Arizona law enforcement recently reported that a mission to tackle human trafficking and sexual offenses around the time of the Super Bowl resulted in hundreds of arrests.
A press release from the Phoenix police stated that officers from several law enforcement bodies collaborated on an operation from January 30 to February 11 in the Phoenix region, yielding nearly 350 arrests, 48 of these for felony offenses, in an attempt to crack down on sex trafficking and prostitution.
During this time frame, Arizona had several large events, Super Bowl LVII, the Waste Management Phoenix Open, and the Barrett-Jackson Car Auction were all held.
The police were quoted saying, “These events draw large crowds of people, many of them from outside of the state, and large events can create a bigger market for human trafficking and prostitution-related activities. Over 100 law enforcement officers from state, local and federal agencies worked daily to address the issue of human trafficking in the Valley.”
Police stated that the operation was aimed at adults who had attempted to procure minors for sex through the internet, and those who solicit sexual services on the street.
“The priority of these operations was to identify and recover juveniles or adult victims of human trafficking as it relates to fraud, force or coercion as well as to provide victim outreach.”
On top of the 48 felony arrests made, 300 additional were misdemeanors of those 120 for people looking to pay for sex.
The law enforcement officers identified five minors and an adult and reported confiscating seven firearms.
Law enforcement stated that individuals flagged as potentially being involved in trafficking were being further examined by state, local, and federal authorities.
A conservative Republican senator who is convinced that the Arizona Department of Child Safety is facilitating the global sex trafficking of children removed from negligent parents called the police on one of his GOP colleagues, alleging that she threatened his life.
Sen. David Farnsworth, a Republican from Mesa, filed a report with the Arizona Department of Public Safety this week accusing Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix, of threatening him if he didn’t stop investigating the outrageous claim. The news was first reported by Yellow Sheet Report, a high-priced insider newsletter aimed at lobbyists and government officials.
Farnsworth told Yellow Sheet that he has been looking into how DCS “lost” more than 550 children last year, roughly half of whom are categorized as either runaways or otherwise missing. The rest appear to be flagged for paperwork errors.
He said he fears the children have been abducted and sold into a global sex trafficking ring, and said he has been holding meetings with DCS, critics of the agency and fellow lawmakers, including Brophy McGee.
Farnsworth acknowledged his beliefs were outlandish, but he said it’s not a conspiracy theory. He told Yellow Sheet that he didn’t believe DCS officials were actively selling children into sexual slavery, but that they are being lax at protecting children from predators who will do so.
The Arizona Mirror is a state-focused media outlet that presents itself as nonpartisan but publishes articles and commentary written from and selected with a left-of-center bias and agenda. It is owned by a left-of-center entity called the Newsroom Network which has opened other left-of-center news outlets throughout the United States. 
Hopewell Fund, a part of the massive, left-of-center “dark money” entity Arabella Advisors, owns, funds, and operates the Newsroom Network, parent entity of Arizona Mirror. 
The Arizona Mirror’s philosophy aligns with that of Newsroom Network, asserting that traditional media businesses are failing because of their obligations to investors.  Newsroom Network relies on donations (including donations from major donors to Hopewell Fund) to function free from short-run revenue considerations.  Jim Small, the editor and founder, outlined how he was approached by Hopewell to start the Arizona Mirror.  The Arizona Mirror claims 150,000 views of its news monthly. 
The Arizona Mirror was created through direct funding from Hopewell Fund. Hopewell’s 2017 tax forms show it received what is described as an unusual grant of $100 million. Hopewell directed millions of this grant to other Arabella Advisors groups including the New Venture Fund and the 1630 Fund, which have been identified as “dark money” organizations by mainstream news sources like the left-leaning Politico. 
Hopewell donates to many other left-of-center organizations including abortion providers and environmentalist activists. In addition to the Arizona Mirror, Hopewell reports trade names of other news entities it controls, including the Florida Phoenix, Nevada Current, and Virginia Mercury. 
A major law enforcement operation to locate and assist victims of human trafficking and related crimes resulted in the location of more than 200 victims during the first two weeks of August.
Operation Cross Country is a coordinated operation among the FBI, other federal agencies, state and local police, and social services agencies across the country to find and assist victims of human trafficking, particularly child victims.
“The initiative really just takes a concentrated period of time where we’re just focused on the problem of child sex trafficking,” said Section Chief Jose Perez, who oversees violent crime investigations in the FBI. “What we do is we sit down with our local partners and our task forces and identify certain areas where we know sex trafficking is prevalent, and we’ll dedicate resources and efforts to identify and remove victims from those areas.”
The FBI’s Child Exploitation and Human Trafficking Task Forces across the country worked to locate victims. About 200 federal, state, and local agencies partnered with the FBI on Operation Cross Country. They encountered both child victims of sex trafficking and adults who were being trafficked against their will. The goal is to gather intelligence, build criminal cases against traffickers, and offer victims assistance.
That’s why victim specialists are embedded in operations. They serve as a liaison between the victims and FBI agents. They also help victims find services to rebuild their lives.
While the FBI cannot provide these services on its own, victim specialists partner with community organizations and social services agencies to help victims who are escaping a trafficker. They may need counseling, medical services, housing, or job placement.
FBI Atlanta’s operation, for example, located 19 missing children and resulted in the arrest of four traffickers.
In Chattanooga, Tennessee, teams from 14 law enforcement agencies worked on a three-day operation. Their work included locating sex offenders who had failed to register, tracking predators who approach children online, and looking for a runaway teenager at high risk for being trafficked.
The result was three arrests: one of an unregistered sex offender (which will become a federal case) and two state arrests.
Two federal cases were opened on suspects who may have been involved with child sexual abuse material production or enticement violations. Enticement involves using the internet to coerce a child (or someone connected to the child) to manufacture sexually explicit material of a child.
This year’s Operation Cross Country expanded to investigate sex offenders who may be eligible for federal charges and people trying to connect with children online to sexually abuse them. It’s a hybrid model that has expanded the traditional role of Operation Cross Country, said Sam, a special agent who leads the Chattanooga office’s crimes against children investigations.
“With the advent of social media, access to mobile devices and technology … they’re out there in the neighborhoods not being monitored,” Sam said. “And we don’t know if they’re going to have access to these communication devices to continue to exploit children online or have inappropriate physical contact with children.”
Law enforcement in the Chattanooga area continue to look for the runaway 17-year-old, who may be at high risk for trafficking. Investigators looked at the missing girl’s public social media profiles and talked with relatives to develop intelligence on where she might be.
Given the girl’s history of trauma and family difficulty, law enforcement wants to offer her services if she is in danger of being trafficked, said Megan, the FBI Chattanooga victim specialist.
“We are going to follow those leads and see if we can find her and hopefully get her to a safe place and get her some resources … I’m hopeful that there’s still time for some good services for her,” Megan said.
Det. Sgt. Steve Hope from the Red Bank Police Department was one of the FBI partners who participated in Chattanooga’s Operation Cross Country. He said as a small police department partnering with the FBI is a valuable opportunity to help investigate child predators, working with agencies that can bring additional resources to trafficking and child predator cases.
“It’s amazing the rush to know you can get these people before they hurt any more children. An agency my size, we don’t have the manpower to do that, but to be part of this task force … the FBI has brought me in as one of their own,” he said.
Disgraced R&B superstar R. Kelly was sentenced Wednesday to 30 years in prison, months after he was convicted on all nine counts against him in a high-profile sex trafficking case.
U.S. District Court Judge Ann Donnelly handed down the sentence in a Brooklyn courtroom after several of Kelly’s victims angrily addressed the convicted sex offender at the hearing.
The victim recalled an incident when she was forced to perform oral sex on the music star “after you played basketball, in a car full of your friends.”
“Do you remember that?!” she scolded Kelly, wearing olive colored prison scrubs over a long-sleeve white shirt and a black mask.
In the memo and during the trial, prosecutors argued that Kelly relied on his fame, money and popularity — and a network of people who surrounded him — to carry out his crimes.
“With the aid of his inner circle and over a period of decades, the defendant preyed upon children and young women for his own sexual gratification,” the memo said. “He continued his crimes and avoided punishment for them for almost 30 years and must now be held to account.”Jane Doe No. 1 cried as she addressed the court and said she spent years believing Kelly would never face justice.
NEW YORK (AP) — Fallen R&B superstar R. Kelly was sentenced to 30 years in prison Wednesday for using his fame to subject young fans — some just children — to systematic sexual abuse.
Through tears and anger, several of Kelly’s accusers told a court, and him, that he had preyed on them and misled his fans.
“You made me do things that broke my spirit. I literally wished I would die because of how low you made me feel,” said one unnamed survivor, directly addressing a Kelly who kept his hands folded and his eyes downcast.
“Do you remember that?” she added.
Kelly, 55, didn’t speak at his sentencing, where he also was ordered to pay a $100,000 fine. The Grammy-winning, multiplatinum-selling singer and songwriter was convicted last year of racketeering and sex trafficking at a trial that gave voice to accusers who had previously wondered if their stories were being ignored because they were Black women.
“Although sex was certainly a weapon that you used, this is not a case about sex. It’s a case about violence, cruelty and control,” U.S. District Judge Ann Donnelly told him.
The sentence caps a slow-motion fall for Kelly, who was adored by legions of fans and sold millions of albums even after allegations about his abuse of young girls began circulating publicly in the 1990s.
Widespread outrage over Kelly’s sexual misconduct didn’t come until the #MeToo reckoning, reaching a crescendo after the release of the docuseries “Surviving R. Kelly.”
Kelly’s lawyers had argued he should get no more than 10 years in prison because he had a traumatic childhood “involving severe, prolonged childhood sexual abuse, poverty, and violence.”
As an adult with “literacy deficiencies,” the star was “repeatedly defrauded and financially abused, often by the people he paid to protect him,” his lawyers said.
The hitmaker is known for work including the 1996 hit “I Believe I Can Fly” and the cult classic “Trapped in the Closet,” a multi-part tale of sexual betrayal and intrigue.
Allegations that Kelly abused young girls began circulating publicly in the 1990s. He was sued in 1997 by a woman who alleged sexual battery and sexual harassment while she was a minor, and he later faced criminal child pornography charges related to a different girl in Chicago. A jury there acquitted him in 2008, and he settled the lawsuit.
All the while, Kelly continued to sell millions of albums.
The Brooklyn federal court jury convicted him after hearing that he used his entourage of managers and aides to meet girls and keep them obedient, an operation that prosecutors said amounted to a criminal enterprise.
Kelly, born Robert Sylvester Kelly, used his “fame, money and popularity” to systematically “prey upon children and young women for his own sexual gratification,” prosecutors wrote in a court filing earlier this month.
Several accusers testified that Kelly subjected them to perverse and sadistic whims when they were underage.
The accusers alleged they were ordered to sign nondisclosure forms and were subjected to threats and punishments such as violent spankings if they broke what one referred to as “Rob’s rules.”
Some said they believed the videotapes he shot of them having sex would be used against them if they exposed what was happening.
According to testimony, Kelly gave several accusers herpes without disclosing he had an STD, coerced a teenage boy to join him for sex with a naked girl who emerged from underneath a boxing ring in his garage, and shot a shaming video that showed one victim smearing feces on her face as punishment for breaking his rules.
Kelly has denied any wrongdoing. He didn’t testify at his trial, but his then-lawyers portrayed his accusers as girlfriends and groupies who weren’t forced to do anything against their will and stayed with him because they enjoyed the perks of his lifestyle.
Evidence also was presented about a fraudulent marriage scheme hatched to protect Kelly after he feared he had impregnated R&B phenom Aaliyah in 1994 when she was just 15. Witnesses said they were married in matching jogging suits using a license falsely listing her age as 18; he was 27 at the time.
Aaliyah worked with Kelly, who wrote and produced her 1994 debut album, “Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number.” She died in a plane crash in 2001 at age 22.
An earlier defense memo suggested prosecutors’ arguments for a higher sentence overreached by falsely claiming Kelly participated in the paying of a bribe to a government official in order to facilitate the illegal marriage.
The Associated Press does not name people who say they have been sexually assaulted or abused, unless they come forward publicly. The women who spoke at Kelly’s sentencing were identified only by first names or pseudonyms.
Kelly has been jailed without bail since in 2019. He’s still facing child pornography and obstruction of justice charges in Chicago, where a trial is scheduled to begin Aug. 15.
On April 8, a 15-year-old girl went to an NBA game with her dad. It was 10 days before he saw his daughter again.
The teenager from North Richland Hills, Texas, was at a Dallas Mavericks game with her father at the American Airlines Center in Dallas when she went to the bathroom right before halftime, according to KVUE-TV. Surveillance footage seen later that night showed the girl leaving the arena with a man, never returning to her seat at the game.
Police found the young teenager a week and a half later, on April 18, in a hotel room in Oklahoma City. She was rescued after the girl’s parents identified her through nude photos posted online, advertising her for sex.
In total, it was 11 days before the girl was reunited with her parents, family attorney Zeke Fortenberry said.
Fortenberry is representing the family in the case, arguing police in Dallas and North Richland Hills should have done more to help the father find his kidnapped daughter. The attorney also listed the arena, the Mavericks organization, and the Oklahoma City hotel as parties that could have potentially prevented the horrific crime.
“This girl was being sexually assaulted in a hotel room multiple nights,” said Fortenberry. “Any time she could have been rescued from that sooner would have been better.”
He also asserted the hotel staff should have immediately noticed something was off, explaining, “When a 40-something-year-old man walks in with a 15-year-old girl and rents multiple hotel rooms, and then there is traffic coming in and out of those rooms, those are red flags.”
The reason the attorney is implicating the arena and the Dallas Mavericks is that the man who kidnapped the girl reportedly gained access to the game with a fake ticket allegedly sold to him by someone known to the team and the American Airlines Center for pawning phony tickets.
As for why he has sent a letter to the litany of organizations — including two police departments — Fortenberry said, “Our intent is to put [these organizations] on notice that we’re pursuing claims against them for their negligence and other causes of action.”
How Was She Found?
Unfortunately, the police were reportedly of little to no help to the panicked father.
Fortenberry said his client immediately notified Dallas police officers, who were at the American Airlines Center providing security for the game. They subsequently told him to report to North Richland Hills law enforcement, because that is where he and his daughter live. When he told his local police department, officers reportedly told the father they could not assist him, because the incident occurred in Dallas, not North Richland Hills.
It should be noted that, a couple hours after receiving a report of the missing teen, the North Richland Hills Police Department entered the girl’s name into the national missing person database, at around 3:24 a.m. April 9. Officers in North Richland Hills later coordinated with Dallas police to create a bulletin that went out April 11.
Those efforts, however, seemed too little too late, according to Fortenberry.
Ultimately, it was a Houston-based anti-trafficking organization, the Texas Counter-Trafficking Initiative, that successfully located the missing teenager using facial recognition technology. Thankfully, the group was able to swiftly locate a photograph of the kidnapped daughter online, according to the family attorney.
The initiative then immediately contacted staffers at the hotel in Oklahoma City. Local police officers then located the young teenager and arrested eight people in connection with the heinous crime, per WFAA-TV.
Authorities charged the eight people with various crimes, ranging from felony warrants to human trafficking rape.
“It’s not something that we take lightly whenever we are given tips or information that there is someone that we believe to be in danger possibly in our area,” said Sgt. Dillon Quirk of the Oklahoma City Police Department. “Fortunately, it really worked out in the end to find this person safely.”
Law enforcement officers in Oklahoma City were notified of the missing girl on April 14. They were told a teen girl from Dallas was at the local hotel, where she was “being trafficked for commercial sex purposes.”
The local officers’ investigation led them to convicted sex offender Kenneth Nelson, who used an Oklahoma state I.D. card under an alias to purchase the collection of hotel rooms. The name on the I.D. Nelson used is that of a real person who lives in Oklahoma and “could cause financial liability” for that individual, according to police.
According to an affidavit filed by police, they obtained a search warrant for the hotel rooms rented by Nelson. During the search, officers were able to identify the location shown in the explicit photos of the underage girl.
Karen Gonzales was arrested and charged as the one who took the pictures of the kidnapped teenager.
Please be in prayer for all involved in this terrifying ordeal.
Former Facebook moderator Daniel Motaung has sued the social media giant’s parent company Meta and its African subcontractor Sama, alleging in the suit filed on Tuesday that the company “subjected current and former content moderators to forced labor and human trafficking for labor.”
Motaung claims he was laid off for organizing a strike in 2019 and trying to unionize Sama’s employees. The subcontractor, he alleges, engaged in a “deceptive recruitment process” by advertising call center jobs that turned out to be content moderation jobs – with all the exposure to psychologically harmful content that entailed.
“The varying descriptions (call center agents, agent and content moderator) for the position of a content moderator are deceptive and designed to trick unsuspecting applicants into unknowingly becoming Facebook Content Moderators,” Motaung’s lawyers declared in their filing, noting that “applicants who responded to the call for ‘Agents’ were especially deceived.”
Sama not only failed to give employees adequate mental health support, it deliberately perpetuated a “toxic work environment” that prohibited moderators from airing their grievances with third parties, including Meta employees, the filing alleged. Workers’ screen time and movement during work hours were tracked using Meta’s software, and they were denied “unplanned breaks as needed particularly after exposure to graphic content,” instead receiving an hour in “wellness breaks” per week – time some employees report having to “beg” to receive.
Employees at the site, located in Nairobi, were drawn from all over Africa, as far away as Ethiopia, Uganda, and Somalia, as well as Motaung’s native South Africa, and only learned the true nature of their jobs after signing contracts and relocating – meaning they could not simply turn around and go home if they found the true nature of the job too disturbing.
An exposé on Sama’s content moderation center published in Time magazine revealed the company paid the lowest rate of any Meta subcontractor – as low as $1.50 per hour, according to the report – and while the company upped workers’ pay in response, its PR problems have persisted. Motaung and his lawyers threatened to sue over a month ago if Sama did not make serious improvements to its treatment of employees.
Meta has sought to distance itself from the company, declaring it requires its partners to “provide industry-leading pay, benefits and support,” while Sama has in turn denied any wrongdoing regarding Motaung’s departure. The company claimed his employment was “terminated because of unacceptable actions taken against fellow employees that jeopardized their safety” and insisted the process was “fair, clear, and well documented.”
Moderators at Sama threatened to strike in the summer of 2019 unless they received better pay and working conditions, but rather than negotiate with the workers, the company flew two higher-ups from the US to “deal with” the uprising – a process that ended with Motaung’s dismissal and the accusation that his actions had put the relationship between Sama and Facebook (now Meta) at “great risk.” Rather than face a similar fate, the other would-be strikers returned to work.
Elon Musk left United Nations’ bosses reeling on Sunday after he exposed a massive pedophile ring run by UN officials.
During a heated Twitter debate over whether large sums of money can solve world hunger, Elon Musk challenged the UN over its child sex ring, which News Punch has repeatedlyreported on since 2015.
Much of the media coverage of the issue has centered around Musk’s response to David Beasley, director of the UN’s World Food Programme, who baselessly told CNN last week that a $6 billion donation from Musk could rescue 42 million people who are “literally going to die if we don’t reach them.”
Summit.news reports: Dr. Eli David pointed out that the UN World Food Programme (WFP) couldn’t “solve world hunger” with a budget of $8.4 billion.
“If WFP can describe on this Twitter thread exactly how $6B will solve world hunger, I will sell Tesla stock right now and do it,” responded Musk, adding, “But it must be open source accounting, so the public sees precisely how the money is spent.”
Beasley responded by clarifying that the money would be a “one-time donation to save 42 million lives during this unprecedented hunger crisis” and wouldn’t actually solve world hunger, but that the money would be subject to “transparency and open source accounting.”
Musk then asked Beasley “What happened here?” along with a link to an Express article headlined ‘Starving children ‘as young as NINE forced to give UN officials oral sex to get food’.
The article details a report exposing how UN peacekeepers “orally and anally raped” children in the Central African Republic and how top officials at the UN’s children agency, UNICEF ignored the scandal in an apparent attempt to cover it up.
“No one has been arrested more than a year and a half after UN authorities were made aware of the sexual abuse allegations,” the report, which was published in 2015, concluded.
Most of the media reports concerning the Twitter exchange didn’t even mention Musk challenging Beasley about the child abuse sex scandal.
Republican Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost announced Monday that 161 people were arrested and 51 potential human trafficking victims were helped as part of a weeklong, state-wide anti-human trafficking operation that culminated Friday.
The anti-human trafficking sting, Operation Ohio Knows, was the largest in Ohio’s history, according to a news release on Yost’s website.
Among the 161 people arrested were three who were seeking to buy sex from minors. Others that Yost mentioned were a teacher, a firefighter, a professor, a pilot, a home improvement contractor, a city council member and a man who had a two-year-old in his car when he was apprehended.
“This is not just something that happens down in the ‘hood in this city,” Yost said in a 53-minute news conference that he held on Monday at the Ohio Statehouse. “It’s in every county. It’s in every town. This is happening all over Ohio. Poor neighborhoods, rich neighborhoods. Educated, uneducated. Black, white. It doesn’t matter.”
“It happens everywhere, and that’s why this fight is so important. And I will not rest until no one in Ohio buys or sells human beings,” he said.
The sting was a collaboration, which Yost called “a collegial effort,” among nearly 100 federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies partnering with both nongovernmental and nonprofit organizations. Its aim was to decrease the demand for those seeking to pay for sex rather than focus on the individuals who sell it.
Yost referred to a recent Ohio statute that makes the punishment for buying sex more severe, thereby targeting the demand side of the sex trafficking trade. It also requires those convicted to undergo human trafficking education, according to the Meigs Independent Press.
“People who traffic other humans are doing it for a really simple reason — money,” Yost said during the news conference. “And if there’s no market, if there are no buyers, there will be no trafficking.”
Yost acknowledged that the goal of completely eradicating the demand for purchased sex in Ohio “is probably a little bit of a tall order.”
“But reducing the demand means that we reduce the number of people who are victimized by human trafficking,” he said.
Among those busted in Ohio over the past week was Democratic Councilman Mark Jessie of Elyria, a city about 20 miles southwest of Cleveland. According to WKYC-TV, he faces a misdemeanor for the charge of soliciting prostitution. Even though the charge won’t get him removed from the city council, he is up for re-election next month.
Another “John” was Randal Frazier, a music teacher at St. Matthew Catholic School in Gahanna. The school terminated Frazier’s employment on Sept. 27, WBNS-TV reported.
Firefighter Andrew Bartnikowski, from the Columbus Division of Fire, was charged with “counts of engaging in prostitution,” according to the outlet. After he responded to an online advertisement to pay for sex and sent multiple text messages and calls, undercover police posing as prostitutes nabbed him.
During his news conference, Yost told of a pilot, making a salary of $200,000, who police caught. He was “not only purchasing sex; he haggled. He got the price down to 15 bucks,” Yost said.
Other than the 161 who were arrested for trying to buy sex, 50 individuals — both men and women — offering to sell sex were also arrested, according to Yost’s news release. Additionally, law enforcement interviewed 51 potential human trafficking victims, who were offered health care and social services.
“It’s important to remember that in every one of these situations, there is a survivor, a victim, who needs to be not revictimized but aided, supported and helped,” Yost said.
The attorney general acknowledged that simply making arrests isn’t the answer. “We cannot arrest our way out of human trafficking,” he said.
Also at the news conference was Mandie Knight, a human trafficking survivor, who expressed gratitude for the role that law enforcement played in her journey out of the lifestyle. Knight is now a wife and mother, a forensic criminology student and a resource manager for Freedom a la Cart, a catering business that employs human trafficking survivors, according to The Columbus Dispatch.
“Had I not been arrested, had I not gone to jail and had I not suffered some consequences for my actions and the role that I played in the decisions I was making, I wouldn’t be here today, and I wouldn’t be as successful in life,” she said.
The U.S. Marshals also performed a simultaneous operation, recovering 10 missing children, according to Yost’s news release.
Operation Ohio Knows was Ohio’s third sex trafficking sting over the past year: Operation 614 in April resulted in 93 arrests with 53 victims helped, and Operation Autumn Hope” in October 2020 ended with 157 arrests, 109 victims helped and 45 missing children found.
Everyone listen up! This women needs your help she is a victim of trafficking and experimentation. The more hearts you can give the more people that will know. She is getting death threats!
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS |PUBLISHED: September 27, 2021 at 12:31 p.m. | UPDATED: September 27, 2021 at 12:40 p.m.
By Tom Hays | Associated Press
NEW YORK — R. Kelly, the R&B superstar known for his anthem “I Believe I Can Fly,” was convicted Monday in a sex trafficking trial after decades of avoiding criminal responsibility for numerous allegations of misconduct with young women and children.
A jury of seven men and five women found Kelly guilty of racketeering on their second day of deliberations.
The charges were based on an argument that the entourage of managers and aides who helped the singer meet girls — and keep them obedient and quiet — amounted to a criminal enterprise.
Several accusers testified in lurid detail during the trial, alleging that Kelly subjected them to perverse and sadistic whims when they were underage.
For years, the public and news media seemed to be more amused than horrified by allegations of inappropriate relationships with minors, starting with Kelly’s illegal marriage to the R&B phenom Aaliyah in 1994 when she was just 15.
His records and concert tickets kept selling. Other artists continued to record his songs, even after he was arrested in 2002 and accused of making a recording of himself sexually abusing and urinating on a 14-year-old girl.
Widespread public condemnation didn’t come until a widely watched docuseries “Surviving R. Kelly” helped make his case a signifier of the #MeToo era, and gave voice to alleged victims who wondered if their stories were previously ignored because they were Black women.
At the trial, several of Kelly’s accusers testified without using their real names to protect their privacy and prevent possible harassment by the singer’s fans. Jurors were shown homemade videos of Kelly engaging in sex acts that prosecutors said were not consensual.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Maria Cruz Melendez argued that Kelly was a serial abuser who “maintained control over these victims using every trick in the predator handbook.”
The defense labeled the accusers “groupies” and “stalkers.”
Defense attorney Deveraux Cannick questioned why the alleged victims stayed in relationships with Kelly if they thought they were being exploited.
“You made a choice,” Cannick told one woman who testified, adding, “You participated of your own will.”
Kelly, born Robert Sylvester Kelly, has been jailed without bail since in 2019. The trial was delayed by the coronavirus pandemic and Kelly’s last-minute shakeup of his legal team.
When it finally started on Aug. 18, prosecutors painted the 54-year-old singer as a pampered man-child and control freak. His accusers said they were under orders to call him “Daddy,” expected to jump and kiss him anytime he walked into a room, and to cheer only for him when he played pickup basketball games in which they said he was a ball hog.
The accusers alleged that they also were ordered to sign nondisclosure forms and were subjected to threats and punishments such as violent spankings if they broke what one referred to as “Rob’s rules.” Some said they believed the videotapes he shot of them having sex would be used against them if they exposed what was happening.
Among the other more troubling tableaus: Kelly keeping a gun by his side while he berated one of his accusers as a prelude to forcing her to give him oral sex in a Los Angeles music studio; Kelly giving several alleged victims herpes without disclosing he had an STD; Kelly coercing a teen boy to join him for sex with a naked girl who emerged from underneath a boxing ring in his garage; and Kelly shooting a shaming video of one alleged victim showing her smearing feces on her face as punishment for breaking his rules.
Some of the most harrowing testimony came from a woman who said Kelly took advantage of her in 2003 when she was an unsuspecting radio station intern. She testified he whisked her to his Chicago recording studio, where she was kept locked up and was drugged before he sexually assaulted her while she was passed out.
When she realized she was trapped, “I was scared. I was ashamed. I was embarrassed,” she said.
She said one of R. Kelly’s employees warned her to keep her mouth shut about what had happened.
Other testimony focused on Kelly’s relationship with Aaliyah. One of the final witnesses described seeing him sexually abusing her around 1993, when Aaliyah was only 13 or 14.
Jurors also heard testimony about a fraudulent marriage scheme hatched to protect Kelly after he feared he had impregnated Aaliyah. Witnesses said they were married in matching jogging suits using a license falsely listing her age as 18; he was 27 at the time.
Aaliyah, whose full name was Aaliyah Dana Haughton, worked with Kelly, who wrote and produced her 1994 debut album, “Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number.” She died in a plane crash in 2001 at age 22.
In at least one instance, Kelly was accused of abusing a victim around the time he was under investigation in a child pornography case in Chicago. He was acquitted at trial in 2008.
For the Brooklyn trial, U.S. District Judge Ann Donnelly barred people not directly involved in the case from the courtroom in what she called a coronavirus precaution. Reporters and other spectators had to watch on a video feed from another room in the same building.
The New York case is only part of the legal peril facing the singer. He also has pleaded not guilty to sex-related charges in Illinois and Minnesota. Trial dates in those cases have yet to be set.
We are sipping coffee near the courthouse. I’ve just witnessed a man plead guilty to a felony charge: trafficking a minor. Everything fits the televised version—the orange jumpsuits, bailiff-guarded doors, hands cuffed to waist. What does not fit is the dull, monotonous tone of the judge, attorneys and defendant. Another day in court, except a man’s life is set to change today. I expected a bit more emotion.
My friend is explaining the terminology over our shared muffin. She’s an investigator and thrilled he pled guilty. New laws are making cases stick, and our community is starting to get convictions. At least she is emotional. The minors she works with keep her heart tuned. They break it, daily.
I ask if she sees trends that match the national ones: early sexual abuse, family chaos, child welfare system, substance abuse. Yes, yes, yes, she says, and she adds more. She lists the previous few cases, and they all fit into the profile in some way or another.
But I’m unsettled. In the last few weeks, I’ve fielded two phone calls that confuse me. The calls are from middle class parents. Educated parents. Church-going parents.Parents who took family vacations, enrolled their kids in sports, encouraged summer reading and had dinner around a table every night. And yet, the worst thing imaginable has happened, and they are worried.
They call me when they fear the worst. When the red flags they’ve heard about are flapping in their face. They call when they want confirmation, even though what they really want is for me to assure them that it’s going to be fine and that this looks nothing like sex trafficking. The parents call when they need a bit of parenting themselves.
Each case involved a girl over 18, which makes it dicey. These girls are legally adults. Each one was in risky relationships with a guy who quickly talked her into moving in with him or leaving the state with him. There were other men in and out of the house as well. Drugs were involved, suddenly and out of the blue. Contact with her had been difficult, if not severed. It would not be a huge leap for the guy to ask her to sell sex to make money for them in the short term.
I’m explaining all of this to my friend outside of the courthouse. We’re not counselors, but it’s easy to see a pattern: A young woman from a stable family quickly abandons friends, common sense, and her self-worth has been triggered. There has been an inciting incident, and the most common culprit is sexual assault. Something has jarred her reality, and she is now in an alternate one that is dangerous and self-destructive.
Parents view her behavior as disobedience and selfishness. I think it is self-protection. Woundedness takes on all shapes, does it not?
“Welcome to the new face of sex trafficking,” says my friend. Suburban sex trafficking.
While we don’t know for sure what is going on in my two examples, we have concerns. There are indeed red flags. On the surface the “profiles” look very different than what the trends show and the minors who come through court, but are they all that different? Brokenness has led to exploitation. For some, it began at a young age when mom stopped caring. For my two, it began later, despite how much mom cares.
What, then, are we to do?
We need to learn the red flags! Dating an older guy, particularly if met online, distancing long-term friendships and suddenly changing behavior are a few examples.
We need to educate youth that traffickers are not always gold chain-clad gangsters, but often “boyfriend” types or older girls promising things without backing it up: “If you can just earn some money for us, we can leave here and start that new life you want!”
Area sex assault centers need to be trained to understand and recognize the connection between assault, high-risk behavior and potential trafficking. Is yours?
Let’s look beneath behavior to discover the origin of the wound and seek healing.
Like it or not, aware of it or not, sex trafficking can easily happen in all of our communities.
Let us cultivate hearts that stay tuned, and let us not abandon emotion. May we have eyes to see differently, and may we have ears that hear pain.