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Woman Says R. Kelly Abused Her and Pressured Her to Have an Abortion

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Zel was 17 and an aspiring singer when she first encountered R. Kelly, and she hoped that the R&B star could help jump-start her professional career.

But within the next two years, she said, Mr. Kelly physically abused her. And after learning she had become pregnant, he urged and badgered her to get an abortion.

“He said, ‘You need to look into that abortion stuff because you need to keep that body,” said the woman, who testified under the pseudonym Zel, as the second week of Mr. Kelly’s criminal trial began in Brooklyn.

The singer told her he would be ready to start a family after “he got rid of the rest of the girls” he spent time with, she said. Still, Zel did not want to lose the child.

But in text messages that were shown to jurors, Mr. Kelly told Zel that she was “hard-headed,” needed to “grow up” and should have been grateful that she had “someone to make the decisions” for her.

As she recounted the story, Zel, who is now 23 and whose interactions with Mr. Kelly lasted for five years in total, became the second accuser to take the stand against the singer at his trial. She previously defended the singer publicly as recently as 2019, even as claims against him mounted, but later made her own accusations of sexual and physical abuse. She testified under a pseudonym because of privacy concerns, and she is identified as Jane Doe #5 in court documents.

Several of the artist’s accusers are expected to testify against him during the monthlong trial, long anticipated since his sexual conduct came under fresh scrutiny during the height of the Me Too movement.

Another woman, Jerhonda Pace, told jurors last week that she and Mr. Kelly, whose real name is Robert Sylvester Kelly, started a six-month sexual relationship when she was 16 and testified that the artist had physically abused her.

Mr. Kelly is not charged with felony sex crimes related directly to his accusers. Rather, he faces a broad racketeering case that portrays him as the kingpin of a decades-long operation to recruit women and underage girls for sex by capitalizing on the singer’s fame.

Mr. Kelly, 54, has pleaded not guilty to all nine counts against him, which also include violations of an anti-sex trafficking law known as the Mann Act. If convicted, he could spend life in prison.

During the first portion of her testimony, Zel took jurors through her time with the singer. He sought to control the minutiae of her life, she said, and infected her with herpes. (She will continue her testimony, including under cross-examination by Mr. Kelly’s lawyers, on Tuesday.)

Zel first received Mr. Kelly’s phone number at a music festival in April 2015, she said, and was told she could audition for him. Both Zel and her family were hopeful that the professional connection could be an opportunity to start her career as a singer, she said. At the time, she was doing paid gigs, performing in school choirs and taking performing arts classes.

But from the beginning, Mr. Kelly was more interested in sex than music, said Zel, who initially told Mr. Kelly that she was 18. The two had sexual intercourse shortly after meeting, she said, and she eventually began to view herself as a girlfriend of the singer.

Once the summer of 2015 arrived, Zel, who was in high school, said she began to split time between the singer’s hometown, Chicago, and his residences in Atlanta. As her senior year neared, she said she told him that she needed to return to school — and revealed that she was 17.

But, she said, the singer “laughed in my face,” slapped her with an open hand and walked away. Later, she said, Mr. Kelly told her that she would receive home-schooling to continue living with him in Chicago.

Throughout her time with Mr. Kelly, Zel said, she was required to abide by a strict set of rules, which when broken led to physical punishment and other harsh penalties. The language she used when recalling them mirrored the descriptions of the restrictions that Ms. Pace, the singer’s first accuser to take the stand, gave in her testimony last week.

Zel read several of the rules to jurors, testifying that she began writing them down around age 17: She was to stay “beautiful” and “innocent,” to remind Mr. Kelly of his mother and child; she needed to trust Mr. Kelly’s direction without pushback, noting “anything Daddy says is to help me”; and she was to offer him positive quotes and affirmations to “lift him up.”

When she broke those rules, Zel said, she would be “chastised,” the singer’s term for the harsh spankings he would dole out. Mr. Kelly often forced her to remove her undergarments, would leave bruises and sometimes, make her “skin tear,” she told jurors.

Understand the R. Kelly Trial

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What are the charges? Mr. Kelly is facing one charge of racketeering based on sexual exploitation of children, kidnapping and forced labor, and eight counts of violating the Mann Act, which prohibits transporting anyone across state lines for prostitution.

Who is testifying? The trial centers around six women, several of whom are expected to testify. Prosecutors say the singer physically abused and psychologically manipulated many of them and controlled several aspects of their lives, including when they could eat and use the bathroom. At least three were underage.

His marriage to Aaliyah. Part of the case involves R. Kelly’s marriage to singer Aaliyah, who was 15 when they wed in 1994. Mr. Kelly’s former tour manager testified that R. Kelly bribed a government employee in 1994 so that he could obtain a fake ID for her.

The 2008 trial. The performer was acquitted in a high-profile criminal case brought against him on child pornography charges in 2008. The trial was centered on a videotape that prosecutors said showed the R. Kelly having sex with a 14-year-old girl. She refused to testify. Here’s a full timeline of the allegations.

The physical abuse occurred “nearly every two to three days,” she said, as her voice broke with emotion.

In one instance, Mr. Kelly was particularly upset after she texted her best friend and discussed her interactions with the singer. He beat Zel across her body, she told jurors. Then, he retrieved a size 12 Nike sneaker to use from his closet.

“He continued to hit me until I finally broke,” testified Zel, who said she was about 4-foot-11 and 98 pounds at the time.

She added: “I was trying to run from him and fight back. But I was no match.”

She also recalled being diagnosed with herpes at 17. She testified that she told Mr. Kelly about the discomfort she felt while having sex, but that he laughed it off.

Eventually, she told jurors, “it got to the point I couldn’t physically even walk.”

During the first week of the trial, one of Mr. Kelly’s longtime doctors testified that he had begun treating the singer for herpes by 2007 — at least eight years before he met Zel — and notified him to inform sexual partners that he had it.

But Mr. Kelly did not show concern when Zel discussed her diagnosis and treatment, she said.

“He was agitated and told me I could have gotten that from anyone,” Zel said. “I told him I had only been intimate with him.”

As her sexual encounters with Mr. Kelly continued, so did additional outbreaks, she said. In one instance, while she was in pain during sex, Mr. Kelly called her “broken.”

It represented a significant departure from the first time that Zel said she interacted with Mr. Kelly — at a music festival in 2015 when he appeared to direct extra attention toward her and one of the singer’s associates gave his phone number to her.

She later met Mr. Kelly at his hotel, where he said she could audition for him.

But Zel said that the entertainer told her that he needed to relieve himself sexually before he could listen to her sing. “I was against it — I told him I did not come to please him,” she said. “He continued to persist and told me I didn’t have to do anything, just to take off my clothes.”

As Mr. Kelly’s pressure continued, Zel, who had told him that she was 18, said that she acquiesced and allowed the entertainer to perform a sex act on her. He told her that if she agreed, he would allow her to audition — and would “take care of me for life,” she testified.

“I didn’t necessarily care for that,” she told jurors. “I just wanted to sing.”

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