Warning: This story contains sensitive details related to sexual abuse
This week, for the second time since 2008, R. Kelly will stand for a criminal trial. The R&B singer is charged with racketeering, running a criminal enterprise and violating an anti-human-trafficking law called the Mann Act.
The trial, which is set to start in Brooklyn Wednesday, has been years in the making. Best known for hits Ignition (Remix) and I Believe I Can Fly before his disgrace from the music industry, Kelly has been the subject of a steady stream of lawsuits and allegations of sexual misconduct since the mid-1990s.
He is notorious for allegedly targeting underage girls who attended his live concerts and having sex with them.
These are the key moments leading up to this week’s sex trafficking trial.
At 27, Kelly marries 15-year-old Aaliyah
The singer met teen superstar Aaliyah when she was 14, producing her debut album Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number, and writing its eponymous title track. Kelly’s lawyers confirmed earlier this month that he had sexual relations with Aaliyah while she was a minor.
It was eventually revealed that in 1994, Kelly bribed a government employee to create a fake ID for Aaliyah so that he could legally marry her.
She was 15 years old at the time and Kelly was 27. Their marriage was annulled a year later.
According to the New York Times, Aaliyah — who died in a 2002 plane crash — is Jane Doe #1 in the prosecutor’s upcoming case against Kelly.
From 1996 onward, Kelly was the subject of multiple lawsuits filed by women who said they were underage when he had sexual relations with them. One case was settled in court for $250,000 US.
Three other cases — in which he was accused of sexual coercion, videotaping sexual encounters without consent and one in which a woman said Kelly impregnated her then forced her to have an abortion — were settled out of court. Some of them had non-disclosure agreements barring alleged victims from speaking out afterward.
Sex tape of Kelly with a 14-year-old girl
In 2002, a videotape was anonymously delivered to music reporter Jim DeRogatis’s home. DeRogatis broke a 2000 Chicago Sun-Times story that first described Kelly’s alleged predatory behaviour, writing that the singer “used his position of fame and influence as a pop superstar to meet girls as young as 15 and have sex with them.”
The video appeared to show Kelly engaged in sexual relations with a 14-year-old girl. At one point in the video, he urinates on her. Police launched an investigation. Later that year, Kelly was indicted on 21 counts of child pornography.
Acquitted on child porn charges in 2008
After a series of delays initiated by his lawyers, Kelly went to court for a criminal trial in 2008 for the charges related to the 2002 sex tape.
But after just a few hours of deliberations, the singer was acquitted on all counts. The jury found him not guilty due to insufficient evidence, and jury members were unable to determine the identities of either party in the video. The victim and her family did not testify.
Buzzfeed story on Kelly’s ‘sex cult’
Almost two decades after his Chicago Sun-Times story, DeRogatis wrote a 2017 expose for Buzzfeed News, painting a disturbing portrait of a “sex cult” run by Kelly and facilitated by his inner circle.
The story described Kelly as a “pied piper,” living with a group of young women who were financially dependent on him and frequently subjected to the singer’s sexual and emotional abuse.
The victims who were quoted in the story said they had little to no outside contact with their families, as their personal cell phones were confiscated once they arrived to live with the singer. The story featured testimony by some parents of the young women, with one mother stating that it was as if her daughter was “brainwashed” by Kelly.
In 2017, Kenyette Barnes and Oronike Odeleye launched a grassroots campaign to pressure consumers and streaming platforms into financial divestment from R. Kelly’s music.
A letter from the Time’s Up organization, founded by Hollywood celebrities to support victims of sexual assault, called on streaming giants like Apple Music and Spotify — as well as RCA Records, which had released four of Kelly’s most recent albums — to sever ties with the singer and cease all promotion of his music.
Though the efforts received widespread support, the singer continued to perform live despite longtime assertions (including ones highlighted in the Buzzfeed story) that he used his concerts as venues to meet and groom underage girls for sex.
Surviving R. Kelly series features alleged victims
A six-part documentary series about R. Kelly was released by Lifetime in 2019, detailing many of the sexual assault allegations made against the singer. It included interviews with alleged victims, as well as some of Kelly’s relatives, former members of his inner circle and other figures in the music industry.
WATCH | R. Kelly responds to allegations of abuse in an interview with Gayle King:
The documentary series renewed public interest in the allegations. Kim Foxx, State’s Attorney for Cook County made a public appeal for victims to come forward in response to the documentary, calling the series “deeply disturbing.”
The singer responded to the allegations in an interview with CBS News, denying any wrongdoing.
Kelly is charged in Chicago with aggravated sexual abuse
In February 2019, Kelly was charged for aggravated sexual assault. No trial date has been set for these charges.
The charges followed the 2019 discovery of a second sex tape that was given to celebrity lawyer Michael Avenatti by someone who knew Kelly. The video, which occurred in the same time frame as the first sex tape, showed Kelly engaged in sexual relations with a 14-year-old girl. It featured repeated lewd references to the girl’s age throughout its duration.
Allegations of sexual imprisonment
Five months later, in July 2019, federal prosecutors in Chicago arrested Kelly, charging him on 13 counts, including enticement of a minor, obstruction of justice and child pornography. The charges are rooted in Kelly’s first federal trial in 2008, alleging that he intimidated the victim and her family into silence. That trial is not scheduled to move forward until after the Brooklyn trial wraps up.
On the same day, in a separate indictment, federal prosecutors in Brooklyn charged Kelly with racketeering, violating the Mann Act, and running a criminal enterprise. A chilling statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office described how Kelly lured underage girls into sexual imprisonment with the aid of his entourage. It said he forced his victims to follow oppressive rules: they were forbidden from leaving their rooms without Kelly’s permission and from looking at other men, forced to wear baggy clothes outside and forced to address the singer as “Daddy.”
The statement said the charges related to conduct that “occurred over the course of two decades in New York, Connecticut, Illinois and California.”
Kelly is scheduled to face those charges in court this week.