Jim DeRogatis not done with reporting on R. Kelly's alleged sexual abuse of minors

NEW YORK• Jim DeRogatis has been reporting on R. Kelly's alleged abuse for decades - and he is not done yet.

His book, Soulless: The Case Against R. Kelly, arrives in bookstores in the same week that the musician is scheduled to appear in a Chicago courtroom to face 11 new counts of sexual assault and abuse.

He is now free on bond after he was indicted in February in sexual abuse cases that allegedly involve multiple underage victims.

DeRogatis has been reporting on Kelly since 2000, much of that time a lone voice among his peers.

The story found him when he was a rock critic for the Chicago Sun-Times, via a fax from a person who needed help.

A couple of years later, after he was sent a sex tape involving Kelly and a minor, the story landed on the front page. But, in 2008, a jury acquitted Kelly of child pornography charges in a case that took six years to come to trial.

In an interview in the library of his Chicago home, DeRogatis reflected on how the story he did not want to tell evolved into the book he proclaims that he did not want to write.

"My publisher told me to stop saying that," he said. "But if I didn't have to write this book, it would mean I don't know the names of 48 women whose lives he's ruined."

Even if Kelly is convicted, DeRogatis would not consider that to be the final chapter in his relentless investigation into the alleged crimes of the three-time Grammy winner.

"For me, it ends when I stop getting phone calls (from alleged victims) saying: 'No one will listen to me. Can I tell you my story?'"

You began reporting on Kelly before Facebook and Twitter and it was virtually ignored. Do you think that social media would have made a difference?

I think the single biggest factor with Kelly is that his victims were young black girls.

I am repeating only what so many young black girls have said. Tiffany Hawkins (who alleged a sexual relationship with Kelly when she was 15) tried to press criminal charges in 1996 and nobody took her seriously.

She says: 'Who's going to listen to me?' I've heard that 100 times. (She ultimately settled her case.)

What do you think has helped to bring about what appears to be his moment of reckoning?

There is a combination of factors, which are Dream Hampton (director of the Lifetime documentary mini-series Surviving R. Kelly) and people like (Washington Post media columnist) Margaret Sullivan, but first and foremost, it was these women brave enough to speak out regardless of their fear of serious physical damage, financial ruin and ostracisation by the community.

In the book, you quote a lawyer who says that this story has poisoned you. Do you agree?

I smoke now; I did not before. I am sure it was a factor in the end of my marriage to my daughter's mother. We can be melodramatic about this; a window in my apartment was shot out and I have heard a lot of threats.

But I do not think it is anything compared to what a correspondent in Afghanistan is going through.

Journalists are being killed.

And what I have gone through is nothing compared to those girls who lost those precious years from 15 to 18.

What about the so-called "cancel culture" that would make his music disappear? Spotify removed Kelly from its playlist and his record label dropped him.

I am a free speech absolutist. I am glad that Mein Kampf (written by Adolf Hitler) is in print because we need to understand where that evil came from.

I do not know what should happen to Kelly's music. I know I can never listen to it.

I do not see it as a free-speech issue. I see it as a consumer issue.

At this point in the cultural conversation, people are well aware of Kelly's behaviour.

Separating the artist from the art is complicated. Comedian Lenny Bruce once said he loved (comedian) W.C. Fields even though he claimed he was anti-Semitic.

Kelly is not complicated, not with the evidence I lay out in 301 pages.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 06, 2019, with the headline 'Jim DeRogatis not done with reporting on R. Kelly's alleged sexual abuse of minors'. Print Edition | Subscribe