The Chilling Details From The R. Kelly Sex Abuse Scandal

Robert Sylvester Kelly, who is known by the stage name R. Kelly, rose to fame in the 1990s as one of the most successful and talented R&B solo artists of the decade. However, rumors of inappropriate behavior — including accusations of sexual encounters with minors — eventually overshadowed his successful career and ultimately landed him in prison on charges of bribery, the sexual exploitation of a child, and sex trafficking.

A native of Chicago, Illinois, Biography reports that Kelly was one of five children and was raised by a single mother. Although his mother struggled financially, Kelly was given an opportunity to attend Kenwood Academy, where he demonstrated an exceptional talent for singing. Kelly's music teacher, Lena McLin, encouraged him to develop his inherent talent and, according to Kelly, was convinced he "would be a big star."

Although he started out singing on the streets of Chicago, Kelly got his big break in 1990, when he was offered a recording contract with Jive Records. By 1993, his hit single, "Bump N' Grind," reached number one on the pop charts. In 1996, "I Believe I Can Fly" was an instant hit and eventually earned Kelly three Grammy Awards.

In addition to his success as a solo singer, Kelly collaborated with a number of other artists, including Gladys Knight, Whitney Houston, and Michael Jackson. He also produced Aaliyah's 1994 album, "Age Ain't Nothing But a Number." 

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

R. Kelly was 27 when he married 15-year-old Aaliyah

Shortly following the release of "Age Ain't Nothing But a Number," Aaliyah and R. Kelly were married in Rosemont, Illinois. As reported by Biography, the marriage was specifically controversial, as Aaliyah was only 15 and Kelly was 27 years old (though Aaliyah's age was listed as "18" on the marriage certificate). When Aaliyah's parents learned she was married to Kelly, they demanded that the couple split and the marriage be annulled. The marriage was annulled by a Detroit court in 1995, and the documents were officially sealed in 1997. Years later, a witness who testified in Kelly's criminal trial said she observed Kelly having sexual relations with Aaliyah when she was as young as 13. As reported by the BBC, the woman, who was one of Kelly's former backup singers, said the incident occurred on a tour bus.

In December 1996, a woman named Tiffany Hawkins filed a civil lawsuit against Kelly, which alleged he sexually abused her when she was a teen. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, Hawkins said she was 15 years old the first time she and Kelly had a sexual encounter. As stated in the lawsuit, the abuse continued for three years. As a result, Hawkins suffered personal injuries and severe emotional harm.

Although she was seeking $10 million in damages, the case was ultimately settled for $250,000. Further details are not available, as Hawkins is forbidden from discussing the case per the terms of the settlement.

R. Kelly was sued multiple times for sexual relations with minors

Although Tiffany Hawkins is unable to discuss the lawsuit, another woman who was named in the lawsuit came forward to provide some disturbing details. In an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, the woman said she met R. Kelly when she was 14 years old, and he was 23. In addition to having several sexual encounters with Kelly when she was 16,  Hawkins, who was 15 at the time, was also allegedly involved on at least one occasion. The woman, who was 25 at the time of the interview, told the publication she thinks Kelly has some kind of "sickness."

As reported by Biography, Kelly married dancer Andrea Lee in 1996. The couple remained married for 13 years and had three children together. However, the allegations of Kelly's inappropriate sexual relations with minors persisted. In 1999, Kelly allegedly convinced an 18-year-old to fly from Los Angeles to Chicago. Years later, the woman said Kelly convinced her they were soul mates and that he was falling in love with her. She also said she was not aware Kelly was married at the time. In an interview with Chicago Sun-Times, the woman said she thinks Kelly "does have a problem."

In 2001, a woman named Tracy Sampson filed a civil lawsuit against Kelly, alleging they had sexual relations when she was 17 years old. Per CNN, the case was ultimately settled out of court, and the terms of the settlement were not disclosed.

R. Kelly continued to prosper amid multiple allegations

In 2002, a video that reportedly featured R. Kelly having sex with an underage girl was given to Illinois authorities. Although he was charged with 21 counts, including several counts of child pornography, Biography reports that the alleged victim refused to testify, and Kelly was ultimately found not guilty. Kelly faced similar charges in Florida in 2003. However, those charges were later dismissed.

As reported by CNN, Kelly was served with another civil lawsuit in 2002, which was filed by a woman named Patrice Jones. According to the lawsuit, Kelly had sexual relations with Jones when she was 16 years old. When Jones got pregnant, Kelly allegedly forced her to terminate the pregnancy. Like the others, the lawsuit was settled out of court, and the details of the settlement were never disclosed.

In July 2017, BuzzFeed published an article alleging Kelly was holding six women against their will in what was described as a cult-like atmosphere. According to the article, Kelly had complete control over "every aspect of their lives: dictating what they eat, how they dress, when they bathe, when they sleep, and how they engage in sexual encounters that he records."

Despite the allegations and rumors about Kelly's sexual exploitation of underage girls, his career did not falter. Between 2009 and 2017, Kelly had three No. 1 albums on the Billboard 200 chart (via Time). He also performed at the 2010 World Cup, the 2011 Grammys, and the 2013 Coachella festival.

R. Kelly's downfall began in 2017

Although the allegations were never proven, the BuzzFeed article was the beginning of R. Kelly's downfall. As reported by Time, the piece ultimately brought attention to all of the previous allegations and prompted social media users to post the hashtag #MuteRKelly. Elsewhere, another civil lawsuit filed by Faith Rodgers in 2018 only added fuel to the increasingly negative publicity surrounding the singer. In the lawsuit, Rogers accused Kelly of sexual battery. She further alleged that he threatened her with physical harm if she told anyone what happened.

The release of the Lifetime docuseries "Surviving R. Kelly" in 2019 outlined all of the allegations against Kelly and included more than 50 interviews, including several of his alleged victims and witnesses to the abuse. Following the docuseries' release, Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx pleaded with any of Kelly's alleged victims to come forward. Protests related to the allegations led to the cancellation of concerts, the removal of Kelly's songs from the Spotify app, and eventually prompted Sony to cancel Kelly's contract.

In February 2019, Kelly was indicted on 10 counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse, including the abuse of three minors. Three months later, Time reports that 11 more charges were added to the case. Speaking to CBS News' Gayle King, Kelly has vehemently denied all of the allegations of sexual abuse. During the 2019 interview, Kelly said, "This is not me ... I'm not afraid because I'm telling the truth!"

R. Kelly was convicted on nine counts, including exploitation of children

During his CBS News interview, R. Kelly told Gayle King that he never targeted underage girls and never physically or sexually abused anyone. According to King, he believes "he treats women like royalty." During the interview, he also denied having filmed sexual encounters with any women. But attorney and women's rights advocate Gloria Allred said Kelly is "the worst" sexual predator she has pursued throughout her entire career (via BET). In addition to using his celebrity status to lure underage girls to his home, Allred said he "isolated, intimidated, indoctrinated, shamed, and humiliated" them.

On September 21, 2021, Kelly was convicted on nine criminal counts, including coercion and transportation of women and girls to engage in illegal sexual activity, and criminal conduct including exploitation of children, forced labor, and racketeering. As reported by the Eastern District of New York, Acting U.S. Attorney Jacquelyn M. Kasulis said the "guilty verdict forever brands R. Kelly as a predator, who used his fame and fortune to prey on the young, the vulnerable, and the voiceless for his own sexual gratification."

Kelly is currently incarcerated and awaiting sentencing. He is facing 10 years to life in prison.