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Watch: R. Kelly mounts an unconvincing defense in an emotional interview with Gayle King

Kelly claims he’s not holding women against their will because that would be stupid.

Gayle King interviews R. Kelly
Gayle King interviews R. Kelly
Constance Grady is a senior correspondent on the Culture team for Vox, where since 2016 she has covered books, publishing, gender, celebrity analysis, and theater.

R. Kelly has officially mounted his defense against years of accusations that he has sexually abused multiple women, many of them minors. In an emotional new interview with Gayle King on CBS This Morning, held days after his February 22 arrest on 10 counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse, Kelly presented his version of events to the public. It is not terribly convincing.

Kelly has been charged with sexually abusing four women, three of them minors between the ages of 13 and 16. This is the second time he’s faced criminal charges of sexual abuse (he was tried on 14 counts of child pornography in 2008 and found not guilty). The new charges come less than two months after Lifetime’s docuseries Surviving R. Kelly presented viewers with accounts from multiple women who say that R. Kelly abused them and that they had escaped from the “cult” in which he is said to hold women against their will.

It was a damning narrative that seems to have swung the pendulum of cultural opinion against Kelly: Immediately after it was released, multiple celebrities apologized for ever having worked with him, radio stations committed to stop playing his music, and multiple states opened criminal investigations against him. Now Kelly has been officially charged in Illinois.

Kelly’s response to all of these accusations, as presented to Gayle King, is as follows: Everyone is lying about him and out to get him. He could not possibly have held women against their will because he does not need to, and because he would have to be stupid to do so.

Kelly also told King that he has “absolutely not” broken any laws when it comes to women.

“Just use your common sense,” Kelly said, his voice rising. “How stupid would it be for me, with my crazy past and what I’ve been through — oh, right, now I just think I need to be monster and hold girls against their will, chain them up in my basement, and don’t let them eat, don’t let them out, unless they need some shoes down the street from their uncle!”

Over King’s protests, Kelly got to his feet and began to yell at the camera through tears. “I gave you 30 years of my fucking career!” he shouted. “Thirty years of my career! And y’all trying to kill me? You killing me, man!”

“It sounds like you’re playing the victim card,” King observed, a charge that Kelly denied through tears.

Kelly is following the narrative laid out by his lawyer, Steve Greenberg, who after the premiere of Surviving R. Kelly told the press that Kelly was “a rock star” and as such did not need to force women to have sex with him or to hold women against their will.

But rapists do not commit rape because they are stupid, as Kelly has suggested, or because they are unable to convince women to have consensual sex with them, as Greenberg has suggested. Rapists commit rape because they want to demonstrate power over their victims.

In 2010, researchers studied a group of men in South Africa who had committed rape. Using an anonymous survey, they determined that one of the most overwhelmingly common motivations those rapists cited was a desire to demonstrate their power over their victims.

“The importance of gendered power and the related concept of sexual entitlement in rape perpetration are very vividly demonstrated in the data on motivations for raping,” the researchers concluded. “Whilst there were some variations in the proportion of men agreeing that this was a motivation for rape according to the type of rape perpetrated, it was very common across all types of rape that men indicated that they sexually desired the woman or girl, or because they wanted to prove they could force her, with complete disregard for her wishes.”

Kelly does not need to have been unable to convince women to have consensual sex with him in order to commit the crimes he’s been accused of. He does not need to be extremely stupid. He just needs to be someone who wants to demonstrate a sense of power over other people, and to do so through sexual abuse.

Kelly did make one more argument to King in his defense: He is trying to reestablish a relationship with his children, he said, and these charges are preventing him from doing so. Kelly currently owes more than $160,000 in unpaid child support, and he faces potential jail time if he does not pay it. His deadline was Wednesday at 10 am Central time, and reports suggest that he has not paid it.

You can watch Kelly’s full interview with King here.

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