She remembered her older cousin urging her to maintain it a secret. He had mentioned she would get in hassle if she advised anybody that he had touched her. How her grandmother can be upset.
A 12 months later, as she walked residence from college, two boys compelled her right into a Victorian home and raped her. She was within the second grade. How might she inform anybody, she puzzled? She didn’t even know who the boys had been.
Kim Foxx, 46, carried these traumas along with her when she stepped to a podium earlier this month and made a unprecedented request in her first time period as Chicago’s high prosecutor: She needed anybody with sexual abuse allegations towards the R&B artist R. Kelly to come ahead.
The plea got here within the wake of a six-hour tv documentary, “Surviving R. Kelly,” by which a number of ladies accused him of abuse, together with conserving them in a home and controlling them with worry and intimidation.
Tensions in Mr. Kelly’s hometown Chicago have lengthy simmered over rumors about his conduct, and a widespread perception that severe allegations had been performed down through the years due to his expertise and since his accusers had been black ladies.
Mr. Kelly has repeatedly denied the allegations. His lawyer, Steve Greenberg, didn’t reply to requests for remark. But he told The Chicago Sun-Times that Ms. Foxx was unfairly prejudicing his client.
“The lead prosecutor should be silent until there’s evidence,” he said.
Ms. Foxx, the first black woman to serve as the Cook County state’s attorney, was in high school in Chicago when Mr. Kelly began to make a name for himself in the city — and not just for his music. Local residents say he also had a reputation for hanging out with young girls.
Chicago prosecutors tried Mr. Kelly on child pornography charges in 2008 when Ms. Foxx was a sex crimes prosecutor in the office. In her circles, Mr. Kelly’s “Step In the Name of Love” was always on the barbecue playlist, and his song “I Believe I Can Fly” a staple at graduations.
“This is about, for me, opening the doors,” Ms. Foxx said of her request that people with abuse allegations come forward. “We should allow people to have the opportunity to tell their stories and then vet them.”
In a city where Mr. Kelly has become part of the cultural fabric, the suggestion was explosive. Public sentiment has been tilting against Mr. Kelly since the documentary, but support for him is still easy to find in Chicago.
After the documentary aired, Mr. Kelly celebrated his birthday at a Southside nightclub, singing powerfully as adoring fans cheered him on.
Anaya Frazier, a 17-year-old junior at Gwendolyn Brooks Preparatory Academy in Chicago, said two boys recently blasted R. Kelly songs in the cafeteria. When she asked a security guard to get them to turn it off, she said the guard told her to “get over it,” and that the music was not hurting her.
“A lot of young folks in Chicago, they talk about the R. Kelly situation as if it’s a joke,” said Anaya, who takes part in A Long Walk Home, a nonprofit that uses the arts to empower young girls.
Two decades ago, Anaya’s mother, Tiahanna Robinson, went to Kenwood Academy, the same high school that Mr. Kelly had attended. Ms. Robinson said she remembered Mr. Kelly, who had long since graduated, as one of many men who used to hang around the campus and spend time with female students.
“I knew it was wrong,” said Ms. Robinson, 37. “But at the same time, it was normal almost because that’s what was going on in the area.”
Ms. Robinson said she was no longer a fan of R. Kelly, but her boyfriend still plays his music, arguing that you can love the art and not the artist.
Whether they listen to Mr. Kelly’s music or not, Ms. Robinson said, black Chicagoans are unified in acknowledging “that they don’t protect their women and it’s time for them to step up.”
The documentary on Mr. Kelly “sickened me,” Ms. Foxx said. But she insisted that she was separating her feelings as a prosecutor, who must follow the law and the evidence, from those as a sexual assault survivor and mother of two teenage daughters.
As a toddler, Ms. Foxx lived in the Cabrini-Green public housing complex with her mother before the family moved to the North Side and bounced between apartments.
Ms. Foxx said she knew she wanted to become a lawyer when she was about 6 years old and her mother brought her to court for a proceeding to get child support from Ms. Foxx’s father. Ms. Foxx said she remembered being impressed by the lawyers’ fancy language and the fact that they were trying to help her mother.
She earned her bachelor’s degree in political science and a law degree at Southern Illinois University and then worked for Cook County as a guardian representing neglected children.
One case stood out. A 14-year-old client was abused by her stepfather, and the girl’s mother blamed her for the abuse and accused her of seducing the man, Ms. Foxx said. Ms. Foxx said she could not fathom that anyone could fault a child in a situation like that.
When she joined the Cook County state’s attorney office in 2001, she prosecuted sex crimes with a focus on people victimized by those in positions of authority.
A year after she became a prosecutor, the office filed 21 counts of child pornography charges against Mr. Kelly in connection with a tape of Mr. Kelly having sex with someone prosecutors asserted was a minor. A jury acquitted Mr. Kelly of all charges despite a 27-minute video that prosecutors said showed him having sex with and urinating on an underage girl. In local media reports, some jurors said that they couldn’t be certain about the identity of the female in the video.
Ms. Foxx was not involved in Mr. Kelly’s prosecution at that time, but she had a front-row seat not just to the drama playing out in court, but also to the one in the community.
At family outings, she said, she would hear his defenders question whether the girl in the tape was a willing participant, and whether this was simply an attempt to take down a black man at the height of his career.
Ms. Foxx would not say whether she still listens to Mr. Kelly’s music, saying that she did not want to show any bias in the event that there is a case against him. And she has insisted that the old prosecution had no bearing on her current actions as the state’s attorney.
Her office has received more than a dozen reports about Mr. Kelly since she made her request, she said. Two of the reports, she said, came from families that lost contact with relatives the families believed were being coerced by Mr. Kelly.
She said investigators would look into the complaints and that she would make a determination on how to proceed.
Ms. Foxx said she needed to be proactive in such cases, in part because survivors of sex crimes have a difficult time in coming forward.
“I hope that the public has seen that there is a real need to have conversations about sexual abuse and sexual assault,” she said, “particularly with young victims.”