BuzzFeed News has a thoroughly reported and disturbing new story about R. Kelly, alleging that the R&B singer leads what parents describe as a “cult” of young women who live with him and are not allowed to contact their families and friends. The story–by Jim DeRogatis, who has been reporting on Kelly’s alleged sexual misconduct for years–alleges that Kelly emotionally manipulates and physically abuses the women, some of whom are aspiring musicians who entered the musician’s orbit because they believed he would help their careers. The youngest of the women in the story began communicating with Kelly when she was 17 and moved into one of his rental properties as soon as she reached the legal age of consent.
BuzzFeed’s story focuses on the aforementioned young woman, who is from Florida and now 18 years old, and a 19-year-old from Georgia. The parents of both women believe their daughters are essentially being held against their will, and are unable to contact them, though both daughters maintained in early communications with their parents that they are in consenting relationships with Kelly. According to women who have since left Kelly’s entourage, there are two other women in similar circumstances with the singer, as well as a 31-year-old “den mother” who trained younger women on how to sexually pleasure him. Both sets of parents in the story have contacted law enforcement in hopes of getting their daughters back, without success so far. (The parents and daughters are anonymized in the story, and DeRogatis was unable to reach the daughters for comment.)
According to the story, Kelly takes the women’s personal cell phones when they go to live with him in properties in Chicago and the Atlanta suburbs, providing them with a new phone with which they are only allowed to contact him, unless they’ve obtained his permission to communicate with someone else. Kelly reportedly records his sexual encounters with the women and dictates how they are allowed to dress and when they eat and bathe. According to a story relayed secondhand from the college roommate of the Georgia woman, Kelly once physically punished her for breaking his “rules”:
T.S. also recalled the woman telling her that one time, Kelly sent a cab to pick up the women at his guest house and bring them to a club where he would meet them. The Georgia woman told her roommate that she laughed when the cab driver told a joke, and one of the other women in the cab texted Kelly to report this violation of his “rules.” When the Georgia woman arrived at the club, T.S. said, Kelly “bent her over and he whupped her behind because she laughed at the cab driver, who happened to be a man.”
Both women in the story first met Kelly backstage at a concert; the then-17-year-old first encountered him when he pulled her onstage during the show. DeRogatis was unable to reach Kelly himself for the story, but obtained a statement denying the allegations from Kelly’s lawyer. “We can only wonder why folks would persist in defaming a great artist who loves his fans, works 24/7, and takes care of all of the people in his life,” the lawyer wrote. “He works hard to become the best person and artist he can be. It is interesting that stories and tales debunked many years ago turn up when his goal is to stop the violence; put down the guns; and embrace peace and love. I suppose that is the price of fame. Like all of us, Mr. Kelly deserves a personal life. Please respect that.”
Read the full story at BuzzFeed.