BuzzFeed News has shared a chilling investigation into the lives of several women living on R. Kelly’s Atlanta and Trump Tower, Chicago properties. Beyond detailing the ways in which the musician (with a famed history of allegations of sexual misconduct) allegedly controls every facet of their lives, imposing lifestyle rules that apply to eating and going out while prohibiting them from communicating with their families, the article also contains allegations of physical and verbal abuse, alleging punishments for acting against his will.
The article and some of the interviewees describe the alleged fostering of a cult mentality meant to keep the six women under control. A woman named Cheryl Mack, who was a former personal assistant of Kelly’s recalls, “You have to ask for food. You have to ask to go use the bathroom … [Kelly] is a master at mind control. … He is a puppet master.” Two other women — Kitti Jones and Asante McGee — also describe having formerly been members of his entourage, and having had their cell phone use monitored by him.
Jim DeRogatis, who penned the article and has been the most consistent journalistic documenter of allegations against Kelly, writes that “Mack, Jones, and McGee claim that women who live with Kelly…must ask his permission to leave the Chicago recording studio or their assigned rooms in the ‘guest house’ Kelly rents near his own rented mansion in suburban Atlanta.” McGee claims to have witnessed Kelly leaving one young woman “on the [tour] bus for, like, three days and she was not allowed to come out” as a punishment. And Jones alleges she was once pressed against a tree and slapped for having been “friendly” with a Subway cashier.
The three women he interviewed claim that Kelly “confiscates the women’s cell phones so they cannot contact their friends and family; he gives them new phones that they are only allowed to use to contact him or others with his permission.” They also claim that — as you might expect from former Kelly story broken by DeRogatis that led to a child pornography trial — Kelly films sexual activities with the women living with him to show to his male friends.
Meanwhile, a woman identified as J., a mother of one of the women living in one of Kelly’s properties, describes the last time she saw her daughter, in 2016:
It was as if she was brainwashed. [She] looked like a prisoner — it was horrible… I hugged her and hugged her. But she just kept saying she’s in love and [Kelly] is the one who cares for her. I don’t know what to do. I hope that if I get her back, I can get her treatment for victims of cults. They can reprogram her. But I wish I could have stopped it from happening.
The article opens by detailing J.’s account of how her daughter came to know Kelly — first, with the promise that he’d help her burgeoning musical career — and how J. and her husband Tim have been fighting, to little avail, to get their daughter back. It also focuses on two other parents who’re doing the same. Unlike past reports on R. Kelly’s behavior, all of the women reported to be living in this situation are of age, a fact that’s made it difficult for parents to seek any kind of legal action.
Update: BuzzFeed reports that R. Kelly has denied the allegations made in the BuzzFeed article, with his lawyer Linda Mensch saying, “Mr. Robert Kelly is both alarmed and disturbed by the recent revelations attributed to him. Mr. Kelly unequivocally denies such accusations and will work diligently and forcibly to pursue his accusers and clear his name.”
BuzzFeed News, meanwhile, released the statement: “We stand fully behind the story, which was based on nine months of interviews and old-fashioned investigative reporting.” And in Slate, DeRogatis described the reporting process behind the story, noting the similarities between this and similar stories from Kelly’s past. He tells the publication:
I got a call in early November from the Georgia parents, who at that point had been trying hard to get their girl to come home since she’d disappeared. They knew my work from reporting on this since 2000, and they had gone to the police—the campus police and the police in the area of Duluth, Georgia, the suburb where Kelly’s renting a home. They had gone to lawyers and they had not gotten any help at any turn, and they came to the media as sort of a last resort. Same thing with the Florida parents.