At 13, I fell in love with the lead singer of a Haitian band. He was tall, handsome, and had the most beautiful smile and the voice of an angel. I had his CDs, covered my bedroom walls with his posters, and doodled hearts around his name.
At 15, I went to a concert at Eisenhower Park in 2004 and met him; it was the days of autograph books — long before selfies. Other young girls and I waited to get a glimpse of him. I handed him my blue autograph book. He smiled and jotted something down. I was in love, and my fave could do no wrong.
Luckily, I outgrew the obsession and now laugh at the thought of it.
Seemingly, that is not the case for some women in the Lifetime documentary “Surviving R. Kelly,” who allege they suffered years of sexual abuse and domestic violence at the hands of their favorite singer.
Jheronda Pace was a fan who at 15 skipped school to attend Kelly’s 2008 child-pornography trial in Chicago. She was eventually invited to Kelly’s Chicago mansion when she was 16, and she says they began a relationship. She admits she lied to Kelly about being 19, but when she told him the truth, she said he told her to “continue telling everybody that you were 19, and to act 21.”
The women say they fell for his charm, and at least three said they were underage when they had sex with Kelly or that they witnessed Kelly having sex with underage girls.
Kelly’s ex-wife and former girlfriends allege he demanded they ask for permission to use the bathroom and to eat, stand when he walked in a room, and wear what he wanted. The women say the punishment for breaking the rules included physical abuse and performing demeaning sexual acts.
The allegations have underscored yearslong accusations that Kelly has kept young women from their families and friends and groomed them for sexual pleasure — accusations that have now drawn the attention of law enforcement officials in Illinois and Georgia. The string of allegations and lawsuits against Kelly, who has denied any wrongdoing, date to the early 1990s. They include:
1991: Kelly is sued for personal injuries and emotional distress by Tina Hawkins. Hawkins claimed she started having sex with the singer at 15 — when he was 24. Kelly settled with Hawkins for a reported $250,000.
1994: The 27-year-old Kelly marries his 15-year-old protégé, Aaliyah, in a secret ceremony in Chicago. The marriage was later annulled.
2008: Kelly is tried on child pornography charges and found not guilty. During the trial, prosecutors were unable to identify the alleged underage victim with whom he engaged in a sexual act on video.
As of this week, Chance the Rapper, Lady Gaga and Celine Dion have distanced themselves from Kelly, with whom they all musically collaborated over years. But why didn’t anyone come forward after the first allegations? In the era of #MeToo, will Kelly’s time be up?
These young women were failed by an industry more than willing to look the other way, by the perception among many African-Americans that the allegations were a smear campaign to bring down a black male artist, and by a justice system that should have done more to protect them.
A 2017 Georgetown University Law Center report on poverty and inequality found that adults view young black girls, particularly those between ages 5 and 14, as less innocent and more sexually mature than white girls the same age. When asked about the women who said they were victimized by Kelly when they were young, a juror from the 2008 trial said he didn’t believe the women because of “the way they dress, the way they act. I didn’t like them.”
Many have called on young black girls to be more vigilant and responsible, but why do we expect children to have better judgment than adults? Aren’t young women as worthy of our protection as famous singers?
Coralie Saint-Louis is an outreach and engagement manager for NextLI, a project of Newsday Opinion.