It's been almost 10 years since R. Kelly was acquitted on charges of child pornography. Since then, the R&B singer, notorious for his marriage to late singer Aaliyah when she was 15 years old, has continued to live his life and advance his career despite the multitude of lawsuits and allegations of sexual misconduct and other predatory behavior.
But today, a new report from BuzzFeed News sheds light what kind of power the 50-year-old reportedly wields over young women hoping to make it big in the music industry. According to several sets of parents and three women who were once a part of his inner circle, Kelly is currently housing young women in his rental properties in Chicago and Atlanta, controlling what they wear, when to bathe, and who they talk to. Their cell phones have allegedly been confiscated and swapped for ones they can only use to contact Kelly with, and he reportedly dictates what kind of sexual encounters they participate in, of which he reportedly records. One woman who worked as his personal assistant for more than a year called him "a puppet master."
"It was as if she was brainwashed," a mother of a now 21-year-old woman lamented to BuzzFeed News, recalling the last time she saw her daughter. "[She] looked like a prisoner — it was horrible," she said. "I hugged her and hugged her. But she just kept saying she's in love and [Kelly] is the one who cares for her. I don't know what to do. I hope that if I get her back, I can get her treatment for victims of cults. They can reprogram her. But I wish I could have stopped it from happening."
While Kelly has previously been accused of targeting underage girls and enticing them with dreams of musical stardom, the women living with him now (whose names were withheld in the report to protect their privacy) are all reportedly consenting adults—although one allegedly was a 17-year-old high school senior in Florida when he first met her.
Despite the long line of alleged incidents—including the allegation that Kelly picked up a girl after her prom, had sex with her, and later paid for her abortion, not to mention a separate videotape in 2002 that allegedly shows Kelly urinating on a teenage girl's mouth—the singer has seen little backlash. In 2014, he was dropped from a concert in Ohio after protests surfaced, but a similar call for Kelly's removal from headlining a music festival in California earlier this year wasn't as successful.
Jim DeRogatis has been covering Kelly's reported nefarious behavior since 2000—when he received an anonymous fax tipping him off to lawsuits that revealed horrifying alleged details of sexual relationships with underage girls, and later a videotape allegedly showing the singer having sex with a 14-year-old girl. He's also the author of the BuzzFeed report. When asked why so many people seem to struggle to accept the allegations against Kelly, he tells Broadly he believes it's in part because of his acquittal. "They know he was tried but he was acquitted. I [also] think the entertainment industry and media journalism industry continue to pay short shrift to not only the acquittal but the dozen of civil lawsuits, or more, that were filed by young women over the years. I think they love the music, and they're ignoring the accusations against the man."
"I think the entertainment industry needs to question itself as to whether it's complicit in what's been happening for a very long time."
There are protests from time to time, DeRogatis continues, but Kelly "headlined the Star Plaza Theatre in Merrillville, Indiana, on Saturday. Certainly, people in Chicago are aware of his history. The fact that concert-goers continue to book Kelly, the fact that he's now the endorser of Alexander Wang fashion line, the fact that he was singing Christmas shows on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon on December 23—I think the entertainment industry needs to question itself as to whether it's complicit in what's been happening for a very long time."
DeRogatis says he's been in contact with the parents he interviewed for his story for nine months, speaking with them several times a week. "These young women in the current story were all promised help with their careers, that R. Kelly would make them a star as he did with Aaliyah, and they want to believe. And the parents are aware and wary but Kelly has managed to seduce their daughters nonetheless. These parents are not naïve, but they wanted to believe the best."
"They would like their daughters to come back," he continues. "They're beyond distraught."