After her escape from R. Kelly’s house was caught on camera, Dominique Gardner is speaking out for the first time, albeit reluctantly.
Gardner leaving the troubled singer’s home last May was captured on TV for the Lifetime documentary series “Surviving R. Kelly.” Her story is fleshed out in the final two episodes, which see her mother track her down to a Los Angeles hotel room. Michelle Kramer convinced her daughter to leave Kelly’s alleged sex cult, where he is said to have women holed up in his home as he abuses them sexually and physically and requires them to ask for permission to do anything — including use the bathroom. Mom and daughter ride away tearfully, finally being reunited after nearly a decade apart.
The 27-year-old is now giving “my truth” to The New Yorker as R. Kelly faces 10 counts of aggravated sexual abuse involving four victims, including three minors in Illinois. Kelly denies all accusations.
Now living on the North Side of Chicago and saving for her own apartment, she reflected to the magazine on her time with Kelly, where she lived with five other women, including Kelly’s defenders and girlfriends Joycelyn Savage and Azriel Clary.
“I loved him to death, you know what I’m sayin’? But he needs help. Who doesn’t need help?” she said, dismissing descriptions of her situation, including the words “cult” and “brainwashed.”
“I am not just about to spread lies about him,” she said. But she couldn’t quite come up with another way to describe her situation.
“I wouldn’t even say ‘mind games.’ It was just the fact that he tried to break me,” Gardner explained. “I couldn’t be broken. He wanted that control over me, and I wouldn’t give him that power. So, he figured, like, If I don’t give her food, she’ll come around. Nope. I’d rather die than come around and give you my soul.”
Gardner, who spent nine years with Kelly after getting his number from fellow fan and current Illinois accuser Jerhonda Pace, said when things were good with Kelly they were “perfect,” but once she made Kelly angry “he turns into a person like, oh, what up, the new Rob.”
While Garner told the magazine she disagreed with Kelly’s claim in his emotional interview with Gayle King that he’s “not Lucifer” — “Talking about ‘I’m not Lucifer.’ Yes, you are,” Gardner said — she acknowledged she did some things wrong, too. She said she slept with two other men while she was with Kelly’s girlfriends.
“Maybe he did hurt. Maybe he was in love with me. But I never gave him a fair chance,” she said.
Despite her complex and conflicted feelings for Kelly, she did confirm what other women in the docuseries have said. Gardner said she needed to get his permission to eat or use the bathroom and was not allowed to contact friends or family. She said she was the “tomboy” of the group and often disobeyed him. Doing so led to what she referred to as “consequences” from the R&B crooner.
“He grabbed me and he pulled my hair out, and I had, like, patches torn from my hair,” she said of what happened one after she threw a carrot.
Gardner said she’s been slapped, beaten, spanked and hit with an extension cord as well.
Such punishments occurred when Kelly “felt as [if] we disrespected him or disobeyed him. It’s like a parent when your children go against your word,” she said.
But Kelly would always apologize for his actions immediately afterward and Gardner said he often spoke about the sexual abuse he faced as a child from an older female relative, as well as his illiteracy.
“At the end of the day, he’s a victim, too, because he went through some s—, and people—they don’t understand,” she said. Garner also said she doesn’t believe Kelly should serve jail time if he is convicted. Rather, “he should be on house arrest in a studio” where he can make music to “get through the situations, what he’s going through.”
She also said the star should have “a twenty-four-hour therapist at his house.”
As for Gardner’s mother’s feelings on what her daughter endured from Kelly, she told “CBS This Morning” last week she couldn’t understand it.
“I can’t understand how somebody say they love you and in the same breath, spit in your motherf—ing face,” Kramer said.