Kenneth Petty’s Sexual Assault Victim Wants You (and Nicki Minaj) to Know One Thing: ‘This Happened’
Jennifer Hough is suing Minaj and her husband, Kenneth Petty, for harassment and witness intimidation. She says associates of the Pettys tried to bribe and bully her into silence.
The morning before her lawsuit against Nicki Minaj and Kenneth “Zoo” Petty went public, Jennifer Hough was crying hysterically on the phone with her lawyer.
Petty was convicted of first-degree attempted rape in 1995 after he sexually assaulted Hough at knifepoint. As Hough told The Daily Beast this spring, associates of the couple began pressuring her to recant her story last March after Petty’s arrest in California for failing to register as a sex offender as mandated by his plea deal. Last week a friend sent Hough a video that an acquaintance, a man named Barry, had posted on Facebook Stories in which he appeared to threaten her life.
Barry, who grew up in the same Queens neighborhood as Minaj, Petty, and Hough, was among the couple’s associates who allegedly spent months last year trying to convince Hough to recant. Hough’s lawsuit states that he put her on the phone with the rapper in March and eventually offered her $20,000 in cash on the couple’s behalf.
In the video, which The Daily Beast has reviewed along with a related police report, Barry made vague reference to the allegations and accused Hough of attempting to “extort” him for $500,000. In a Tiger King-like flourish, he also repeatedly teased that his viewers would soon witness what he called “John Wayne TV.” (The name, however, was misspelled in a subtitle as “Jon Wayne.”)
The video ends on an image in which two guns are visible and circled. The caption: “Be safe out here lol.”
Hough is suing Minaj and Petty for harassment, witness intimidation, and intentional infliction of emotional distress, among other charges. She hopes her lawsuit will encourage other women and young girls, especially her own daughters, to stand up for themselves—even and especially when it seems like no one else will.
“I was never a fan of bullies,” Hough told The Daily Beast during a recent interview. “I taught my kids, you don’t be a bully and you don’t stand around and watch somebody be a bully. And I guess that’s how I feel in this situation.”
“I’ve been feeling completely bullied—but bullied by the world, almost,” Hough continued. “Only because of a statement that was made by someone who just happens to do music. You know? Someone who happens to be famous.”
During their single phone conversation, Hough alleges that Minaj said she’d heard she was willing to “help out” in Petty’s legal predicament and offered to fly her to Los Angeles, or to send her publicist to meet with Hough where she lived in Atlanta and draft a statement recanting. Hough says she declined both offers, but claims she told Minaj one thing before the rapper hung up: “Listen. I just need you to know, woman to woman, this really happened.”
Hough avoided speaking publicly about her assault for years, apart from one YouTube interview in 2018 to clarify that she and Petty were never in a relationship, despite a claim Minaj had made to the contrary. But when a stranger found her daughter in a dance club and began asking about Petty, that strategy no longer seemed viable. She left the state in the hopes that her daughter could escape the nightmare that’s haunted her for decades—and a month later, she posted a video exposing the harassment she’d faced for months.
Hough’s attorney, Tyrone Blackburn, told The Daily Beast in a statement, “The Pettys left Ms. Hough with no choice other than to fight back after their associate accosted her 22-year-old daughter.”
“As a result of the Petty’s actions, Ms. Hough has incurred serious debt after having to move three times in a span of seven months. She also quit her job out of fear of being found and attacked. The Pettys acted in concert to destroy Ms. Hough’s life, now they will be held accountable for their actions.”
Barry and a representative for Minaj did not respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment. A representative for Petty declined to comment; court documents published by The Blast indicate that Petty denied the rape allegation upon his arrest.
In addition to the recent threats she’s faced, Hough’s suit alleges that Petty’s friends initially harassed her adoptive family so severely after the assault that they brought her to the courthouse to drop the charges against him. She says her family beat her when she was not convincing enough to sway the judge.
Even when she returned home from the hospital just after the assault, Hough recalled her adoptive mother saying, “Sorry you got raped, but you should have screamed.”
“Growing up being a biracial girl, it seemed to me that I was always being blamed for how I looked,” Hough said. “Any type of inappropriate touching or inappropriate actions that happened... it was always my fault. It was something I did. You must’ve been smiling, or You must have had your hair out.”
Hough fled New York after the 1995 conviction and moved in with an uncle in Florida. As her lawsuit states, she ran away after he raped her and has been on her own ever since.
For years Hough internalized the idea that these assaults were somehow her fault. “If I just go to work and come home,” she recalls reasoning, “I can prevent myself from ever being violated ever again.” Her voice tightened as she described the struggle to build a life while hiding from so much of it out of fear.
Despite the sweltering August heat, Hough said that even now she keeps her body covered, head to toe, in sweats. “I don’t wear makeup,” she said. “I refuse to look guys in their face if I see them in the street. It has affected my life a whole lot.”
Therapy was not treated like an option when Hough was growing up and, for most of her life, it never occurred to her that she needed counseling. When she had children, her focus became making sure that they could tell her anything and know that they would be safe and protected. “I didn’t have time to wallow in the things that I felt were wrong,” she said.
Hough insists she never wanted to speak out about what Petty did but Minaj made it impossible to avoid in late 2018.
That November, Minaj wrote in an Instagram comment that Petty had been a year younger than his victim and that they had been in a relationship. It was the first of multiple allegedly false statements the rapper would make about Hough, all of which eventually forced her to speak out.
Tabloids that had previously reported on Petty’s status as a registered sex offender picked up Minaj’s statements, and Hough’s lawsuit states that online spectators began attempting to identify and track her down. (Hough notes that at times, Minaj encouraged this behavior through retweets and other social media activity.) As the gossip spread, Hough gave an interview to a YouTube blogger to make clear that she and Petty had never been in a relationship. She’d thought that telling her side of the story would end the lie, but it thrived nonetheless.
A year later, Minaj spoke about Hough again—this time on her Apple Music show Queen Radio, where she claimed that Hough had “wrongly accused” Petty. Minaj claimed Hough had written a letter recanting her statement but never filed it for fear of being jailed. “But white is right,” Minaj said. Hough maintains she never wrote such a letter.
Because of Minaj’s statements, Hough’s complaint states, fans on social media began obsessively searching for her identity to confirm who she was, whether she was white, and where she lived.
Hough did not appear in another video for months—even as Nicki stans, a devout army nicknamed the “Barbz,” gossiped about her on YouTube and called her a liar on the platform. She said nothing while strangers allegedly connected to the Pettys offered her eye-popping sums of money. She stayed silent when her brother called to pass along a cousin’s warning that Petty-affiliated “OGs from the neighborhood” knew where she and her daughter lived. (“Don’t be surprised if they’re sitting on your couch,” he allegedly told her.)
That changed in October, when Hough’s 22-year-old daughter Kenya told her that an older man had approached her in a club asking about Kenneth Petty by his nickname, “Zoo.”
Hough had already moved the family twice in 2020 out of fear for their safety. After that man accosted her daughter, she said, she became convinced Kenya would never be able to live a full life and lay down roots without the same obstacles and fears that had held her back. She left the state—and Kenya—in the hopes that removing herself would flatten the hurdles.
“She’s so different from me,” Hough said of her daughter. “She’s always been [so] carefree… I tried not to push my fears and my insecurities on her… When they approached her in that club that day, it just made me so angry.”
Watching the assault that shattered her life in 1995 return to haunt her daughter became the final straw. A month after she’d been forced to flee another state because of intimidation from Petty’s associates, Hough posted a 12-minute YouTube video in which she laid out what she’d been facing.
That set off a chain reaction, as various family members of both Hough and Petty have come out of the woodwork to discredit her account. Multiple YouTubers have made a miniature cottage industry of scrutinizing her every word and calling every estranged relative they can find.
Hough began giving interviews of her own to other YouTubers to combat those attacks, but found herself locked in a seemingly endless, increasingly toxic argument. Since fleeing Georgia, she has been out of work—and the chaos of the pandemic and lockdown have only made the experience more isolating. But even if she’s questioned speaking out in some darker moments, she does not regret it.
“I’ve always told my kids, ‘Nobody can love you better than you,’” Hough said. By standing in her truth and refusing to back down, she said, “I think I’m teaching them that.”
At this point, Hough said, “I can only fight my fight.” Beyond her lawsuit, she’s focused on repairing her bond with Kenya, with whom she’s always been close and whom she never wanted to leave to fend for herself so abruptly. She’s also focused on making sure her younger daughter, who turns six years old next month, settles down comfortably in their newly adopted home state. School started recently and extra-curricular activities are already lined up for Saturdays. In the meantime, however, as we hung up it was time for a lazy Sunday with popcorn and Frozen 2.
“I can only tell my truth,” Hough told me. “And just hope that the right thing is done in the end.”