'We Won't Be Silent Anymore'
Did the musician once crowned the King of R&B abuse women and girls for decades? In this week's issue of PEOPLE and in Lifetime's new documentary Surviving R. Kelly, eight women who escaped his world—or tried to help loved ones they say were trapped—share their shocking stories, alleging physical and sexual abuse at the hands of the 51-year old star.
Representatives for R. Kelly, born Robert Sylvester Kelly, responded "no comment" to PEOPLE’s request for a response to allegations in our story and in Surviving R. Kelly.
The musician does not currently face any criminal charges, but he has reportedly settled several civil lawsuits with women. Dream Hampton, who executive produced the documentary which airs Jan. 3 - 5 at 9 p.m. on Lifetime, wants Kelly to be held accountable. “This is a deeply painful story about a predator,” she says.“We have brave women who came forward. The public deserved to have the full story."
Lizzette Martinez, 41
MET R. KELLY IN FLORIDA IN 1995 AT AGE 17
I was a senior in high school, and my mom allowed me to go to the mall with friends. All of a sudden I see R. Kelly walking up to me with sunglasses on. He just kind of hugged me. Ironically, the first concert that I had ever gone to was his. He had his guy give me his number and invited me and my friend to dinner.
Later we went to the studio, and when we were alone, he said, "I know you want to be a singer." I started singing while he played the piano, and then he kissed me. I didn't kiss back. I was shocked. He knew I was 17. But I thought he would help me, just like he did with Aaliyah. It turned very abusive a few months in. If I looked at any of his friends, he would hit me. There would be parties and other girls. It was a really fast life and not a good one. At one point I thought I could save him. I was abused as a child, and he shared that he was abused, so we had a common bond. But it wasn't my responsibility as a kid to save a grown man. My parents kind of knew something was going on, but they didn't know what. What do you say, "I'm a prostitute now"? That's what I felt like, waiting for him in hotel rooms.
At 19 I became pregnant, and he was like, "Well, you're not gonna be a singer now." I started to bleed and went through [a miscarriage] alone. There was no "Sorry, Lizzette." I got mono[nucleosis], and it turned into Guillain-Barré syndrome. He sent my mother a $1,000 check to take me to the hospital, and I spent three weeks in the ICU. After that I said, "I can't do this anymore." I was back in Miami, and that's when I got out.
Lisa Van Allen, 38
MET R. KELLY IN ATLANTA IN 1998 AT AGE 17
We met at the video shoot for his song "Home Alone." One of the first things he asked me was, "How old are you?" We had sex that same day—he didn't waste any time. If I didn't listen to him or if I spoke to one of the guys on the tour bus, he'd smack me. Once he spanked me like a child until I cried. He said, "I love you, you got to listen to Daddy."
We had a threesome when I was 17, and he said that she was a 16-year-old neighbor. After speaking with her years later, I learned she was only 14 at the time. I loved him, and initially I didn't want to turn my back on him. If I brought up him liking underage girls, he would always come at me with "If you love someone, you don't try to change them."
As I got older I realized he wasn't going to change. I'm the one who testified against him in 2008 [as part of the child-porn case]. When people say, "Why are you just now speaking out?" I say, "I came out 10 years ago, but it was brushed under the rug." It's a blessing now that girls are ready to talk.
Andrea 'Drea' Kelly, 44
R. KELLY'S EX-WIFE, WHO MET HIM IN 1994 AT AGE 19
He was like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, he really was. 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. 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.
Next I'm in love, and then we're getting married. [The abuse] 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?" It was a horrible life.
At the time I didn't know there was such a thing as spousal rape. I remember being ready to jump off the balcony of our hotel suite and commit suicide. After that I said, "I'm done." In 2004 I called my dad, packed my bags and left with our kids.
Jerhonda Pace, 25
MET R. KELLY IN CHICAGO IN 2008 AT AGE 14
Rob was my first everything. I met him outside of the child-pornography trial, about two weeks before my 15th birthday. I was a huge fan of his music and was at the trial every day. One day he stopped and said, "Thank you for your support," and said when it was over he would give me something. He ended up giving me his autograph and later sent me a friend request on MySpace.
I met up with him at a party he was having. I was 16 then. He said to tell everyone I'm 19 and act like I'm 21. The first time I went to his house he told me we were going swimming, but we never did. He told me to take off my clothes and walk back and forth like I was modeling for him. I thought it was no big deal. But the requests became more demanding. I had to perform sexual acts with others. He coached me on what to say to my mom. He slapped me, choked me until I passed out. If it wasn't for him spitting in my face, I'd probably still be there. That was my lowest point.
Afterwards my family got an attorney who advised us against going to the police, bringing up his last trial and how it ended. We filed a civil suit and settled on $1.5 million. It hasn't been easy pulling my life together. I still get paranoid. If I could tell him anything now, it would be to get help.
Stephanie 'Sparkle' Edwards, 43
MET R. KELLY IN 1989; TESTIFIED AGAINST HIM IN 2008 AS AUNT OF ALLEGED TEENAGE GIRL IN SEX TAPE
Robert and I were close friends, but he kept a lot of things from me. We were watching a Chicago Bulls game one day, and there was this knocking coming from the next room. [His wife] Andrea peered out and was like, "I just want to know if I can come out and get something to eat." I looked at him like, "How f------ dare you!"
Before that happened, I had introduced Kelly to my niece, who was 12 and an aspiring rapper. When I first heard of an incident involving her at the studio, I phoned my sister asking, "What the hell is going on?" Later a lawyer reached out stating they had a tape that possibly had her on it. I only saw a few seconds of it, and I was like, "Turn it off." I did everything possible to bring this to light. I spoke my truth in court.
Kanika 'Kitti' Jones, 42
MET R. KELLY IN DALLAS IN 2011 AT AGE 33
People tend to be dismissive toward my story because I wasn't underage. I was divorced and a popular radio personality at the time. I met him hosting an afterparty for his concert. We exchanged numbers and kept in touch. He sent flowers on my birthday, and I started visiting him in Chicago. Eventually people at the station found out. I started getting harassed, people messaging me referencing his sex tapes. Rob was very supportive and eventually talked me into quitting. He said, "Babe, just come and live with me." I sold my car, gave up my condo and moved to Chicago.
Two weeks in I questioned him about the sex tapes, and that was the first time he abused me. He hit me repeatedly. It was devastating, but I thought it was too late. My old colleagues were making fun of me on air. I didn't want to go to the police because it would just fuel those already laughing at me. I was ashamed. Rob was a monster from that moment on. I had to have sex on demand even if I was asleep. He introduced me to a woman he said he'd raised for 10 years. She was in her 20s and was used to being treated like a dog. That's the first person he included in our sex life. She was his eyes and ears, and when he felt like I deserved to get out of the house, he would pair me with her and she would always get me in trouble.
I was with him for two years. I waited on the tour bus while he performed at Whitney Houston's funeral. After he did Coachella in 2013, he came down on me really hard, and I began planning my escape. My son, who lived with my ex, was entering high school. I asked Rob if I could take him back-to-school shopping, and he got me a round-trip ticket. I never got on the return flight. It took me a long time to start looking people in the eye again. It's been empowering to come forward, for our voices to be taken seriously.
Asante McGee, 40
MET R. KELLY IN ATLANTA IN 2013 AT AGE 35
I met a few of the people in his entourage, and they invited me to hang out. Then he invited me to his show in Baton Rouge. After the concert he texted me to come to his room. He asked for a massage, and then one thing led to the next. I was definitely attracted to him, I was a huge fan, it was like a dream come true. I thought it was going to be a one-night stand. I had no idea what it would become. In the beginning he did tell me he had other girls. I respected that he was up-front with me.
One time I thought we were alone on his tour bus, and then he made a phone call and a girl came from another part of the bus naked. He starts giving her orders. At that point I'm really confused and uncomfortable, but I didn't know what I was supposed to do. Then he starts recording us [having sex], and I froze. Afterward I began telling myself maybe he just wanted to see if I really loved him. I realize now he was putting me through different tests to see what level I would go to.
By the summer of 2016 he moved me into the Johns Creek, Atlanta, house, where he started controlling when I could eat, bathe and leave the room. Each time he entered the room you were to stand and kiss "the king." He had this Black Room where we had to meet up and perform any and every sex act there is, whether you agreed to it or not. Within a week or two I started planning my getaway. I had a friend come to the house pretending to be an Uber driver. I know of two women who are still there now, and I've tried to help parents get in touch with their daughters.
Michelle Kramer, 48
MOTHER OF DOMINIQUE GARDNER, WHO MET R. KELLY IN CHICAGO IN 2009 AT AGE 18
My daughter was with him for nine years, living with him for a little over four. She started out as his assistant, and she'd come home on Christmas, Thanksgiving, Mother's Day. A few years ago I got a text from her saying she wasn't going to be on my phone line anymore. After that I couldn't reach her. But in my mind she's grown, she'll call when she can.
Then in August 2017 I got a call from a family looking for their daughter who gave me the whole story of what was going on. I started to think about when she'd come home with a bruise on her neck or her arm telling me she had fallen or something. I had his number and sent him a text, and she called to say, "Stop believing everything you hear." I begged her to please come home. She broke down and cried and then hung up. She called me back and told me never to give up on her.
I found out she was in L.A., and I was planning to go there when Lifetime reached out to me. It was Mother's Day weekend, and the cameras were with me when I went to the hotel where she was. I went to her room door and told her I just wanted to have lunch. She called him to ask, and he said no. Later she told me every time she wanted to leave he would break down crying, promising he wouldn't hit her anymore. She'd been praying for a sign, and her mom showing up was it. She met me in the hotel bathroom, and we ran out and never looked back. I got my daughter back.
She was a little girl who idolized him, and he turned on her. Even now a lot of people still don't think it's happening. [Dominique Gardner declined to comment but gave her mother permission to speak for her.]
Surviving R. Kelly participants met with #MeToo founder Tarana Burke (fourth from left) and former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson (far right) at a Dec. 4 screening of the documentary. In May of 2018, women's rights organization Time's Up and stars such as Ava DuVernay and John Legend called for a boycott of his music joining the #MuteRKelly movement.
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 through 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.