In this week’s issue of PEOPLE she and seven other women open up about the alleged abuse they or their loved ones suffered at the hands of the musician. Representatives for R. Kelly (né Robert Sylvester Kelly) responded “no comment” to PEOPLE’s request for a response to the accusations.
Drea, one of many taking part in Lifetime’s shocking 6-part docu-series Surviving R. Kelly, claims that as the star’s wife of 13 years and mother of his three children, her experience of abuse was unique and he once pushed her to the brink of despair.
“He was like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, he really was,” says Drea, 44, who met Kelly at 19. “I started as a dancer. He was my boss. We weren’t allowed to talk to the other dancers or other artists on tour. We had to walk in a straight line, be in your room at a certain time. I’m like, ‘Okay, he runs a tight ship.’ Never looked at it as controlling.”
The two got closer and “he started to share these intimate places of brokenness with me. Up to that point I never knew the little Robert who suffered from illiteracy, whose mom was abused and who grew up in a house where domestic violence was commonplace. I think because I had that soft spot for him, it allowed me to put up with way more than I should have.”
After falling in love she says he proposed and secretly arranged their wedding, which none of their friends or family attended. It was the beginning of the isolation she allegedly faced for years to come.
“We used to talk with Andrea and the other dancers,” Kelly’s brother Bruce reveals in the documentary. “But after they got married, there was no more of that. It was like she wouldn’t even speak to us. It was hard to know if we could speak to her.” He adds: “She was really quiet, and I think that’s how Robert wanted it.”
Then says Drea, came the abuse. “It started with yelling and being slapped and grabbed. He chips away at your self-esteem, your ability to even think. You’re just thinking, ‘What do I do to not piss him off?'”
During their marriage, Drea says she and her children also had to deal with the effects of Kelly’s scandals. In 2002, R. Kelly was indicted after a video surfaced showing a man engaged in lurid sex acts with a woman who some witnesses testified was 14 at the time of the recording. Both R. Kelly and the 14-year-old denied it was them and R. Kelly was never charged with assault. In 2008, R. Kelly was found not guilty after being indicted with 21 counts of child pornography.
The accusations took a toll on their whole family. “My children have had to deal with kids telling them, ‘Your daddy is the guy who peed on people,'” she says, “and it’s ongoing.”
Thinking back to her breaking point, Drea says, “At the time I didn’t know there was such a thing as spousal rape. He’d tried to lock me in the bathroom. I remember being ready to jump off the balcony of our hotel suite and commit suicide. Thank God I didn’t. After that I said, ‘I’m done.’ In 2004 I called my dad, packed my bags and left with our kids in the night.”
She finalized her divorce from Kelly in 2009 and obtained custody of their children. In his song “I admit” released this past summer, Kelly denies mounting accusations and sings “Ain’t seen my kids in years.”
Drea came forward with her story in 2017, on the heels of recent claims that her ex is running an alleged “sex cult” and continues to abuse women. No such charges have been brought criminally.
“It’s bittersweet,” she says of meeting other women while promoting Surviving R. Kelly. “It’s like ‘Yay, now we’re standing together,’ but at the same time, my heart broke for them to know, you went through what I went through.”
Now with the support of Time’s Up and the #MeToo and #MuteRKelly movements, Drea is hoping people will take their stories seriously. “We’re women of color and it feels like we’re the lowest on the totem pole,” she says of why she thinks more hasn’t been done to address the allegations.
But that won’t stop her and others from speaking out. “We are survivors,” she says. “And we won’t be silent anymore.”
For more powerful stories from alleged victims of R. Kelly, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE on newsstands now.
Surviving R. Kelly airs on Lifetime at 9 p.m. ET from Thursday, Jan. 3 to Saturday, Jan. 5.
If you or someone you know think they are being abused, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE) or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY) now for anonymous, confidential help, available 24/7.
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), text “help” to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or go to suicidepreventionlifeline.org.