Asante McGee was eating lunch with her son last Friday afternoon when the text messages and articles began flooding in: R. Kelly Charged With 10 Counts of Aggravated Criminal Sexual Abuse.
McGee had met Kelly in 2013 and says the singer invited her backstage weeks later after a show in Baton Rouge, La. The two dated for years, with McGee claiming that Kelly controlled every aspect of her life, including when and what she would eat, when she would bathe and where she could go. She also alleged, as she told People last month, that Kelly forced her to “perform any and every sex act there is, whether you agreed to it or not.”
Now, as her phone began to blow up, McGee says she asked herself, “Is this real?” upon learning of the new charges. “I was in disbelief,” she says. “I just lost my appetite. I started tearing up and saying, ‘I can’t believe this is really happening.’ I felt vindication and relief at the same time.”
“I was in disbelief … I felt vindication and relief at the same time” – Asante McGee
For McGee and other women who have alleged physical and sexual abuse against the singer, the felony sex abuse charges triggered a slew of conflicting emotions.
“I was happy and sad,” says Kitti Jones, Kelly’s ex-girlfriend who accused the singer of physical abuse, sexual coercion and emotional manipulation in a 2017 feature for Rolling Stone. “Once I actually saw him being escorted into jail, my first thought was, ‘Wow, it’s real. It’s happened.’ Then I thought, ‘Wow, this was someone I was once deeply in love with and it didn’t have to end like this.’ But I, of course, had to remind myself that it began way before he hurt me and he has a long list of lives that he’s ruined and he must pay for that.”
At a press conference last week, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx detailed the charges against Kelly: Four charges stem from Kelly’s alleged incidents with an underage girl initialed “H.W.” between May 1998 and May 1999. Two counts were drawn from “R.L.,” who, while underage, allegedly had sexual encounters with Kelly between September 1998 and September 2001. The most recent counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse, from May 2009 to January 2010, are “J.P.,” who was also underage. A fourth charge from accuser “L.C.” accused Kelly of “transmission of semen upon any part of the victim’s body for sexual gratification” by “the use of force or threat of force,” stemming from an alleged 2003 incident.
Following last week’s charges, numerous women featured in Lifetime’s Surviving R. Kelly docuseries began checking in on each other to act as each other’s support system, friend and therapist. For Lisa VanAllen, who testified against Kelly at his 2008 trial for child pornography and appeared in Surviving R. Kelly, the new indictment was welcomed, but not surprising.
“Rob has a problem, so it was just a matter of time before I knew something else would come up or someone else would speak up to where he would be indicted,” VanAllen tells Rolling Stone. “I just didn’t know when or where.”
In 2008, VanAllen, author of the upcoming book Surviving the Pied Piper, testified that she had sex with Kelly starting at age 17, including multiple threesomes with Kelly and the underage girl at the center of the singer’s trial. Kelly was acquitted on those charges, based in part on the underage girl not testifying at the trial, but all three survivors that spoke to Rolling Stone assert that the climate has changed since his original trial.
“The world is ready to make a difference and is ready for change,” says VanAllen. “No one’s okay with this anymore. People that didn’t have experience with him personally were like, ‘Well, maybe he did this.’ Now after [Surviving R. Kelly] and all these movements, they’re not willing to continue to allow him to do these things to women and young girls. I’m not just talking about R. Kelly, though. I feel like we made a difference for all [abuse] victims.”
“It’s definitely a different climate and a different way that people view black women that he abused because it’s been exposed to the world how we aren’t believed, how we’re perceived and how we’re judged based on how we look or what our backgrounds are,” adds Jones. “It will definitely be a different trial this time. I have faith in the outcome being guilty.”
“It’s definitely a different climate and a different way that people view black women that he abused” – Kitti Jones
McGee says she, like other survivors she has spoken to, are more confident in the justice system now than in 2008. “I feel like the justice system will work this time,” she says. “For me, it’s not so much seeing him behind bars. He needs to get the help that he really needs in order to stop doing the things that he’s doing. If he goes to jail and he gets out, he’s still going to continue doing these predatory behaviors that he has. But I don’t believe he’s going be able to beat [the charges] because now there’s more evidence [than his last trial].”
Kelly pleaded not guilty to all the charges earlier this week and is due back in court on March 22nd. One of his lawyers, Brian Nix, told Rolling Stone last week that Kelly “is disappointed by the unsubstantiated allegations of behavior that portrays him as a monster by people with a pecuniary motive.”
“The dissemination of information through media and social outlets have created an environment of possible collusion amongst female acquaintances who have been mistakenly coached to become victims,” Nix added.
Kelly’s alleged survivors see it differently, though.
“With what I’ve been presented with so far, I feel like they have a very strong case,” says VanAllen. “He should be getting all his ducks in a row for a long stay.”