On Sept. 27, 2021, a New York jury found R&B singer R. Kelly guilty of racketeering, including sexual exploitation of children, forced labor, Mann Act violations involving the coercion and transportation of women and girls in interstate commerce to engage in illegal sexual activity.
At the time, Jacquelyn Kasulis, acting US attorney from the Eastern District of New York, stated, "Today's guilty verdict forever brands R. Kelly as a predator, who used his fame and fortune to prey on the young, the vulnerable, and the voiceless for his own sexual gratification. A predator who used his inner circle to ensnare underage girls and young men and women, for decades, in a sordid web of sex abuse, exploitation, and humiliation."
Witnesses in the trial accused the 55-year-old of physical and sexual abuse. At the same time, his defenders claimed that they never saw him abuse women but also stated that they weren’t really around when Kelly was around said women or that they didn’t want to see him convicted. However, though the trial began on Aug. 18, 2020 the fire had started back in 2019 with the premiere of the Lifetime documentary series Surviving R. Kelly. It featured several women who accused the singer of abuse.
Many who had ignored his 1994 marriage and subsequent annulment with the then underage late singer Aaliyah, or the trial regarding the sex tape that alleged he had urinated and raped a 14-year-old girl could no longer deny the possibility that the whispers about Kelly were true.
In fact, in 2006, MTV reported that Carey Kelly, the singer’s brother, alleged that he tried to have him take the fall for the tape and according to Vibe Carey has also alleged that the singer abused their underage cousin.
No stranger to singer’s abuse is Lizzette Martinez, who was featured in the documentary. In 1995 Martinez, then 17, while with friends, met Kelly at a Florida shopping mall. At the time, she had dreams of becoming a professional singer, so when his bodyguard slipped her Kelly’s phone number, she was excited and hopeful. However, she eventually realized that her aspirations wouldn't be realized.
Labeled Jane Doe No. 9 for the trial, Martinez for so long had remained quiet and, although she had been prepared to testify against the singer, she wasn't called. Martinez recently sat down via Zoom with BET.com to discuss her book, the fallout after the documentary, and why she will always fight for women.
BET.com: In your book, it feels like you didn't hold anything back. There were at times graphic details. I can't imagine how painful this has all been for you and the bravery that it took. Why did you choose to tell your story?
Lizzette Martinez: It was a lot to live through, and I have been holding this all in, but I decided to speak out because of the other girls and their families that couldn't see their daughters. When it happened, I was a young girl, and my parents wanted the same thing.
BET.com: In a past interview, you spoke about how Kelly groomed you plus in the book you detail how events chipped away at who you were. Can you please explain what that was like for you?
Martinez: I met him when I was 17 and though my mom was a good person my life at home wasn't the best, so it was easy for me to be preyed upon. Despite things going on at home, I was a happy girl with dreams and aspirations of being a professional singer. So, when I met him, I thought that I was going to have a career and I was going to be able to help my family.
It started slow. First, it was the alienation of my friends and my family. Then it was control of what I wore. It was emotional and mental. You believe the lies and start to become someone you don't even know or recognize.
BET.com: When you met R. Kelly, did he know that you were 17?
Martinez: Yes. After we met at the mall, he asked me to meet him at a restaurant, and I went with my best friend. We were talking about ourselves. We told him we were 17 years old and seniors in high school who loved singing and dancing. It never occurred to me that it would turn into what it did. When I would sit and speak with him, he was very young in his mind, and I thought that he was so cool.
It was like hanging out with one of your friends from high school. But while that’s how he drew me in with his young type personality, he was also a controlling monster. Honestly, it was like there were three personalities: the young person, the controlling, abusive person, and then the person on stage who was beloved by his fans.
BET.com: You mention in the book that you had seen other women’s clothing. At the time, did you think that there were possibly other women?
Martinez: I thought we were close. He used to say, “you’re my best friend.” We spoke about our family. At times he seemed like a very caring person. I knew there were other women, but I didn’t see them, but there was a time when I saw young girls at a fancy hotel in Chicago. That is when I started to feel that something was off.
BET.com: You have said that you cared about him and even mentioned in the book that you thought you loved him. Looking back now, do you still believe that you loved him?
Martinez: I was a young girl. I think it was mind control and manipulation. I thought I loved him, but after being in a healthy relationship I know that wasn't love. But I wanted him to get help, and I didn't want him to hurt other women.
Just talking about this, I still get uneasy after all this time. I notice my body changes whenever I talk about it. When I grew up, there wasn't a lot of talk about domestic violence or sexual abuse as there is today. I felt like I couldn't talk to anyone. I wish there had been an outlet for me.
BET.com: Have you been able to get some help for yourself? Have you sought counseling?
Martinez: It is a matter of finding the right therapist, and I haven’t found the right one. I haven’t found a good trauma-informed therapist. Since the documentary, I have really had to look at a lot of things—the good and the bad.
I have a lot of anxieties and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. Some days are better than others. But I appreciate you sitting with me. After the documentary, it was hard.
BET.com: I am so very sorry for all the pain that you've had to endure, and I know that there are no words that I can possibly say to you that could mend any of that. What was your experience in making the documentary?
Martinez: Hollywood will put you out there and when it is all done no one is there for you. There must be accountability. You can’t sit people in a chair for eight hours without having trauma informed therapist. There were times that there should have been a break. They love getting you like that, it’s like “emotional porn,” but what happens once you get home and you’re having flashbacks?
BET.com: Do you believe that the documentary did some good? What was the importance of the documentary, and why did you agree to do it?
Martinez: I signed up because I'm all in when it comes to the fight. I will never stop telling on predators. I'll never stop supporting other women despite what I have been through. We have to hear Black and brown women out.
I don't think that there has been another documentary like that, and it held him accountable. I think that if we hadn't sat for all those hours and told our story, he would still have continued because no one cares about Black and brown women. That's the reality of it. That's why we did it.
We had gotten out, but there were still two young girls in there. We didn't care about the money. We suffered and gave up a lot. People don't understand when you tell your story, you get bullied online, and you get death threats. So, I appreciate the documentary. However, there needs to be reform when dealing with survivors who are healing.
BET.com: You have spoken about feeling anxious during the trial because there was a possibility you could have been called. Were you worried about seeing him again?
Martinez: I was really worried about facing him and nervous about his fans. I heard about what happened when the other women went to testify. There were people outside of the courthouse yelling and cursing at them. I'm a really strong woman, but to face him, the people at the courthouse and then all the things said online. It was a lot and though I had anxieties about it, but I was prepared to do it, no matter what.
BET.com: What is on the horizon for you?
Martinez: Helping women. I wrote a song called "My Truth." It is dedicated to all survivors but mainly the R. Kelly survivors. The proceeds will go to a nonprofit; I'm going to build a safe house for women in Puerto Rico. If there were a safe house for me back, then I would have gone there.
Lizzette Martinez’s book Jane Doe #9: How I Survived R. Kelly is available for purchase.
Editor's note: This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.