There’s a new development in the story of R. Kelly’s alleged abusive cult.
In July, BuzzFeed published an article alleging that Kelly is holding multiple young women — most of them 19 or in their early 20s — in various properties around the country and forbidding them to leave what their parents are describing as a “cult.” The women claim to be with Kelly of their own free will, but their families say that they’re suffering from Stockholm Syndrome. According to BuzzFeed’s report, the women in Kelly’s homes are forced to follow Kelly’s every instruction or face physical punishment.
The story follows several decades’ worth of lawsuits against Kelly that alleged he’d engaged in traumatizing sexual relationships with young women, some of them underage — but few of the women named in those suits were willing to come forward and speak to the press, presumably at least in part because they’d signed nondisclosure agreements with Kelly in exchange for settlement money.
Now, 24-year-old Jerhonda Pace has decided to break her NDA and speak out about the abuse she suffered at Kelly’s hands.
In an interview with BuzzFeed published on Tuesday, Pace says that when she was 16, in 2009, she spent several months involved with Kelly. She’d met him the year prior, when he was on trial for producing child pornography: She was a superfan, and she went to the courthouse every day to ask for his autograph. After Kelly was found not guilty, she was sure that he’d been vindicated and that his name was clear.
Eventually, Pace says, someone on Kelly’s team reached out to her on Myspace and connected her with Kelly. She began to spend her weekends with Kelly at his house, where they would have sex. Kelly, she says, was aware of her age — she showed him her ID — and seemed excited by it. In her interview with BuzzFeed, she recounts that he had her dress up as a schoolgirl and wear her hair in pigtails.
Pace’s account of her time with Kelly matches descriptions of his current alleged cult. She had to follow strict rules, “which included dressing in baggy clothes, turning over her phone, and asking permission to shower, eat, go to the bathroom, and leave the property. If she broke the rules, she says, she was mentally and physically abused.”
Pace eventually ended her relationship with Kelly, and later decided to sue him. “If I was to get criminal charges, it would probably be like it was last time, where he wouldn’t get convicted,” she told BuzzFeed. Kelly settled the suit out of court, promising Pace an unnamed sum of money if she would sign a nondisclosure agreement — but Pace says he hasn’t paid her what he owes her.
But that’s not why she’s speaking out now, she says. She’s worried about the women who are still living with him.
“If I can speak out and I can help them get out of that situation, that’s what I will do,” Pace says. “I didn’t have anybody to speak up on my behalf when I was going through what I was going through with him.”