– By Marcus Goldstein

A group of powerful women of color, including Shonda Rhimes, Ava DuVernay, and Lupita Nyong’o, are rallying to get R. Kelly investigated and boycotted, following years of sexual abuse allegations from different women. These allegations go as far back as 1994, when Kelly married pop-singer Aaliyah, who was just 15-years-old at the time. The pair denied that they were married, but months later, the marriage was annulled. Last August, BuzzFeed published a story in which a now 24-year-old Jerhonda Pace, detailed having a sexual relationship with the singer when she was just 16-years-old. Representatives for Mr. Kelly have denied all these allegations. Interestingly, many of Kelly’s male music counterparts are also joining the movement, including John Legend, using the #MuteRKelly hashtag on social media to draw attention to the issue.

In July of last year, Buzzfeed published a bombshell report that R. Kelly was holding women against their will in a “cult.” It was following that report that Ms. Pace came forward with the details of her own relationship with the singer, stating that during her time with Kelly, she had to follow strict rules, “which included dressing in baggy clothes, turning over her phone, and asking permission to shower, eat, go to the bathroom, and leave the property.” If she broke the rules, she says, she was “mentally and physically abused.” Pace was able to end her relationship with Kelly and eventually sued him. The case was settled out of court and she had to sign an Non-Disclosure Agreement. However, Ms. Pace has since broken the agreement and spoken publicly about the relationship and alleged abuse at the hands of R. Kelly, in part because according to her, he never fully paid her what she was owed, but also because she did not want other women to go through the same things that she did. “If I can speak out and I can help them get out of that situation, that’s what I will do,” she said. “I didn’t have anybody to speak up on my behalf when I was going through what I was going through with him.” Kelly, through his representatives, has denied all allegations.

Monday’s Time’s Up letter was specifically addressed to women of color, in which they demanded “appropriate investigations and inquiries” into R. Kelly’s history of abuse. “The recent court decision against Bill Cosby is one step towards addressing these ills but it is just a start,” the statement said. “We call on people everywhere to join with us to insist on a world in which women of all kinds can pursue their dreams free from sexual assault, abuse and predatory behavior.” and “To this end, today we join an existing online campaign called #MuteRKelly.”

On Monday night, R. Kelly’s management responded to the Time’s Up letter, describing it as an “attempted public lynching”and that the singer is “the target of greedy, conscious and malicious conspiracy to demean him, his family and the women with whom he spends his time.” The statement goes on to state that:

“Kelly supports the pro-women goals of the Time’s Up movement. We understand criticizing a famous artist is a good way to draw attention to those goals — and in this case, it is unjust and off-target…

We fully support the rights of women to be empowered to make their own choices. Time’s Up has neglected to speak with any of the women who welcome R. Kelly’s support, and it has rushed to judgment without the facts…

Kelly’s music is a part of American and African-American culture that should never — and will never — be silenced. Since America was born, black men and women have been lynched for having sex or for being accused of it. We will vigorously resist this attempted public lynching of a black man who has made extraordinary contributions to our culture.”

The Time’s Up women pointed out that R. Kelly was indicted on 21 counts of child pornography in 2002. He was later found not guilty by a jury in Chicago because they couldn’t determine whether the woman in the video was a minor. He has also been sued by at least four women for sexual misconduct and aggravated assault. Last month, a 20-year-old woman who wishes to remain anonymous contacted police in Dallas and turned over evidence in the hopes that criminal charges will be brought against Kelly, whom she says “knowingly and intentionally” gave her a sexually transmitted disease, as well as serving her alcohol while she was underage and provided her with illegal substances.