Editor’s note: This article includes descriptions of sexual and physical abuse and coercion.
After nearly five weeks of damning testimony from 45 witnesses, the prosecution in R. Kelly’s New York criminal trial rested its case against the disgraced R&B star on Monday. As reported by The Root since the trial’s start on Aug. 18, to date, 11 accusers—nine women and two men, at least six of whom claim to have been underaged during their alleged encounters with Kelly—have made increasingly disturbing allegations about his predation, exploitation and control. Their claims include grooming; extortion; physical, sexual and psychological abuse and coercion; imprisonment; drugging; forced labor and abortions; knowledgable infection with an STI (a violation of public health laws in several states); and rape.
Kelly has been formally charged with racketeering and sex trafficking, ostensibly made possible with the help of a self-built “criminal enterprise” of employee-enablers. He also has a federal trial on obstruction and child pornography charges pending in Chicago, as well as state charges in Illinois and Minnesota. Kelly has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
As the New York Times notes, many of these allegations date back decades and have only been recently pursued due to the change in culture and conversation around sexual violence and exploitation made possible by the Me Too movement, as well as the Surviving R. Kelly docuseries and #MuteRKelly movement, all of which were helmed by Black women:
Set against the backdrop of the MeToo movement, the trial is the first time accusers have taken the stand against the R&B singer, despite a trail of accusations spanning decades. And in a critical moment of the movement, the case is also the first time that a majority of the accusers have been Black women in such a high-profile case.
As expected, Kelly’s defense team has attempted to discredit his accusers, using their cross-examination to try to paint witnesses as opportunists exploiting former consensual relationships with the singer-producer out of bitterness or jealousy.
“The defense will aim to advance that portrayal, presenting Mr. Kelly as a generous romantic partner who treated the women around him like family and was blindsided by their allegations,” according to the Times. It also reports that Kelly’s four-lawyer team presented “a list of about a half-dozen witnesses whom they planned to call” on Monday. That list did not include Kelly.
“Testifying in his own defense would represent a potentially perilous strategy for Mr. Kelly,” the Times notes, recalling the entertainer’s disastrous on-air interview with Gayle King in March 2019. During that appearance, Kelly’s then live-in girlfriends also spoke with King in his defense; at least one of them has since become a witness for the prosecution, testifying to being intimidated into lying on camera by Kelly, who hovered just off-screen.
There have also been resurfaced accounts of Kelly’s illegal 1994 marriage to late superstar Aaliyah when he was 27 and his protégé only 15. The marriage was allegedly intended to protect Kelly from charges of statutory rape after he’d impregnated the teen by granting him both spousal immunity and the legal standing to approve an abortion. Witnesses have included an employee who procured a fake ID for the nuptials, the officiant of the ceremony, and a former backup dancer who testified to witnessing him perform a sex act on Aaliyah when the latter was only 13 or 14 years old, “making her the youngest girl whom Mr. Kelly is accused of sexually abusing in the prosecution’s case,” reports the Times.
Notably, that same witness also testified that her own sexual encounters with Kelly began when she was a sophomore in high school. Her testimony, along with many others’ further supports long-held allegations of Kelly’s predilection for and predation of underaged sexual partners.
“Trust daddy and do whatever he says, whatever he says, with no rebuttal, disrespect or rebellion,” one witness read aloud from notes she’d allegedly taken during her time with Kelly, whom she was instructed to call “Daddy” (h/t NY Times). Outlining some of his now-infamous “rules,” she continued: “Remember how I acted in the beginning, bubbly and like a child, pure and with no negative intentions, and remember to stay true to who I am, humble, happy, innocent and beautiful to daddy reminding him of his mother and child.”
If you or someone you know is a victim of sexual abuse, help is available 24 hours a day at the National Sexual Assault Online Hotline or National Sexual Violence Resource Center.