R Kelly’s sexual abuse trial is officially underway in New York

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Lauren Geall
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R Kelly

The singer is accused of crimes including kidnapping, forced labour and sexual exploitation.

Warning: this article contains description of an underage sexual relationship.

The trial of US R&B singer R Kelly has officially begun in New York, following decades worth of allegations of sexual abuse and inappropriate behaviour with underage girls.

Kelly – who has consistently denied the claims against him – was arrested in July 2019 on federal charges of racketeering and violating the Mann Act, which prohibits the transportation of women or girls “for the purpose of prostitution or debauchery”. The crimes he is accused of under those charges include kidnapping, forced labour and bribery.

If he is convicted on all counts, the singer could be sentenced to several decades in prison. 

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In her opening statement on Wednesday (18 August), Assistant US Attorney Maria Cruz Melendez described Kelly as “a man who used lies, manipulation, threats and physical abuse” to control his victims and avoid accountability.

“This case is about a predator, a man who for decades used his fame, his popularity, and a network of people at his disposal to target, groom and exploit girls, boys and young women for his own sexual gratification,” Cruz Melendez said. “This case is not about a celebrity who likes to party a lot or about the defendant’s sexual preferences.” 

Taking to the stand as the prosecution’s first witness, Jerhonda Johnson Pace – who first spoke out about her alleged underage sexual relationship with Kelly in 2017 – testified that she had initially told Kelly she was 19 upon meeting him in 2009, before admitting she was underage on the day they first had sex.

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“I felt uncomfortable. I felt like it wasn’t right, that I should tell him my age,” Pace told the court. “He asked me, ‘What is that supposed to mean?’ and told me to tell everyone I was 19 – and to act 21.” 

Pace – who appeared in the 2019 docu-series Surviving R Kelly – also spoke about what her relationship with Kelly entailed, alleging that Kelly demanded she call him “Daddy” and get his permission to go to the bathroom.

“He told me he was going to train me to please him sexually,” she added.

Pace’s testimony will continue on Thursday. The trial – which is expected to last about one month – is also expected to include testimony from more female accusers as well as at least one male accuser.  

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Lauren Geall

As Stylist’s digital writer, Lauren Geall writes on topics including mental health, wellbeing and work. She’s also a big fan of houseplants and likes to dabble in film and TV from time-to-time.