Read the "Stomach-Churning" Sexual Assault Accusations Against R. Kelly in Full
I had purposely not listened to his music since the initial charges came out, and I saw these ninth- and 10th-grade girls interviewed on TV, talking about how he was in the parking lot of their school every day and everyone knew how come. That is what it took for me.
Part of our reporting was sitting with those girls, sitting with their families, seeing their scars on their wrists, hearing the emotion.
Some of our young critical peers, they're 24 and all they know of Kelly's past is some vague sense of scandal, because they were introduced to him as kids via Space Jam. A lot of your reporting on this is not online, it is not Google-able. Collective memory is that he "just" peed in a girl's mouth.
To be fair, I teach 20-year-olds at Columbia. Ignorance is nothing to be ashamed of. Nobody knows everything. A lot of art, great art, is made by despicable people. James Brown beat his wife. People are always, "Why aren't you upset about Led Zeppelin?" I got the Bonham three rings [tattooed] on my foot. Led Zeppelin did disgusting things. I read Hammer of the Gods, I'm disgusted by the group sex with the shark. [Note: it was actually a red snapper! Still gross.] I have a couple of responses to that: I didn't cover Led Zeppelin. If I was on the plane, like Cameron Crowe was, I would have written about those things if I saw them.
The art very rarely talks about these things. There are not pro-rape Led Zeppelin songs. There are not pro-wife-beating James Brown songs. I think in the history of rock 'n' roll, rock music, or pop culture people misbehaving and behaving badly sexually with young women, rare is the amount of evidence compiled against anyone apart from R. Kelly. Dozens of girls -- not one, not two, dozens -- with harrowing lawsuits. The videotapes -- and not just one videotape, numerous videotapes. And not Tommy Lee/Pam Anderson, Kardashian fun video. You watch the video for which he was indicted and there is the disembodied look of the rape victim. He orders her to call him Daddy. He urinates in her mouth and instructs her at great length on how to position herself to receive his "gift." It's a rape that you're watching. So we're not talking about rock star misbehavior, which men or women can do. We're talking about predatory behavior. Their lives were ruined. Read the lawsuits!
And there was a young woman who was pressured into an abortion?
That he paid for. There was a young woman that he picked up on the evening of her prom. The relationship lasted a year and a half or two years. Impregnated her, paid for her abortion, had his goons drive her. None of which she wanted. She sued him. The saddest fact I've learned is: Nobody matters less to our society than young black women. Nobody. They have any complaint about the way they are treated: They are "bitches, hos, and gold-diggers," plain and simple. Kelly never misbehaved with a single white girl who sued him or that we know of. Mark Anthony Neal, the African-American scholar, makes this point : one white girl in Winnetka and the story would have been different.
No, it was young black girls and all of them settled. They settled because they felt they could get no justice whatsoever. They didn't have a chance.
And they learned that after putting these suits forth and having them get nowhere? Do you think they didn't get traction because of the representation they had, or Kelly's power? Were certain elements in concert with that?
I think it was a lot of things, including the fact that Kelly was fully capable of intimidating people. These girls feared for their lives. They feared for the safety of their families. And these people talked to me not because I'm super reporter -- we rang a lot of doorbells on the South and West sides, and people were eager to talk about this guy, because they wanted him to stop!
Going back a little bit to our original question: You get this tape dropped in the mail ...
Well, the tape came a year after we ran the first story. We ran this story and the world shrugged. Associated Press picks it up: "Chicago Sun-Times has reported a pattern of sexual predation of young women by Robert Kelly," and everybody says, "Ah, well, OK." Then one day I get this call that says: "Go to your mailbox. There's this manila envelope with a videotape in it."
We had gotten one videotape already after the first story, and we gave it to the police. When I say "we," I mean a roomful of editors sitting around asking, "What is the right thing to do here? This would seem to be evidence of a felony, we should give it to police." There was one tape, but the police could not determine the girl's age. The forensic experts they had looking at it said judging by the soles of her feet, they could tell she was 13 or 14 at the time this tape was made, but we can't identify who the woman is. Videotape No. 1.
There were tapes on the street. And I had heard of another video tape with a girl who was part of an ongoing relationship. This is the girl who was in the tape that was in the lawsuit.
And some 40 people testified that it was her?