Dominique and Jerhonda would be taken to the house at the same times, but separated. They'd try to meet by asking to go to the bathroom at the same times, but they were never able to be in the same room at the same time.

A friend of Dominique tells her mother what's happening and her mother calls the police. Screen text: "On June 14, 2009 police responded to R. Kelly's home. Because Dominique was 17, the legal age of consent in Illinois, there was no legal action that they could take."

Dominique's Mother: "She came home. I was hollering, I was shouting. This is a grown man, he's sick, you know he just got off on some charges. I said, 'Give me his phone number.' He answered. I said, 'R. Kelly, this is Michelle Kramer. So I want you to remember my name. Ok? Stay the fuck away from my daughter." Oh no. This is not a man who likes being challenged by women. We saw what he did to Sparkle when she refused to obey his rules.

Oh no. The episode ends there. I have to go cry. I don't know how to cope with this. This fucking man.


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