“It should have ended with Tiffany Hawkins,” said journalist Jim DeRogatis on episode two of Surviving R. Kelly Part II. “Victim number one; patient zero; the first girl who sued Kelly for sexual contact that started when she was 15 in 1991.” In this episode, Hawkins spoke out on camera for the first time. In a June 2019 New Yorker report, she broke a non-disclosure agreement in which she vowed to stay silent about her abusive relationship with R. Kelly.
Growing up in Chicago, Hawkins was so talented her teacher at Kenwood High School, Dr. Lena McLin — who also taught R. Kelly — compared her to Whitney Houston. But Hawkins had a troubled home life as she was angered by her mother’s relationship with a physically abusive boyfriend. One day she met R. Kelly in Hyde Park, Chicago, and he invited her to his apartment to sing. That day, he had sex with the girls she brought to his place. Hawkins avoided sex with him.
“Every girl I brought was between the ages of 14 and 16,” she said.
For several months, he provided her food, a place to live and promised to help her singing career. Kelly called her his “cable girl” because whenever he asked her to bring other girls, she would do so. At some point, he told her to stop bringing girls and began demanding sex from her. Then she began living with him and told her to cut off contact with everyone she knew.
“I didn’t want that kind of relationship with Robert,” said Hawkins. “It’s what I knew I had to do in order to satisfy him and keep myself around.”
Dr. Jody Adewale, a clinical psychologist said that if a 15-year-old trades sex for favors, they aren’t capable of making strong or wise decisions at that moment. “Due to something we call the prefrontal cortex, a kid basically doesn’t have the wiring to understand the long-term effects of current impulses and current behavior,” he said.
Hawkins believed her dreams came true when Kelly let her sing background on Aaliyah’s album Age Ain’t Nothin But a Number, which he produced. She toured with Aaliyah, who Kelly married when she was 15.
Aaliyah was the first girl Kelly allegedly made sign a non-disclosure agreement. “That N.D.A. became the most effective tool in R. Kelly’s arsenal to continue his predatory practices,” said Alison Triessl, a criminal defense attorney.
The person closest to Aaliyah when she passed was Damon Dash, who said Aaliyah called Kelly “a bad man.”
“It just made her so uncomfortable that…I couldn’t know about it because it would have made me too uncomfortable not to try to rectify that situation,” he continued. Dash said he sought therapy over the issue.
Hawkins left working with Aaliyah after she became pregnant. She sought legal advice from Susan Loggans & Associates, a Chicago-based firm she saw advertised on TV after Kelly refused to take a paternity test.
Ian Alexander, Hawkins attorney in the case, said no one believed her story. The state did not press criminal charges against Kelly. They proceeded to file a civil lawsuit against Kelly in 1996. In 1998, Hawkins gave a deposition, a pre-trial testimony, that revealed Kelly knew she was a minor when he had sex with her. Kelly and his lawyers offered her a $250,000 cash settlement and she had to sign a non-disclosure agreement.
“Paying money for silence victimizes women,” said Alexander. “Susan, as far as I know, has brokered settlements for silence for victims of R. Kelly’s abuse.” Jim DeRogatis called Loggan’s practice “a settlement factory.”
Kelly continued to use tactics like this to cover his tracks. When it came to the explosive sex tape with an underage girl, his lawyers delayed the trial for three years, which weakened the prosecution. The jury never heard from the victim or her parents. He also allegedly paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to witnesses and anyone related to the case to conceal evidence, according to the documentary.
There were other tapes Kelly filmed with underage girls. Carey Kelly said in 1995, he borrowed what he thought was a copy of the Steven King movie Sometimes They Come Back… Again from Robert. But when he played the movie, he discovered Robert had filmed some white girls, who said on tape that they were 13. “The system is a different ball game than a Black girl that’s 13,” Carey said. “He would’ve been gone.” Carey said he brought the tape back to Robert and he burned it.
The truth is Kelly knew which victims to prey on: Black girls and women who were economically disadvantaged.
“I do not think it is an accident that so many of his victims are people looking for a void to be filled,” said Brittany Picknett Cunningham, founder of Campaign Zero. “The truth of the matter is R. Kelly continued to choose a specific victim.”