In July 2017, BuzzFeed published a story about two young women whose parents believe they are being abused and manipulated in a cultlike relationship with R. Kelly. The shocking story alleges that the R&B legend recruited women as young as 18, banned them from communicating with their family and friends, controlled what they wore and ate, and recorded sexual encounters with them. The parents of the two women featured in the story believe their daughters are being held against their will, and have attempted unsuccessfully to have law enforcement intervene.
Though he has never been convicted of sexual misconduct, stories about Kelly’s relationships with young women have been circulating for years, many of them based on the dogged reporting of Jim DeRogatis, who also penned the recent BuzzFeed story. What follows is a brief timeline of those stories.
(This story was originally published on July 17, 2017, and last updated on February 22, 2019)
1994: Kelly marries then 15-year-old Aaliyah
The late R&B singer recorded her first album, Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number, in 1994, at 14 years old, with Kelly, then in his late ’20s, as her primary songwriter. Following rumors of a romantic relationship, Vibe published a marriage certificate between the two filed in 1995, in Rosemont, Illinois, on which Aaliyah’s age had been falsified as 18. Neither artist publicly admitted to the marriage before Aaliyah’s death in a plane crash seven years later.
According to documents obtained by DeRogatis for a 2000 Chicago Sun-Times story, Aaliyah and her family obtained an annulment of the marriage from a Michigan judge shortly after. The family also successfully argued to expunge all records of the marriage in 1997, because Aaliyah was too young to be married without her parents’ permission under Illinois law at the time. According to DeRogatis, Aaliyah “quickly ended her personal and professional relationships” with Kelly after the marriage. Her second album, 1996’s One in A Million, was produced by Timbaland, with no contributions from Kelly.
“I’ve always said, out of respect for her mother who’s sick and her father who’s passed, I will never have that conversation with anyone,” Kelly said when a GQ reporter pressed him about the marriage last year.
1996: Tiffany Hawkins sues Kelly, claiming they had sex when she was 15 years old
Derogatis’s first big Kelly story, the aforementioned Sun-Times piece from 2000, focused on a Chicago woman named Tiffany Hawkins. In a 1996 lawsuit that went mostly unreported at the time, Hawkins claimed to have had a four-year sexual relationship with Kelly that began in 1991, when she was 15, to 1994, when she was 18. According to the story, Kelly met Hawkins and at least one other teenaged girl with whom he allegedly had sex while he was visiting a choir class at Kenwood Academy in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood, where he’d attended school years before. DeRogatis later said that Hawkins slit her wrists in a suicide attempt after the relationship ended.
Hawkins’ lawsuit alleged that Kelly encouraged her to participate in group sex with other underage girls, and sought $10 million in damages. The other alleged victim, who goes unnamed in DeRogatis’s story, said that she and Hawkins sang backing vocals on Kelly-produced songs, including some by Aaliyah. She said that Kelly urged her to drop out out school to be with him, and like the women in the more recent story, she believed that having sex with Kelly would help advance her own musical career. She added that Kelly did not physically force himself on her or other young women, and called his apparent predilection for underage girls a “sickness.”
According to DeRogatis’s sources, Hawkins and Kelly settled the suit out of court for $250,000.
January 2001: DeRogatis receives a sex tape showing R. Kelly with an underage girl from an anonymous source
Shortly after publishing the story about Hawkins’s lawsuit, DeRogatis received a videotape from an anonymous source, which purported to show Kelly having sex with an underage woman. The editors of the Sun-Times elected to provide the tape to the Chicago Police Department, which investigated its contents but was unable to verify the age or identity of the woman.
August 2001: Tracy Sampson sues Kelly, alleging underaged sex and emotional abuse
A former intern at Epic Records named Tracy Sampson filed a lawsuit alleging that Kelly encouraged her “into an indecent sexual relationship” in 2000, when she was 17 years old. Her suit foreshadows the more recent allegations about Kelly’s emotional manipulation of women. “I was coerced into receiving oral sex from a girl I did not want to have sex with,” she claimed in the suit. “I was often treated as his personal sex object and cast aside. He would tell me to come to his studio and have sex with him, then tell me to go. He often tried to control every aspect of my life including who I would see and where I would go.” Kelly and Sampson settled out of court for an undisclosed sum, the New York Post reported the following year.
February 2002: Chicago police investigate Kelly over sex tape with apparent 14-year-old
DeRogatis received yet another anonymously sourced tape which purported to show Kelly having sex with an underaged girl, which the Sun-Times again elected to provide to local police. DeRogatis described the contents of the tape in a 2013 interview with the Village Voice:
You watch the video for which he was indicted and there is the disembodied look of the rape victim. He orders her to call him Daddy. He urinates in her mouth and instructs her at great length on how to position herself to receive his “gift.” It’s a rape that you’re watching. So we’re not talking about rock star misbehavior, which men or women can do. We’re talking about predatory behavior. Their lives were ruined.
The girl, who was 17 at the time of the story, was identified by her aunt for a Sun-Times story about the video. The aunt believed the girl to be 14 at the time the tape was recorded. (The Sun-Times elected not to publish the girl’s name.) In the story, DeRogatis reported that Chicago police had been investigating Kelly’s relationship with the girl for three years before they received the video, but that both the girl and her parents had denied that she and Kelly had sex. “Now, with the video, authorities tell the Sun-Times they are more optimistic about building a case against Kelly,” he wrote.
John M. Touhy, Kelly’s lawyer, claimed that the video was a forgery.
April-May 2002: Patrice Jones and Montina Woods sue Kelly
The accusations against Kelly began piling up in the spring of 2002, when two women filed new lawsuits against him alleging sexual misconduct. The first, Patrice Jones, claimed that Kelly pressured her into a sexual relationship in the late ’90s, when she was 16 years old. Her suit, filed in April, alleged that she had sex with Kelly “20 and 30 times” before turning 17, and that Kelly impregnated her and coerced her into having an abortion, MTV reported at the time. Like many of the other girls, Jones said that Kelly had promised to help her as a musician. “She’s under psychological care now,” Jones’ lawyer said. “She had another baby later, but she’s still never gotten over what she did. It’s changed her life.”
In May, a woman named Montina Woods also sued Kelly, alleging that he recorded them having sex without her knowledge, and that the recording was later included on an R. Kelly sex tape compilation that was sold by bootleggers under the title “R. Kelly Triple-X.”
Kelly settled with both women out of court, for undisclosed sums, and denied wrongdoing in each case.
June 2002: Kelly is arrested and indicted on child porn charges for second tape provided to DeRogatis
Four months after DeRogatis reported on the Chicago Police Department’s investigation into the second sex tape, the singer was charged with 21 counts of manufacturing child pornography. He was arrested in Florida, where he was hit with 12 more child porn charges based on photos police allegedly found, which also showed him having sex with an apparently underage girl. (These Florida charges were eventually dropped after a judge ruled that the photos were obtained without probable cause for a search warrant. Seven of the Chicago charges were also eventually dropped.)
Kelly pled not guilty and posted bail for the Chicago charges several days later.
June 2008: Kelly is acquitted
After years of delays, Kelly went to trial for the Chicago child porn charges in June 2008. A jury found him not guilty of all 14 remaining counts. Fourteen witnesses for the prosecution identified the woman on the tape as the same unidentified girl, and several also identified Kelly as the man. An expert said that the tape had not been forged or otherwise tampered with.
However, the alleged victim herself did not testify, which presented “a big handicap” to the prosecution’s case, according to jurors who spoke with New York Times reporters at the time. According to WBEZ, the jurors said that they believed Kelly was the man on the tape, but could not be certain about the identity of the woman.
DeRogatis addressed the acquittal in the 2013 Village Voice interview:
We do have a justice system and he was acquitted. OK, fine. And these other women took the civil lawsuit route. He was tried on very narrow grounds. He was tried on a 29-minute, 36-second videotape. He was tried on trading child pornography. He was not tried for rape. He was acquitted of making child pornography.
2013: Allegations against Kelly resurface publicly after he is booked to perform at that year’s Pitchfork Festival
After five relatively quiet years, the Kelly’s allegations became a topic of conversation again after DeRogatis publicly condemned Pitchfork for booking him to perform at that year’s Pitchfork Festival. “The saddest fact I’ve learned is: Nobody matters less to our society than young black women,” he said in the subsequent Voice interview.
2016: Kelly goes public with relationship with 19-year-old
Last year, fans on social media were aghast when Kelly was photographed at a party with then-19-year-old Halle Calhoun. While the pair’s apparent relationship was not in violation of any laws, for some it brought up distasteful memories of Kelly’s past. “Kelly has a history of preying on underage girls,” Tom Sykes wrote at the Daily Beast. “So perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that the 49-year-old is now reportedly dating a teenager.”
July 2017: BuzzFeed publishes Derogatis’s “cult” story
DeRogatis’s new story gives the most vivid rendering we’ve seen yet of the emotional abuse and manipulation that sources say goes along with Kelly’s sexual conduct. For example, a former personal assistant to the singer told DeRogatis that Kelly only permits the women to wear jogging suits so that other men can’t see the outlines of their bodies. When other men are in the same room, she said, Kelly “would make the girls turn around and face the wall in their jogging suits because he doesn’t want them to be looked at by anyone else.”
Linda Mensch, Kelly’s attorney, denied the claims in a statement to BuzzFeed. “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,” she wrote in part.
August 2017: Jehronda Pace alleges underage relationship with Kelly
Jehronda Pace, the first of several women to come forward about Kelly in the wake of DeRogatis’s 2017 reporting, claims in a BuzzFeed News interview to have had a sexual relationship with Kelly that began in 2009, when she was 16 years old. According to Pace, she initially lied about her age to Kelly, but eventually told him the truth, and he continued the relationship after learning that she was underaged. Pace told BuzzFeed that Kelly filmed their sexual encounters without her consent, and that she ended the relationship with him when he physically abused her after catching her texting with a friend. Documents reviewed by BuzzFeed showed that Kelly had Pace sign a non-disclosure agreement about their relationship. Pace pursued an undisclosed out-of-court settlement with Kelly over his alleged behavior, for which she received payments as recently as 2015.
October 2017: Kitti Jones details alleged abuse by Kelly
Former Dallas radio DJ Kitti Jones, in an interview with Rolling Stone and later with Spin, said that Kelly coerced her into sex and physically and sexually abused her while she lived with the singer in Chicago between 2011 and 2013. “Coming forward at that time was out of the question,” Jones told Spin. “I wasn’t sure who I was anymore. I was just ashamed, I wanted to go into hiding, I wanted to forget that it happened.”
2017-2018: R. Kelly concerts attract protests and cancellations
Beginning in 2017, new waves of attention brought on the by recent allegations threatened to derail Kelly’s touring career, leading to canceled concerts and protests at venues that would still host him. In August 2018, Spin reported on a little-promoted concert at Madison Square Garden’s Hulu Theatre in New York City, which would have been Kelly’s highest-profile booking in some time. The concert was soon canceled, with promoters blaming inclement weather due to Hurricane Florence.
February 2018: Kelly evicted from two homes
In a possible sign of the financial impact of the allegations against him, Kelly was evicted from two homes in Atlanta in February 2018. According to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution report, he owed $31,000 in back rent payments on the homes, one of which cost $3,000 per month in rent and the other of which cost $11,542.
April 2018: New accuser says R. Kelly gave her STD, groomed her for “sex cult”
In April, the Washington Post reported on a police report and civil complaint filed in Dallas against Kelly by an anonymous woman. The woman alleged that the singer knowingly infected her with an unnamed STD, and accused him of “several forms of criminal misconduct…including, but not limited to, unlawful restraint, furnishing alcohol and illegal drugs to a minor, and aggravated assault (via the referenced intentional STD infection),” according to a statement from her lawyer. On the day the report was publicized, Dallas Police confirmed to Spin that they were investigating the allegations.
April-May 2018: R. Kelly’s “world crumbling” as he loses staff, faces more allegations and Time’s Up pressure
Kelly’s lawyer, publicist, and assistant cut ties with him in early 2018, with the BBC and Rolling Stone reporting the various departures in April. A May BuzzFeed News report from DeRogatis and Marisa Carroll alleged that Kelly’s “world is crumbling” amid the departures and pressure from the Time’s Up organization, which declared its support of the #MuteRKelly movement, a campaign to cancel the singer’s concerts and remove his songs from radio airplay. The BuzzFeed report also includes abuse allegations regarding two new women: Lizzette Martinez, who said she met Kelly when she was 17, and another woman identified only as “N.,” whose mother told BuzzFeed she also met Kelly at age 17.
On the same day as the BuzzFeed report, the Washington Post also published an exposé detailing accusations by two additional women who said Kelly abused them in the past. Soon after, a woman named Asante McGee appeared on the Today show (alongside previous accuser Kitti Jones), alleging that she had to ask permission to use the bathroom while living with Kelly, and that the singer would slap women for calling him anything other than “daddy.”
At around the same time, Pitchfork apologized for its controversial booking of Kelly at the Pitchfork Festival in 2013. “While Kelly has not been charged with any crime since his 2008 acquittal on charges of child pornography, and denies all allegations, an overwhelming number of accusations of sexual abuse have been made against him dating back many years,” the company wrote in a statement. “It was wrong to book R. Kelly to perform at our festival in 2013 and we regret doing so.”
May-July 2018: Kelly speaks, and sings, about the allegations against him
In May, a video of Kelly speaking defiantly to a group of associates surfaced on social media. As the first extended remarks from the singer about the allegations to trickle out to the public, they are revealing of his mindset. “It’s too late, they should have did this shit 30 years ago,” he said at one point, seemingly referencing accusers, journalists, and social movements like #MuteRKelly. “I’ve got a million motherfuckers hating me, and 40 billion motherfuckers loving me,” he added.
Two months later, he released “I Admit,” a bizarre 19-minute song that addresses his accusers and critics in detail, and sometimes by name. Despite its title, the song does not contain anything resembling an apology for or acknowledgement of allegedly abusive behavior. “I admit I helped so many people,” “I admit that I been underrated,” “I admit that she was over age,” Kelly sings variously throughout the song.
October 2018: Kelly’s ex-wife accuses him of abuse in new interview
Andrea Kelly, who was married to R. Kelly from 1996 to 2009, told the View in October that he physically abused her. She alleges that her ex-husband once hog-tied her to a bed, and attacked her in the back of a car so violently that she thought she might die. “I said ‘Robert, you’re going to kill me. I can’t breathe,'” she said. “I just thought, ‘Oh, my God. I’m going to die in the back of this Hummer.’”
December 2018-January 2019: Surviving R. Kelly documentary airs, draws threats
A new three-part documentary series produced by Lifetime about Kelly debuted on January 3. The premiere episode recaps previous abuse allegations against Kelly, and features commentary by figures including John Legend and Wendy Williams. “To everyone telling me how courageous I am for appearing in the doc, it didn’t feel risky at all,” Legend tweeted after the premiere. “I believe these women and don’t give a fuck about protecting a serial child rapist. Easy decision.”
In December, a preview screening of Surviving R. Kelly in New York was evacuated and postponed after it received multiple anonymous threats, including a threat of gun violence. Andrea Kelly, who appears in the documentary, said she believed R. Kelly himself may have been responsible for the threats. “The first thing that came to my mind — and I can’t speak for anyone else — was that [R. Kelly] had this shut down,” she told Rolling Stone. “I believe it was somebody connected to him.”
January 2019: R. Kelly is dropped from Sony Music
On January 18, Billboard reported that R. Kelly had been dropped from the roster of Sony Music. (Kelly’s early albums were released on the now-defunct Sony subsidiary Jive, and he moved to the company’s RCA label for 2012’s Write Me Back.) The news came after the airing of the Surviving R. Kelly docuseries, which reignited public criticism of the singer and drew protesters to Sony Music’s office in New York. Also in January, a number of collaborations with Kelly were removed from streaming services, including songs by Céline Dion, Chance the Rapper, and Lady Gaga.
February 2019: A new video surfaces depicting R. Kelly allegedly assaulting an underage girl
On February 14, star lawyer Michael Avenatti revealed that he had been retained in April 2018 by “multiple clients in connection with allegations of sexual assault of minors” regarding R. Kelly. In a lengthy statement posted to Twitter, Avenatti wrote that his office uncovered a 45-minute VHS videotape of R. Kelly engaging in “multiple sexual assaults of a girl underage,” and that he had provided the tape to Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx in Chicago. Both The New Yorker and CNN reported that the tape contained footage of R. Kelly having sex with an apparently underage girl. Kelly’s lawyer Steve Greenberg responded to the reports by calling them an orchestrated “fraud,” claiming that R. Kelly “has always followed the law.”
February 2019: Two new women accuse Kelly of sexual abuse
In a February 21 press conference, Latresa Scaff and Rochelle Washington detailed their relationships with R. Kelly for the first time. The women allege they met Kelly backstage at one of his concerts in 1996, when they were 16 and 15, respectively. They were reportedly given alcohol and marijuana at an afterparty, and told to meet with Kelly in his hotel room. The singer’s entourage apparently told the Scaff and Washington to “pull up [their] dresses” when Kelly arrived. The women allege that when Kelly did arrive at the hotel room, his penis was exposed, and he asked them to dance for him. They say Kelly then had sex with the 16-year-old Scaff as Washington hid in a bathroom. Said Washington, “I could never forget that day. I can’t get it out of my mind, what I saw and what happened.”
February 2019: R. Kelly is charged with aggravated criminal sexual abuse
On Friday, February 22, R. Kelly was charged with 10 counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse in Cook County, Illinois. The counts are all class 2 felonies. The prosecution alleges that the incidents for which the singer was indicted took place between 1998 and 2010, and that Kelly’s victims were minors between the ages of 13 and 16. According to a Chicago Sun-Times report, a judge also approved a no-bail warrant for Kelly’s arrest. Writing for The New Yorker, Jim DeRogatis reported that a grand jury has been convened in New York’s Southern District for another potential indictment, and that Kelly is currently being investigated three federal agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security.