Readers note: This recap may be triggering to those who have experienced sexual assault.
In episode three of Surviving R. Kelly Part II: The Reckoning, Lanita Carter, R. Kelly’s former hairstylist, gave a tearful and graphic account about her relationship with the R&B singer. Carter met Kelly when she was 24 in 2002 and he hired her to braid his hair.
“It made me feel good to be doing it for a celebrity,” Carter said.
Working for him, helped her expand her clientele. But he quickly became more than a boss and was more like family. Like many of Kelly’s survivors, Carter had been abused before meeting him. Carter said Kelly advised her about her abusive relationship with her then-husband. He was the first person to encourage her through her obstacles.
“He was the first person to claim to be my big brother that wasn’t my big brother,” Carter said.
Carter met Kelly shortly after he was indicted for child pornography and confronted the singer about the charges. She believed his innocence when he told her it was his brother Carey on the child pornography tape. Carter said she would defend him against anyone who questioned his activities. For instance, Michelle Williams of Destiny’s Child was at Kelly’s studio one day and asked Carter, “How old are you?” Carter said Kelly ordered her to pull out her ID to prove her age. Carter said she felt proud to defend Kelly at the moment.
“Our commitment to celebrity culture is…we want to get as close as we can to it,” said Dr. Candice Norcott, a clinical psychologist. “If access is where the grooming process starts then celebrities have a million-mile start,” she continued.
Kelly also built trust with Carter by sharing his past molestation story with her. She told him that she was raped, molested, and kidnapped when she was younger.
After months of Kelly showing her kindness, he flipped on Carter. While at the studio, he forced her head down to give him fellatio and threatened to beat her like “her husband” if she didn’t.
Carter reported the incident to the police. Cultural critics described that for Black women, reporting a Black man, especially a loved celebrity for a crime such as rape, is often seen as an act of betrayal.
“In the Black community, oftentimes we are trained to protect black men, based on the history of incarceration and slavery in this country and so the last thing we are told is to call the police,” Joanne Smith, President & CEO Girls for Gender Equity, said.
During an investigation, a detective interviewed employees at Kelly’s studio, but everyone denied knowing Carter. They then raided Kelly’s studio and found enough evidence to prove she was not fabricating the story.
Michael Mannis, Carter’s initial attorney, said police turned her case over to the Office of the State Attorney. A grand jury would decide if Kelly would be charged. But when Carter gave her testimony to the panel, she was badgered with questions about sleeping with the superstar. She described them as “mean” and instead of relief, she felt helpless.
After the failed grand jury process, Lanita was advised to pursue a civil case. She was sent to Chicago-based law firm Susan Loggans & Associates, who settled at least a dozen R. Kelly sexual abuse suits that required survivors to sign a non-disclosure agreement to receive a settlement. Loggans’s firm took a third of money settled each time, according to Ian Alexander, an attorney who represented survivor Tiffany Hawkins.
“I did not want to sue R. Kelly at any time,” said Carter. “I wanted him to apologize or I wanted him to be criminally charged.”
But Loggans didn’t believe Lanita and said she was “too old” to be Kelly’s victim. Carter was sent to another attorney and the case was settled in three months.
Since the case, Carter went on to become a nurse and found stability and empowerment through education. But she still felt emotionally trapped by not being able to share her story because of the N.D.A. she signed. She broke her silence after Kimberly M. Foxx, Cook County State’s Attorney, called for survivors to come forward in January 2019.
“99% of cases rely on victims and witnesses coming forward and telling their stories,” Foxx said. “In order for us to prosecute cases of sexual abuse and sexual assault, regardless of who the offender may be, we need victims and witnesses to come forward.”
On Feb. 22, 2019, six weeks after the documentary aired, Kelly was indicted on 10 counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse involving four victims. Kelly is facing three to seven years in prison for each count of criminal sexual abuse, $25,000 on each count, and sex [offender] registration.
The documentary closed out expanding on how Kelly used his story of sexual abuse to build trust and later manipulate other survivors like Jerhonda Pace, Asante McGee and Lizette Martinez. They all were abused before meeting Kelly and they believed he could always see the signs of it.
“Robert can smell a wounded woman a mile away,” Martinez said.