To ensure his power over live-in girlfriends, R. Kelly would tell the young women their parents had “sold” them to the disgraced R&B singer because “they did not care” about their children, a witness told jurors in Brooklyn federal court on Tuesday.
“He would say that we were basically worthless and that we did not mean anything to them,” explained the 23-year-old, who identified herself on the stand only as “Jane.”
The woman, who told jurors she endured an abusive five-year relationship with Kelly until 2019, said the Grammy-winning singer told five live-in girlfriends their parents had “given us to him... and that [we] were in a better relationship.”
She added that Kelly even implied to her once that her parents were given a “few bricks”—which she later said meant narcotics—in exchange for her, adding that she began to live with Kelly at the age of 17.
The manipulation Kelly allegedly imposed on women who were isolated from their friends, family, and the general public while living with him shows the lengths he would go to ensure his power, prosecutors leading the federal sex-crimes case against the singer say. In addition to the five girlfriends, Jane revealed that Kelly also had “groomed” at least one male, whom she only knew by the name “Nephew.”
“[R. Kelly] said that he had been grooming Nephew since he was young like me,” Jane said in reference to the person, who she said she was forced to have sex with on several occasions because “it was a punishment.”
Though Kelly is not directly charged in connection with either man, prosecutors allege he had sexual contact with at least two John Does when they were minors, including one he met in December 2006 at a Chicago McDonalds. The second John Doe, who Kelly met when the individual was 16 or 17, was also allegedly forced to have filmed sex with the singer and several of his girlfriends.
It was not immediately clear which John Doe “Nephew” referred to.
The woman testifying Tuesday is the second accuser to speak out in court against Kelly, and this was her second day on the stand. Prosecutors have said Kelly abused at least six women and girls—four of whom were minors when he first had sexual contact with them. At least two allege they contracted herpes after Kelly knowingly exposed them to the disease.
For its part, the defense focused on the lengths Jane’s parents allegedly went to to be a part of Kelly’s inner circle.
During cross-examination, defense attorney Deveraux Cannick said the parents tried to get Kelly involved in many of their own business deals—including a “bluetooth dildo” that would sync to his music.
The attorney also claimed the parents tried to get some kind of job as part of the R. Kelly entourage.
Despite the cross-examination, Neama Rahman, a former New York federal prosecutor, told The Daily Beast on Tuesday that Jane’s testimony “was especially damning.”
“This is a case about likability and credibility, and the jury is not going to like R. Kelly after hearing from Jane, or believe the defense’s argument that she was a ‘groupie’ when R. Kelly isolated her from her parents and friends and even moved her to Chicago to home-school her,” Rahman said.
“The length of time, and the wide variety of physical, sexual, and psychological abuse, will resonate with the jurors. This wasn’t one instance of sexual assault,” the former federal prosecutor continued.
Kelly, 54, faces charges including racketeering based on kidnapping, sexual exploitation of children, and forced labor; he is also charged with violations of the Mann Act, which prohibits the transport of people across state lines for sex. The disgraced singer has pleaded not guilty to all charges against him and repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.
On Monday, Jane said she met Kelly at a hotel when she was a 17-year-old high-school student, after one of his concerts in Orlando, Florida. Forgoing her senior year, she said, she ended up living with Kelly and his girlfriends in Atlanta and Chicago after spending the summer traveling with the singer on one of his tours.
Initially lying about her age, Jane said, she had a sexual relationship with Kelly after their first encounter. She said herpes she contracted from the singer was so severe that she couldn’t even walk from the pain.
Jane explained that throughout her five-year relationship with Kelly, she and the other live-in girlfriends were forced to adhere to his strict and bizarre rules, including wearing baggy clothing and greeting the singer as “Daddy” whenever he entered a room. To ensure their silence and loyalty to Kelly, she said, the women were also forced to write at least four fake letters every year that claimed they’d stolen money or had been molested by family members.
If any of the women did not abide by these rules, she said, Kelly would subject them to cruel punishment, including spanking—or as Kelly would call it, “chastising.” Jane described a slew of punishments she endured from Kelly, including the time he kept her inside a room in his Chicago studio for over three days after she bought the wrong size pair of Hollister sweatpants.
“He would leave bruises and it would sometimes make my skin tear,” Jane said on Monday about the “chastisements,” adding that Kelly would dole out the vile punishment every two to three days. “[Kelly] said that it was just a spanking to help me remember” his rules, she added.
Another time, she previously testified, she was forced to record demeaning videos of herself as punishment—including one where she had to smear feces on her face and put it in her mouth. She also said Kelly also made her get an abortion in 2017—to keep her “body tight.”
Over the years, Jane said, Kelly’s other live-in girlfriends began to leave the singer and the rest of the group. In several hand-written apology letters toward the end of her relationship with Kelly—including one Jane said she was forced to write on the back of the book Luckiest Girl Alive—she began to express her discontent with the singer and the abuse she was allegedly enduring.
“I am not happy. I am not fulfilled sexually. And on top of that, I am getting spankings nearly every day,” she wrote in one letter.
Jane said she and another girlfriend were the only ones left with Kelly when the bombshell 2019 Lifetime docu-series Surviving R.Kelly aired. She said that while Kelly had told the two women about the six-part series, in which several women accused the singer of abuse, she was forbidden to watch it.
She added that while Kelly told them that “everything was false” in the docu-series, the singer began discussing with the two women how they might respond to questions that would be posed to them about their unconventional relationship.
“[R. Kelly] would give us proper answers” to questions we practiced, she added.
Eventually, Jane and the other girlfriend were forced to defend their relationship with the singer in a sit-down interview with CBS This Morning co-host Gayle King at Trump Tower. In the interview, two women told King they loved Kelly—and denied allegations from their families that they had been brainwashed by the singer. In the interview, Jane also denied having sex with Kelly while she was 17, but has since said on the stand that she did so repeatedly.
Jane noted that Kelly was present in the hotel room where the interview was taking place—even though his team had previously agreed with the news outlet that he would not be. She said that throughout the interview, Kelly could be heard coughing.
“He was letting us know he was in the room with us,” she said.
Shortly after the interview, in October 2019, Jane said, she finally left Kelly. A few months later, she began to talk to the government about the relationship she now categorizes as “abusive.”