This article originally appeared on VICE US
Last year, Lifetime's Surviving R. Kelly —an exhaustive six-hour docuseries executive produced by dream hampton, detailing decades of allegations of sexual misconduct against the singer—left millions of viewers stunned. On Friday, the network premiered Surviving R. Kelly Part II: The Reckoning, a follow-up to the groundbreaking documentary which continues to share harrowing accounts from women who claim to have been sexually abused by the singer.
Robert "R." Kelly's relationships with underage girls have raised eyebrows since his marriage to 15-year-old Aaliyah in 1994, and again when he was indicted on child pornography charges for filming a sex tape with a minor in 2002. But his career continued to thrive until Surviving R. Kelly forced the public to take the allegations of dozens of Black women seriously, rather than poking fun at them in insensitive comedy bits. The miniseries made viewers, and even his serious fans, ask themselves: Is R. Kelly really untouchable?
Finally, the answer was no. Last February, Kelly was arrested in Chicago and charged with 10 counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse, nine of which involved victims under the age of 17. In addition to his sexual misconduct charges in Chicago, he was arrested in July by federal agents on an additional 13 charges including child pornography, enticement of a minor, and obstruction of justice. From his federal charges alone, Kelly is facing a minimum of 15 years in prison.
The Reckoning picks up where the first Surviving miniseries left off, adding a slew of new accounts from familiar faces like Dame Dash—Aaliyah's ex-boyfriend—and recent girlfriends Halle Calhoun and Dominique Gardner to the now-long list of unsung heroes who helped build a case against Kelly. Here are six revelations from the latest installment of the series.
Kelly's brothers detail their knowledge of sexual abuse R. Kelly allegedly faced as a child.
It's no secret that much of Kelly's career was built on a hypersexual image, defined by his salacious R&B lyrics. But it wasn't until 2012 when he released his memoir, Soulacoaster, that he revealed how complicated a role sex played in his life. In the book, Kelly alludes to a sexual encounter with an older man as a child, which he claims "was not a full-blown experience" in 2016 GQ interview, but says he was sexually abused for years by a woman in his family.
In a 2012 interview with Tavis Smiley, he said, "Yes, I was molested from when I was seven on to maybe 13, 14 or something like that by people in my family," describing the sexual abuse he experienced as a "generational curse."
The Reckoning finds Bruce and Carey Kelly detailing new claims involving Mr. Eli Henry, a "sixty-something-year-old" man who lived in the building where the brothers practiced their music as children. According to the Kellys, they viewed Henry as a "neighborhood uncle," who bought them gifts and invited them over often. But according to the brothers, he also exposed himself to the boys and may have molested Robert.
"He had pulled his private part out of his underwear and was holding it in his hand," Carey alleges. "Me, Bruce, and Robert ran over each other trying to get out the house… We could hear Mr. Henry [saying] 'Don't tell nobody.'"
"Mr. Henry had Robert come upstairs and he tried some inappropriate things with Robert," Bruce said. "My mother called the police. Mr. Henry bonded out and was able to bribe my mom. He gave my mom $5,000 for her not to come to court, and she didn't come to court." But Bruce claims Kelly's history of sexual abuse continued after Henry, between Robert and an older girl. "The person that did it is not that much older than we are… was just a kid herself."
Throughout The Reckoning, Carey seems to still be processing the trauma he and his brother experienced as children. "For a man to molest my brother and [redacted] to molest him, that changed the game. I never thought of it like that, until now."
Tiffany Hawkins, the first girl to sue R. Kelly for sexual assault, finally shares her story—and it's horrifying.
Tiffany Hawkins, an aspiring singer with a voice that drew comparisons to Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey, met Kelly in Hyde Park as a sophomore at Kenwood High School, and she says Kelly considered her as a "little sister or best friend"—similar to the language used in Aaliyah's cringeworthy BET Video Soul interview in 1994. Hawkins alleges that after they met, Kelly invited her to his apartment, with one request: She was asked to bring her friends.
"I would go in and out of the room and every time I went in there, he was having sex with someone," she says. "It turned into a whole orgy. Every girl I brought was between the age of 14-16." According to Hawkins, Kelly was 25 years old at the time.
Jim Derogatis, who reported on the allegations against Kelly for two decades, recalls a conversation he had with Hawkins. "As she said to me when we finally spoke, 'He used to call me the cable girl.' And I said, 'I don't get it.' Derogatis recalls. "And she says, 'I hooked him up. I introduced him to six of my other friends who were 15 and they all had sex with Kelly before I ever slept with him.'"
Hawkins also details her abuse sexual relationship with the singer, which happened gradually, first with him including her in sex acts with other girls.
According to Hawkins, the recruitment-style parties eventually stopped and their relationship became fully sexual, with Hawkins moving in and isolating herself from everyone but Kelly. Her dream to sing professionally, and the urge to want to stay close to Kelly, landed her the opportunity to sing background vocals for Aaliyah. But as Kelly grew more focused on Aaliyah, things got more complicated for Hawkins.
"When I found out that Robert and Aaliyah got married, I didn't care," she says. "It didn't bother me because if someone else was sleeping with him, that was great because that meant I didn't have to."
Hawkins soon discovered she was pregnant, and when she told Kelly, he allegedly denied that the child was his and wouldn't allow her to take a paternity test. Weeks later, Hawkins tried to overdose on a handful of pills and was hospitalized.
She says she sought legal help, with a stacked list of witnesses including Aaliyah. The state decided not to press criminal charges against Kelly, but in December 1996, Hawkins filed a civil suit against Kelly for assault and battery and labels Zomba, Jive, and Blackground for negligence.
Three years later, Hawkins gave a "hair-raising" seven-and-a-half hour deposition. After her testimony, Hawkins' lawyer says he was approached by Kelly's legal team with a $250,000 cash settlement and a non-disclosure agreement.
Non-disclosure agreements, like the one Aaliyah signed, set a precedent to silence girls.
In the last installment of Surviving, Hawkins' friend Jovante Cunningham, and former tour manager and personal assistant Demetrius Smith shared their knowledge of Kelly's relationship with the late singer. Cunningham alleged that she saw Kelly having sex with Aaliyah on a tour bus, while Smith claims he helped forge documents to allow the 15-year-old to be legally wed to her mentor after Kelly believed she was pregnant. The wedding was quickly annulled, and according to the docuseries, she was paid $100 not to pursue legal action and a non-disclosure was drawn, making Aaliyah the first girl contractually sworn to secrecy against the singer.
"That non-disclosure agreement became the most effective tool in R. Kelly's arsenal to continue his predatory practices," says criminal defense attorney Alison Triessl. Derogatis considers Aaliyah and Hawkins' agreements to be the beginning of what he considers lawyer Susan E. Loggans' "settlement factory."
"Girls would come to [Loggans] with charges of underaged sexual contact with Kelly," he says. "She would send them to a private detective agency... make them take a lie detector test, a settlement would be struck, a non-disclosure agreement would be signed, and the girl promised never to speak about it..." Derogatis says he believes there are other settlements the public doesn't know about. There were four public lawsuits from the 90s prior to his indictment for child pornography charges in 2002: Tiffany Hawkins, Tracy Sampson, Patrice Jones, and Montina Woods. All of these cases were settled outside of court.
In 2003, his former hair braider Lanita Carter claims Kelly forced her to give him oral sex when she was 24. He allegedly spit on her and pulled her hair before ejaculating on her face. "I kept on thinking, Well, he didn't rape me so it ain't no case," she recalls. She called her brother-in-law for help, but he told her to call the police.
Carter filed a police report and physical evidence of the abuse, and the police raided Kelly's studio. But when they arrived, there was no trace of Lanita ever being there. She says she told the detective she left her bag of hair products in his office, but the bag was missing when they arrived.
To prove that she had, in fact, been to the studio, Carter says she had to recall minor details to police, such as the pill bottles that were placed in front of three Grammys on a glass stand. Eventually, the detectives believed her, and soon after found her hair bag and a couch cushion in a nearby dumpster.
Carter testified in front of a grand jury, but again, the state decided not to press criminal charges against Kelly. She says her attorney referred her to Loggans, who Carter says denied her case because Carter was "too old" to fit the pattern of Kelly's alleged victims. Three months later, Carter's case received a cash settlement and a non-disclosure agreement.
"I did what everybody else wanted me to do, instead of what I believed for myself," she explains
The girl from the infamous urination sex tape was allegedly living in R. Kelly's home while he was waiting to be indicted on child pornography charges.
R. Kelly's trial for child pornography took six years to begin. On Surviving, Abdon Pallasch—a legal journalist for the Chicago Sun-Times—explained how prolonging the trial may have factored into the singer's eventual acquittal.
"It's in R. Kelly's interest to delay this as long as possible," he said. "You'd much rather have a 21-year-old girl on the stand than a 14-year-old on the stand."
Kelly's former engineer, Dylan Ely, recalls the moment he recognized one of the girls living in the singer's Olympia Fields residence.
"Leading up to the trial, there were two women who lived pretty much full time in the garage," he says. "It was kind of an unwritten rule that they weren't supposed to talk to us and we weren't supposed to talk to them." Ely says he remembers vividly that the youngest girl living in the garage was turning 21. "I'm pretty sure the 21st birthday cake that we delivered to the garage was for the girl from the tape," he recalls.
Despite being identified by a dozen witnesses as the girl on the tape, the young woman never testified. Michael Avenatti, an attorney who represents victims of the singer, alleges that Kelly paid the girl and her family up to $2 million not to testify.
Jerhonda Pace says she was a part of a suicide pact when she was involved with Kelly.
In March, the Chicago Police Department arrived at Kelly's home after receiving an anonymous call that Azriel Clary—who lived with Kelly from 2015 until late 2019—and four other women had formed a suicide pact. According to Chicago PD, the wellness check was unsubstantiated and labeled "not a bonafide incident."
In an interview with PEOPLE, Lizzette Martinez—another alleged victim who appeared on the last installment of Surviving—says she was aware of a suicide pact. "I mean my anxiety is constantly through the roof because... I hear there's a plan in place," she said. "...that if something goes down they're all going to take pills and kill [themselves]."
Jerhonda Pace, who met the singer outside of the courthouse as he stood trial for child pornography in 2008, says she became sexually involved with Kelly when she was 16. In The Reckoning, Pace details an alleged suicide pact she says she agreed to with Kelly, promising that if he ever got into legal trouble or was physically harmed, she would kill herself.
"He's like, 'If something happens to me, I want you to take these pills,'" she says. "… I said, 'Are you serious? He said, 'Yeah, this is what you do. This is a suicide pact.'"
Dominique Gardner, whose escape is portrayed on the first Surviving docuseries, finally shares her story.
One of the most emotional scenes from the first Surviving R. Kelly series was watching Michelle Kramer rescue her daughter Dominique Gardner from a Beverly Hills hotel. Gardner was introduced to Kelly by Pace in 2009, and Kramer says her daughter lived with the singer for nine years. Although Gardner's escape was caught on tape, she didn't provide a public testimony about her experience until now.
According to Gardner, breaking Kelly's house rules had serious ramifications, including physical abuse. Kramer says her daughter described the singer as "very violent," and claims that simple acts like eating and using the bathroom on your own, against Kelly's demands, resulted in being beaten with "extension cords, belts, shoes, whatever you could think of."
Gardner even alleges that her short haircut was the result of a physical altercation where Kelly pulled her hair out after she disobeyed him at a party. After he yanked it to the point where it was falling out, Kelly allegedly said, "Well I think you might look nice with short hair."
When Surviving left off, we saw Gardner's decision to return to Chicago with her mother, but Gardner soon after returned to Kelly despite her newfound freedom. She says the two bonded more upon her return, and he seemed to change until he reneged on the promise that she could see her family more.
"I asked him could I go to my little brother's graduation because I promised—and I don't make promises—and he was like, no... So I just decided to leave after that."
R. Kelly is currently in federal custody in Chicago. He is set for three separate trials in April, May, and September for his charges in Chicago and New York. Surviving R. Kelly is available for streaming on Lifetime.
Kristin Corry is a staff writer for VICE