Readers note: This recap may be triggering to those who have experienced sexual assault.
It’s been a year since Lifetime’s groundbreaking Surviving R. Kelly documentary and there are new developments in the case of the veteran R&B singer accused of sexually assaulting multiple girls and women since the 1990s. He is currently in jail, without bail. His trials are set for April in Chicago and for May in Brooklyn, N.Y. The premiere of Surviving R. Kelly Part II: The Reckoning, which aired Thursday night (Jan. 2), documents unheard graphic details about the predators that sexually abused Kelly in his childhood and the methods Kelly’s survivors say he used to threaten victims and survivors who spoke out in 2019.
At the start of the first episode, Kelly’s brothers Bruce Kelly and Carey Kelly recounted a man in their Chicago neighborhood named Eli Henry, who was referred to as the “cool old man” and “uncle” by the kids in their community. One day Robert ran home after Henry tried “inappropriate things” with Robert, Bruce recalled. Neighborhood men jumped Henry and Kelly’s mother called the police. Henry was arrested and after he bonded out, he bribed Kelly’s mom by giving her $5,000 to not show up in court. She was struggling financially, Bruce said. “But if it had been my child, I don’t think no amount of money would have made me not prosecute that dude,” he continued.
“He did identify the man who abused him,” Andrea Kelly, R. Kelly’s ex-wife said. “He said, ‘I was so afraid ‘cause I was so little. He would take me out in the field and he told me, ‘Robert, you can’t tell anybody otherwise I’m a cooked goose.’’’
Both Carey and Robert were also raped by a child family member. The brothers did not say her name in the documentary.
“Sexual abuse at a really early age, especially from a family member can be really confusing,” said Dr. Jody Adewale, a clinical psychologist. Someone who struggles with that trauma at an early age would be confused about the rules and boundaries of sex into adulthood, he explained.
“In 19 years of reporting this story at the Chicago Sun-Times, and then Buzzfeed and The New Yorker, and everyone that I interviewed who knows about sexual abuse says often the victim becomes the defender of other victims,” journalist Jim DeRogatis said. “And occasionally, the victim becomes a victimizer. Is that what happened with R. Kelly?”
Kelly continues to deny all claims of sexual assault and his lawyers contend that the allegations against him are a “smear campaign.” His attorneys have accused the survivors of promoting “contemporaneous books, albums, and speaking tours,” according to the documentary.
The survivors describe pain and suffering since the first documentary aired, not fame and fortune as Kelly purports. Parents who spoke out faced backlash from critics, including Keyshia Cole and Master P, who accused them of not protecting their daughters after they met Kelly.
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“At the time, of course, they were not making decisions that they thought meant, ‘I’m not gonna see my child for the next two or three years,’” said Oronike Odeleye, co-founder of the Mute R. Kelly movement, in defense of the families.
Charles Rodgers and Kelly Rodgers, the parents of Faith Rodgers, who sued Kelly in May 2018 for mental, sexual and verbal abuse, said they warned her not to call the singer after he slipped her his number at one of his shows. But they were not aware of Faith’s relationship until after she left Kelly.
“Seeing his personality flip was enough for me,” Faith said. “Just little things like, ‘Send me a picture of what you’re wearing,’ to ‘Tell me where you live,’ to ‘Tell me everywhere you go outside of where you live,’ to ‘I want the address to that place.’”
After Faith sued Kelly, her attorney Gloria Allred, received a letter stating she needed to abandon efforts to “ruin his career” or nude photos of her would be leaked. Faith’s family also moved because they were receiving threats.
Other victims were threatened, too. “People started DMing [me] and saying B, count your days,” Asante McGee said. Jerhonda Pace said she moved out of Illinois because she was twice threatened by fans at a mall. There was also a Facebook page, which “exposed” each survivor who spoke out. They posted nude photos of Faith Rodgers and Ashante McGee’s old mugshots.
During the New York documentary screening in December 2018, which many of the survivors attended, attendees were evacuated because of a gun threat.
The #SurvivingRKelly premiere was just evacuated because we received a threat. The survivors were whisked away. I have the full video on IG and I’m gonna post clips in this thread
— A Fat Lady Sketch TL (@FeministaJones) December 5, 2018
After the documentary aired in January 2019, Sony and RCA dropped R. Kelly, but the company continues to sell his records.
“The thing that’s different about R. Kelly is he’s actively doing this stuff,” said Tarana Burke. “And so the idea of him losing his record contract or people supporting him and playing his music gives him revenue, and the more revenue he has the more resources he has he puts these resources into what he was doing to these girls.”
Despite many survivor accounts, R. Kelly still has people in his corner. One of them is his former staff member Jen Emrich, who fights on his behalf via social media.
“What worked for me was to go on social media and use the hashtags, ‘#unmuterkelly,’ [and] ‘#rkellz’,” she said in a now private post. “It started a whole movement. It worked. Thank God.”