Azriel Clary and Joycelyn Savage, two women who live with R. Kelly, were interviewed by Gayle King in the second half of King’s unsettling sit-down with the pop star about the decades of sexual abuse allegations against him. The women, 21 and 23 respectively, are believed by their families to have been sequestered in a “sex cult” allegedly led by Kelly starting from the time they were 17 and 19 years old, as detailed in Lifetime’s culture-shifting series Surviving R. Kelly.
Clary and Savage have released videos in the past assuring their own safety, but their first national interview about the topic is somehow more upsetting and surreal than the Instagrams lambasting their parents. Each insists they are in a “relationship” with Kelly and that they are in love with him; that their parents are “manipulative liar[s]” (Clary) and “out here trying to get money and scam” (Savage).
Savage is calm and even detached throughout the interview, but Clary is defensive, almost combative, before she breaks down in tears. Her defensiveness is familiar, in the tone of a young woman wanting to defy her parents’ grip as she grows into an independent woman, but utterly distancing when considering her parents’ accusations—that Kelly has kept her from them, that they have not seen her in three years, that she is “brainwashed.” She accuses her parents of threatening to release nude photos of her if Kelly didn’t send “$20,000 by Monday” and “trying to solicit me like I’m some fucking hoe. I’m not; I’m your child.”
It’s at this point that she crumbles: “I’m crying because you don’t know the truth. You guys are believing some fucking facade that our parents are saying. This is all fucking lies for money.... What they’re doing right now is all for money.”
Clary’s emotion is harrowing, and it seems quite clear she believes what she is saying and is heartbroken by it; the question King does not ask is whether Clary spoke directly to her parents about the nudes and the $20,000, or if that information came directly from Kelly himself. But the accusation by both Clary and Savage that their parents are trying to leach money from Kelly is echoed in 2019's other paradigm-shifting documentary about abuse allegations against a pop star, Leaving Neverland. In the two-part HBO film focusing on Wade Robson and James Safechuck, each of whom alleges that Michael Jackson molested them for years when they were children, the notion of “doing it for the money” was, they say, repeated by Jackson over and over to them and their trusting parents during the two molestation legal cases brought against the pop star. Just as Kelly framed himself as the victim in his interviews with King, Jackson did the same; insisting that the parents of Jordan Chandler and Gavin Arizo were using their children as pawns in a greedy play to capitalize on his fame and wealth.
“They’re doing it for the money” is a common retort against victims who allege abuse against rich and powerful men—it says a lot about wealth and fame as American cultural values, how money itself has more consequence than the underclass lodging the accusations. It’s practically Ayn Randian, the notion that money is a motive so powerful that multiple people would be willing to upend their lives and subject themselves to the kind of public humiliation that follows making a sexual abuse accusation against a powerful person; it’s a response that, ironically, underscores the power of the accused, that he has in abundance something that a person wants so desperately they will trade their own child to attain it.
Whether the “doing it for the money” defense still works in this era—the first in which accusers are more commonly being believed—has yet to be seen. On Wednesday night, after Kelly was jailed for non-payment of child support, the Detroit Police Department announced that it was investigating a new allegation that, in 2001, Kelly sexually assaulted a 13-year-old girl, and that he had given her herpes when she was 17. The accuser was not named.