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New sexual mistreatment allegations against R. Kelly fit a history going back to the 1990s

Jim DeRogatis has been writing about the allegations against R&B singer R. Kelly for nearly 20 years.
Jim DeRogatis has been writing about the allegations against R&B singer R. Kelly for nearly 20 years.
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The accusations of sexual mistreatment by R&B singer R. Kelly, often involving young girls, go back to the 1990s. And they continue through to today.

Writing in Buzzfeed today, Jim DeRogatis reports on two new cases.

In one incident, a woman accuses R. Kelly of sexual and physical abuse when she was a teenager in the 1990’s. And in another, a mother says her daughter is being brainwashed and living in a home under R. Kelly’s control. The DeRogatis story today is a follow up to his expose in July 2017.

There are numerous sources that I've talked to since July and reporting, right up to today, who say women are in trouble right now and it's as if people are seeing someone assaulted on the street and they're walking by and doing nothing. 

Today, The Washington Post reported on the people who may have enabled R. Kelly, and also spoke with RCA Records, a division of Sony, about the allegations. Earlier this week, the activist organization Times Up put out a call for companies to stop working with the singer. 

Back in 2000 when DeRogatis was the pop music critic for the Chicago Sun-Times, he wrote one of the earliest exposés on the allegations against R. Kelly. He spoke with The Frame's John Horn about what he's learned during the 18 years of following the story.

Interview Highlights:

On when he first became aware of R. Kelly's music in 2000:

R. Kelly was a wonderful story. Here's a man who only several years earlier had been singing at backyard barbecues and literally busking for change on L platforms and had instantly become the prominent voice of R&B in his generation. A bigger star– selling more records– than the great Curtis Mayfield from Chicago. And I had gotten a fax after I reviewed his album where I noted the jarring juxtaposition of sex and spiritual transcendence...and of course this is the oldest trope in R&B...and I got an anonymous fax that said: you compared R. Kelly to Marvin Gaye. Well, Marvin had his problems, Jim, but are you aware that R. Kelly's been under investigation by the sex crimes unit of the Chicago Police Department for two years?

On receiving a second anonymous tip in 2002 in the form of a videotape of R. Kelly having sex with a minor:

I got a call one day living at home, go to your mailbox. click. there was an unmarked envelope with a video cassette. I had heard there was a tape like this on the street allegedly showing Kelly having sex with a 14 year old girl. It was 26 minutes and 39 seconds long. Together with my editors at the [Chicago] Sun-Times we made the decision to give that tape to police. To us, it was crystal clear and horrifying evidence of a sexual assault, a felony.

They investigated while we reported our stories and Kelly was indicted. It took 6 years, setting a record in Cook County for how it took to go to trial. 85% of what happened in the court proceedings happened in closed chambers with sealed transcripts. The Chicago Tribune, the [Chicago] Sun-Times and Chicago Public Radio all sued to have those transcripts opened. We still don't know what happened really for most of that trial. 

On R. Kelly being acquitted in 2008:

The girl, mother and the father never testified and the jury acquitted because they did not hear, the foreman says, from the victim, which is a horrifying testament of rape culture. That videotape, the FBI corroborated it. I don't know how that jury acquitted Kelly. But I also think the prosecutor made a mistake in focusing narrowly on that videotape because there had already been four publicly filed lawsuits, three of them by underaged women and one by a legal aged dancer against Kelly. None of the other evidence was admitted in court. There have also been numerous out-of-court settlements in exchange — cash payments to young women who made charges against Kelly. In exchange for the cash they signed non-disclosure agreements. So this is a pattern of behavior that dates back to the mid 1990s. 

What R Kelly's team has said about the allegations:

R. Kelly's people provided a statement essentially saying, the women are of legal age, they are where they want to be, he has done no wrong. Which is pretty much consistent with comments for decades now. Kelly did not testify at his trial. He has never directly addressed the illegal marriage to Aaliyah when she was 15. He's not really ever addressed any of this. There's a memorable interview with VH1 where he's asked if he likes teenage girls. There's a long pause and he says, define teenage.

What his label, RCA, has said about their continuing partnership with Kelly:

Until the story that went live at noon on the Washington Post, they've said absolutely nothing in my reporting since 2000. Today, some of the executives are saying to the Washington Post, is it our job to police our artists? Which I think is harrowing. At this moment in #TimesUp and #MeToo, when we are seeing fabulously successful media personalities, politicians, Hollywood executives, sports figures drop overnight because of their alleged misdoings, the music industry seems to be in a completely different place of not caring whatsoever... this is a man who allegedly is a serial predator for three decades. This is not sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll good times.

On #MuteRKelly, #TimesUp and prominent women speaking out against the singer:

I think that these women now in a position of power — Ava Duvernay, Shonda Rhimes and most of all Tarana Burke who started #MeToo. I think they're amplifying what black women have been saying for three decades. That this man is hurting women in their community. It's wonderful that they are doing that.

On why he's stayed with this story for so long:

I've had mothers and their daughters cry on my shoulder. I've had young women show me the scars on their wrists from where they tried to kill themselves. I've had young women do one of the most difficult things anyone can do, which is to go public with their names on the record talking about sexual assault and opening themselves up to questions of didn't you know what you were doing? I feel like I owe it to dozens of women who've talked to me over the years. Which is not to say that I wouldn't like to see this story end. Law enforcement has investigated Kelly in Chicago, in other cities in Illinois, in Florida, in Georgia and the FBI has conducted dozens of interviews since my story in July and there's been no law enforcement yet.

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