Readers note: This recap may be triggering to those who have experienced sexual assault.
R. Kelly was acquitted of child pornography charges in 2008. Post-trial, he remained a cult-like figure in Black music. His catalog was the soundtrack to family reunions, graduations, and weddings. He also performed at major events, such as Whitney Houston’s funeral in 2012. It seemed the culture absolved him for good.
“If an individual is providing something to the society, such as music, cinema, politics, we are more likely to compartmentalize the negative behavior and minimize it as a way of accepting what they are contributing,” psychologist Dr. Jody Adewale, explained.
But accusations of sexual assault, domestic violence, and sex trafficking mounted against the singer. Within the past two years especially, Kelly’s efforts to keep his behaviors secret unraveled as survivors and their families spoke up, as outlined in part five of Surviving R. Kelly documentary.
— Lifetime (@lifetimetv) January 6, 2019
For instance, Jerhonda Pace, who was involved with Kelly when she was 16 left him after he choked her until she blacked out. “That was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” said Pace. After she left, she turned over evidence about the abuse to the Illinois Bureau of Investigation.
Her friend Dominique Gardner, who met Kelly in summer 2009, at the age of 17, continued to see him unbeknownst to her mother. The singer isolated Gardner and allegedly “molded” her into a “boy toy,” according to an anonymous former employee of Kelly. “He had her shave all her hair off and she carries herself like a boy,” they said. “He’s even had her dressed in boy clothes and a beard and a mustache to look like a boy.”
In 2017, the parents of another alleged victim, Joycelyn Savage, spoke out in a Buzzfeed report on Kelly’s alleged sex cult.
Joycelyn Savage, an aspiring singer, met Kelly when she was 19 when he came to the Savages’ Atlanta boutique in spring 2015. Timothy Savage said they had heard about Kelly’s trial but because he was found not guilty, there was no alarm. When Kelly began mentoring Joycelyn during her freshman year of college in fall 2016, the disconnect began. Timothy and Joycelyn Savage haven’t seen their daughter in two years. They say she is “severely brainwashed.”
After the Savages came forward, Kelly began to strategize a way to push back. “The first thing was to put Joycelyn in front of the camera on TMZ,” his former employee said. “Which is something he ordinarily would have not done, but because they said that Joycelyn was being held against her will he had to clean it up.”
In the July 2017 video interview, Joycelyn Savage denied her parents claims. Kelly’s former employee said Kelly scripted her response.
In a later May 2018 TMZ report, Joycelyn Savage and Dominique Gardner were spotted together in Beverly Hills, California. Kramer, who was also in Los Angeles filming the documentary, took this as an opportunity to track down her daughter.
Kramer went to the hotel she thought Gardner would be staying. The hotel manager agreed to take Kramer to her daughter’s room. When her daughter opened the door, they spoke briefly and Gardner told her mother to come back in the evening.
When Kramer returned, she was ordered to leave the premises because Gardner called 911 and claimed Kramer was not her mother. Kramer didn’t believe this and was able to reach her daughter on the phone. By the end of the ordeal, Gardner grabbed a bag and left with her mother.
“We ran out of there like the master was coming for us,” said Kramer.
Viewers also heard an account from Kitti Jones, a former Dallas radio station DJ. She met Kelly when she was 33 at a party in 2011. Soon she quit her job and moved to Chicago to be with him. One day, Jones’ friend asked her if she knew about Kelly’s alleged sex tape. “When I saw the images, the images were of the same girl that he introduced me to a couple weeks before,” said Jones.
When she confronted Kelly about the tape, he beat her. More abuse ensued. She had to ask permission to use the restroom and to eat. When Kitti finally left Kelly, she felt ashamed of her experiences.
Another alleged victim, Azriel Clary met Kelly at a concert she attended with her parents in Orlando, when she was 17. Kelly had picked her out of the crowd to come on stage. Her parents didn’t feel threatened, although they knew of Kelly’s reputation. “Me being a protective father I’m okay with it because I don’t think none of this can happen to me,” said Angelo Clary. After the show, Azriel sang for Kelly backstage and he gave her his number.
Days later, Azriel Clary’s parents found out she was at a hotel in Kissimmee, Florida meeting with Kelly by herself. Her parents traveled to the hotel to get their daughter. The Clarys did attempt to work with Kelly on their daughter’s music career. But instead, he isolated Azriel, too.
The final installment of Surviving R. Kelly features more survivor accounts and details how the narrative around R. Kelly is finally shifting with the help of activism and social media.