Readers note: This recap may be triggering to those who have experienced sexual assault.
By 2000, R. Kelly allegedly continued to seek sexual relationships with teenagers. Meanwhile, his tactics to conceal his actions evolved. In December 2000, Chicago Sun-Times journalists Jim Rogartis and Abdon Pallasch reported on several lawsuits filed against Kelly by families of young girls who accused the singer of sexual misconduct. The singer issued settlements with the families and had them sign non-disclosure agreements. Buying silence was not an issue for the singer. By November 2000, Kelly had released four commercially successful solo albums, including his 2000 opus TP-2.com.
With success, Kelly leveraged control of everyone around him, those in his circles claim. This meant paying employees to be complicit in recruiting more girls. The music industry turned a blind eye because Kelly’s music was lucrative. He could afford to hide his actions from his wife and children. His fanbase was loyal to Kelly’s pockets, even after a sex tape, allegedly showed him performing sex acts with an underage girl. His supporters put the genius of his music before the lives of innocent girls at this moment, cultural critics said in part three of the Surviving R. Kelly documentary.
Lisa Van Allen, who met the singer when she was 17, described the origins of the infamous tape. Kelly often filmed sexual acts with Van Allen and other girls, without their permission. One of those girls was singer Sparkle’s 14-year-old niece. One day, Kelly allegedly left a bag of his videotapes in a room with Van Allen. While going through the footage, Van Allen saw herself on one of tape. When she fast-forwarded the tape, she said she saw footage of Kelly having sex with Sparkle’s niece. On the tape, he urinated on the girl. “I thought it was gross, weird and belittling,” Van Allen expressed.
Demetrius Smith, Kelly’s former tour manager, said Robert recorded his sex acts and would then watch the tapes.
According to clinical psychologist, Dr. Candice Norcott abusers may want trophies, such as a tape, from their criminal acts. “It’s a power play,” said Norcott. “You get to actively replay the act and when that’s not enough, you make another tape.”
Van Allen took the tape because she was afraid it would get out. While it was in her possession she asked another artist in Kelly’s camp to hold it. Van Allen later found out that there were copies of the tape made. She told Kelly in hopes that he could stop the tapes from circulating. But it was too late.
An anonymous person dropped off a copy of the tape in Jim Rogartis’ mailbox in 2002. The Chicago Sun-Times contacted Sparkle to confirm the identity of the girl on the footage. “On the tape, my niece had the same hairstyle she had when she turned 14,” Sparkle said. “That was her. For sure. And that was him definitely.” Kelly later denied. In the May 2002 issue of Vibe, Lola Ogunnaike wrote regarding the tape, “Unless R. Kelly has an identical twin from whom he was separated at birth, there’s no doubt that the man featured on the raunchy kid-vid is none other than Mr. ‘Bump N’ Grind.’”
The Chicago-Sun Times later notified the police about the tape.
In the months to follow, Sparkle’s family estranged her. The singer gave up her career to defend her niece, who some passed off as a “fast girl.”
“Once I came out publicly, yeah there was a lot of blowback,” Sparkle said. “People were unbelieving.”
In the meantime, the tape was bootlegged and sold all over the South Side of Chicago and uploaded to pornography sites. Although this was a case of a man — whether it be Kelly or not — sexually abusing a child on the tape, there was no widely felt outrage against the sexual misconduct shown. Instead, the moment became a spectacle and was minimized to a dirty little joke tied to Kelly.
“When someone like R. Kelly gets in trouble,” said writer Jamilah Lemieux, “there’s this knee-jerk instinct to protect him from the system, from the hands of the law, from all these forces that are at play to make sure that black people, black men, in particular, don’t succeed. We have to stand by him. We have to take care of him. But his crimes were against black women and girls and that was devastating for me.”
Sparkle also felt let down by this pushback. “One young exec stated, I don’t care if that is him on that tape because we can’t afford to lose him,” she shared. “You don’t care if it is him on this tape with a young girl. I was like, ‘That shows what kind of person you are.’”
Once authorities got involved with the case, Kelly further isolated his wife. He sent Andrea Kelly to a house in Florida while she was pregnant with their third child. He left her in the dark on the details of why. “I was under so much stress that when I went to the OB-GYN, we couldn’t find his heartbeat.” Andrea went to the emergency room where they induced her labor.
Shortly after giving birth, Andrea Kelly found out while watching the news that Kelly was indicted on 21 counts of child pornography. Part four of Lifetime’s Surviving R. Kelly reveals how the outcome of the case ended up absolving Kelly of further ridicule.
— Lifetime (@lifetimetv) January 4, 2019