Carly McallisterStaff Editor

Dubbed by millions as the “King of R&B,” multi-platinum award winning recording artist Robert Kelly, simply known as R. Kelly, has sold over 75 million records worldwide, won multiple Grammys, and been named the most successful R&B artist in history by Billboard.[1]  The African American community that has worshipped him for decades formed an army-like force field of supporters around him despite gross allegations.  Kelly’s genius talent and success have enabled him to establish a “protected, predatory pattern” that has made him virtually unstoppable – until now.[2]  Kelly carries a decades long history of sexual abuse allegations; most of which have gone unpunished.  In this case, affluence has unfortunately outpaced the American legal system. Here, it is not that the system has failed, but rather that it has been overrun by the beloved Kelly’s boundless influence and massive amounts of money he has used to manipulate the star witnesses in his cases.  However, his wealth has now run out and he can no longer buy his victims’ and cohorts’ silence.

Kelly has had his fair share of legal battles regarding the accusations, but has evaded prosecution and civil liability, coming out effectually unscathed.  Whether it be by paying victims off, blackmailing, using force and threats, delaying trials, drawing up settlement and nondisclosure agreements, or brainwashing his underage victims, Kelly has never been severely prosecuted; nor has he paid retribution in civil court to rectify the horrific abuse he has inflicted on hundreds of, mostly underage, women.  Kelly has overcome not only abuse claims, but even possession of child pornography while continuing to rise to the top of music charts.  As a master manipulator, he painted himself as the victim and used the African American community’s general distrust of the criminal-justice system “to trigger racial resentment as a way to provide cover for his alleged misdeeds.”[3]

In 1994, an adult Kelly married a 15 year old child by forging their marriage certificate to list her as an adult.[4]  In 1996, Kelly faced several claims of sexual abuse over group sex with numerous minors.[5]  More of these allegationscontinued through 2002 when he was indicted on 21 counts of child pornography following the discovery of a sex tape allegedly depicting Kelly urinating in the mouth of a 14 year old girl.[6]  The following year, Kelly was arrested again and charged with 12 counts of child pornography regarding photographs found in his home; however, the charges were dropped.[7]  Kelly managed to postpone his trial 6 years and was eventually found not guilty on all charges after the victim refused to cooperate; Kelly “gave the [victim] and her family gifts, money before and after the trial in exchange for her lying to investigators, being unavailable for interviews and refusing to testify against him.”[8]

Astonishingly, amidst these repeated scandals involving extreme sexual misconduct, Kelly continued to succeed and remain a respected pillar of the African American community, receiving several awards for “black achievement.”[9]  His audacity matched his success, as he acted as if he was virtually invincible.  Boldly, Kelly met and solicited underage victims that had come to support him at his child pornography trial.[10]  More recently, Kelly’s sexual preferences escalated to a vigorous new level as claims of human sex trafficking materialized.

In 2017, Buzzfeed published an article exposing an alleged abusive “sex cult” in which victims revealed that Kelly routinely coerces parents to turn their minor daughters over to him under the promise of helping them achieve stardom, brainwashes them, holds them against their will, emotionally, physically, and sexually abuses them, and “controls every aspect of their lives: dictating what they eat, how they dress, when they bathe, when the sleep, and how they engage in sexual encounters that he records.”[11]

Surviving R. Kelly, a groundbreaking documentary series, was released at the beginning of 2019 and reactions were explosive.  Almost immediately after the series aired, massive numbers of new victims came forward and social consequences emerged.[12]  Prominent entities like Facebook took stands against him; mainstream African American luminaries including John Legend, Chance the Rapper, and more made public statements against him; and African American protesters gathered and established a nationwide, grassroots “#muteRKelly” movement which cued leading African American DJs to stop playing his music.[13]  Financial issues loomed when Illinois officials denied permits for R. Kelly concerts, RCA records dropped Kelly, elite celebrities such as Celine Dion, the Pussycat Dolls, and Lady Gaga pulled their duets with him from streaming services, and Sony Music dissolved his contract.[14]  Further investigationsarose and another sex tape featuring Kelly with underage women emerged.[15]

Currently, charges are piling up by the dozens.  This year, Kelly was indicted on 21 new counts of sexual abuse of underage women, followed by 24 federal charges.[16]  The pending charges allege sexual battery, production and possession of more child pornography, prostitution and solicitation of a minor, coercion of minors to engage in criminal sexual activity, and conspiracy to threaten victims and hide evidence.[17]

Kelly’s career has deteriorated within a matter of months and he has run out of capital to fight his increasingly complex legal problems.[18]  With his undying racial support, career, and financial independence eliminated, will R. Kelly be able to yet again circumvent consequences for his monstrous actions, or will the judicial system be able to work as designed in the absence of his superior resources?  Kelly’s sudden dilemma of a loss of wherewithal is a direct result of the explosive exposure of his actions from victims coming forward publicly.  This clearly demonstrates how the media can be an incredible ally to the legal system when combating high profile offenders.  Kelly’s newfound lack of capacity will undoubtedly make his upcoming trial turn out much differently than his previous ones.  Kelly faces trial for federal charges this coming April, and more will be revealed.