Prosecutors in the R. Kelly child pornography trial dubbed Lisa Van Allen, the singer’s former lover, their star witness. According to the testimony of Van Allen, who turned 28 last week, in the late nineties she claims that she participated in sexual threesomes with Kelly and an underage girl at the center of the trial. Kelly’s attorneys denied much of what she had to say, even branding her a liar and a thief who just wanted money from the R&B superstar. Last week Kelly was acquitted of all 14 child pornography charges. Van Allen, who received immunity for her testimony, talked to Essence.com to tell her side of the story on her rocky relationship with Kelly, the sex tape and why she came forward.
Essence.com: What are your feelings about the verdict?
Lisa Van Allen: I’m not surprised. The evidence against him was there, but the case seemed to be going in the defense’s favor. I never thought he would actually go to jail, just based on what I’ve seen happen with celebrities when they get in trouble. I thought he’d get a slap on the wrist, like, “Don’t do it again.” But I at least wanted him to be held responsible for what he had done.
Essence.com: How did you meet R. Kelly?
Van Allen: I met him in Alpharetta, Georgia, at the “Home Alone” video shoot, probably in ’98. I was 17, and he was 31. I was fresh out of high school. My friend’s girlfriend was going to the video shoot, and he didn’t want her to go by herself. I just tagged along with her and ended up being an extra in it.
Essence.com: So how did you go from being an extra to meeting him personally?
Van Allen: He sent his cousin over to me. This guy told me his cousin wanted to talk to me. I asked him who his cousin was, and he said, “R. Kelly.” I said, “Okay,” and he arranged for me to be taken back to his trailer. In between the scenes, he came back to the trailer and talked to me. I was very flattered. Out of all the girls at the video shoot, he picked me out of everybody to talk to. We ended up having intercourse.
Essence.com: You had sex with him in the trailer that same day?
Van Allen: Yes. He started with a kiss, and from there we leaned back, and I just didn’t stop him. I was kind of worried that he wouldn’t want to see me again after that, but I wasn’t worried about the actual act at that time because I was just honored that he picked me. Being a young girl, I was like, “Wow.” I wasn’t thinking as a woman would. Now that I’m older, things are different. I would never go that route today. As a child, you don’t make all the right decisions. That’s why young girls shouldn’t be involved with grown men.
Essence.com: So do you feel like he seduced you?
Van Allen: No, I don’t feel like he seduced me. He was just being really nice, and I was basically going along with whatever he wanted to do. We didn’t talk about much. He was just asking me my name and how old I was. When I said my age, he asked me if my mom would let me come to Chicago and visit. I told him, “Yeah.”
Essence.com: How did your relationship with R. Kelly evolve from there?
Van Allen: I actually didn’t call him for about a month, because I didn’t know what to say to him. When I did finally call him, he got straight to the point and said, “When can you come up here?” I visited him maybe twice in Chicago before I moved there. He would tell me, “Don’t leave yet; I want to talk to you.” I kept missing my flights back home and missed days from my job at the mall. So I ended up quitting my job and moved to Chicago.
Essence.com: Where did you live?
Van Allen: I stayed at the studio the majority of the time, but I also had a hotel room. He was always at the studio. He had closets full of clothes there, a bed, a refrigerator, a big-screen TV, a shower, the whole works. You would think it was a mini apartment.
Essence.com: Did you feel emotionally connected with him, or was it mostly a sexual relationship?
Van Allen: I thought we were really good friends and were really close. Once I moved up there, we did everything together. He’d be in the studio recording; I’d be there. He’d go to video shoots; I’d be there. He even went to get a colon cleanse, and I went with him. It wasn’t only sexual, but sex was a major part.
Essence.com: Was he very controlling when it came to sex?
Van Allen: Yeah. He would always tell you what to do. You’d come into a situation where he’d want to have sex, and he’d coach you through the whole thing. He’d tell you which way to lie, which way to turn, what noises to make, how loud to moan, how to roll your body around. It was weird, but being that I was so young I still didn’t know what was the right way to do things sexually. I was still learning. He was a man, so I just followed his lead. I figured he knew more about this stuff, and that this is how it’s supposed to go.
Essence.com: One of the more appalling aspects of the tape at the center of the trial is that the man peed on the girl in the video. Is that something R. Kelly did with you?
Van Allen: No, he never asked me to do that. We had never had a conversation about it, and he never tried to do that with me.
Essence.com: Given the age difference, I’m curious about what you felt you had in common with him.
Van Allen: See, that’s the thing-he doesn’t act his age. His conversations are pretty much on a 17- or 18-year-old’s grade level. He would crack jokes a lot. We would go to McDonald’s all the time. He liked to go to Hoops, a basketball gym, every night. He would go to the mall a lot. So he was basically doing what kids that age were doing.
Essence.com: Did you consider him to be your boyfriend?
Van Allen: In my head I did, until I found out later that he was married.
Essence.com: How did you find out he was married?
Van Allen: One night when he was in the studio recording, one of his runners came in and said, “Your wife’s on the line.” Rob [R. Kelly; Van Allen also calls him Robert] got upset and walked him out in the hallway and cussed him out. We never saw that runner again. From then on, his runners never said “your wife.” They always said, “You have an important call.” But I was sitting right there. I was upset, but I tried not to show it. I thought I was the closest woman to him, and I thought we had a little relationship going. It crushed my dreams of what was going on.
Essence.com: Did the two of you discuss his wife after that?
Van Allen: He would bring her up, but I never asked him “Why are you with her?” or “Why didn’t you tell me?” He would just try to downplay the situation-“I wish I met you before I married her” or “You remind me of her, but you look so much better.” Things like that. He would try to make me feel good about the situation.
Essence.com: So finding out he was married didn’t end the relationship?
Van Allen: No. I was already living up there, probably for about six months at that time. We were supposedly in love; he would tell me he loved me. So no, it didn’t end. I was young.
Essence.com: Have you ever met his wife?
Van Allen: I haven’t met her like “How are you doing?” But we’ve checked into hotels at the same time. She’s been in the studio at the same time as me, and we’ve crossed paths. But I was never introduced to her. I don’t think she knew who I was to him, but she definitely knew that I was around a lot. I don’t know much about how their relationship works. He was around me a lot, so they would have to have had separate lives.
Essence.com: In Chicago, how did you support yourself? Did you have a job?
Van Allen: No, he took care of everything. I did whatever he was doing. The day would start in the evening. We’d get a bite to eat, he’d record a little, then we’d go to Hoops. Then we’d go to McDonald’s. He’d record through the whole night, and then we’d sleep all morning.
Essence.com: About his alleged attraction for teenage girls-is that true?
Van Allen: We never had a conversation about him preferring teenage girls, but yes. Just from me, and the situation supposedly with the singer who’s passed-
Essence.com: You mean, his marriage to Aaliyah when she was 15?
Van Allen: Yes. And the situation we had with the younger girl [the girl who was allegedly in the video, who was at the center of the trial]. There would never be any older women around, women his age. It would always be girls my age at that time.
Essence.com: Did he ever discuss Aaliyah?
Van Allen: Briefly. I don’t really know if I should discuss him and Aaliyah’s situation. Basically, all he told me about that was that they did get married and that they went to Vegas for the marriage. He didn’t say how old she was.
Essence.com: When did you meet the girl alleged to be in the video?
Van Allen: I met her in ’98 also. I was 18 when I met her. My birthday is in June, so half of ’98 I was 17, and the other half I was 18. I met her at his house for a threesome. That was the first of three times we all had sex together. He videotaped it. He would tell us what to do-to kiss and touch each other, do oral on each other, oral on him. Things like that. It seemed like it was pretty routine for her. She seemed to know what to do. Not to say anything bad about her, but it didn’t seem to bother her. [R. Kelly has denied these allegations in court and was acquitted of all charges against him. ]
Essence.com: Did you know how old she was?
Van Allen: He told me that she was 16. With me having just turned 18 at that time, it didn’t seem like a big age difference. I didn’t look at it as, “I’m 18, I’m a grown woman.” I saw her as being my age.
Essence.com: How did you find out how old she really was?
Van Allen: I didn’t find out until after we’d had our sexual encounters. We were heading to a video shoot in a car together, and she was speaking about her birthday. And she was saying that when she turned 16 she wanted to get a PT Cruiser. She was supposed to have already been 16. And at this time, it was like a year after we had already done what we had done. So it led me to believe she was at least two years younger than she was supposed to have been back then. I was shocked. I felt betrayed because of how close I thought he and I were. I thought he would have been able to be honest with me. I didn’t bring it up or say anything to him about it. I just knew that was a situation I didn’t want to be put in again.
Essence.com: You had never suspected she was younger than 16?
Van Allen: Not at that time, no. She acted like she was my age. And she was developed more than me. I just didn’t know.
Essence.com: During the trial, you said that you cried during one of your threesomes.
Van Allen: Yeah, I did.
Essence.com: Why were you crying?
Van Allen: Because, like I said in these situations, Rob-[Pause]
Van Allen: Yes, I’m here. [Tearfully] Because I really didn’t want to do it. I didn’t want to have sex with him and any other women. But it would be things that he wanted. If you didn’t want to do it, he would always tell you if you love him, then you shouldn’t try to change him. You should be able to accept him how he is. Being that I was young, I thought that was love. That it’s okay because I love him, and I should be able to do this for him. And I just couldn’t hide my feelings sometimes. Then he’d get upset at me for being upset. I still cry about it. It’s not a good situation to be in, when you love someone and you want to make them happy, but to make them happy you have to do something that you don’t want to do.
Essence.com: Why were you so against doing it?
Van Allen: It was uncomfortable, because he was coaching you and telling you everything to do. Along with that, I didn’t want to share him. When you love somebody, you don’t want somebody else to be with him. I was still young and trying to understand what love is and how I should feel.
Essence.com: What did you think would happen if you said no?
Van Allen: I didn’t know. I was young, and being that he was taking care of me and paying all my bills, and I was living under him, I had no idea what would happen. I just didn’t want to upset him.
Essence.com: Did you have a friendship with the girl? Did you two ever talk about what was going on?
Van Allen: No, we didn’t. We went to video shoots with him, and there were times when we went to the movies with him. But it was never like she and I would be giggling and laughing. We weren’t friends.
Essence.com: Is it true that you got pregnant by R. Kelly and had an abortion?
Van Allen: Yes. I had the abortion in 2000, right before the “I Wish” video shoot. I was the one braiding his hair in that video. When I told him I was pregnant, he asked me what did I want to do, and I told him I wanted to get an abortion. [Allan Mayer, spokesperson for R. Kelly, responds: “When you are hearing about people you have to consider the source. All I can say is this is a woman who revealed herself in the testimony to be a thief and liar. The court didn’t believe her, and I don’t think there is any reason to believe anything she says. Beyond that, I can’t speak on any specifics.”]
Essence.com: When did you finally leave the relationship?
Van Allen: I moved back to Atlanta in 2001, when I was 21. The relationship hadn’t actually ended then, but I didn’t talk to him much that year. As I grew up, I realized that staying in Chicago wasn’t the lifestyle for me. I wanted more for myself instead of just sitting around a studio with this married man, doing all the things he wants to do and nothing that I want to do.
Essence.com: What’s the deal with the sex videotape that you took from his bag?
Van Allen: He had about 40 sex tapes he kept in a duffle bag that went everywhere with him. I was in the studio bored one day, and he happened to leave the bag in the room with me. I went through it and popped in a couple tapes and watched different ones with him and different girls. When I came across one with him, her and me, I took it. I went back to my hotel room and sent it to a friend of mine in Kansas City.
Essence.com: Why did you take the tape?
Van Allen: Because I was upset about the fact that I hadn’t wanted to do the threesome. And I didn’t want him watching it. I gave it to my friend because he was the only person I knew I could trust at that time. I asked him to hold onto it and not do anything with it.
Essence.com: What happened to the tape?
Van Allen: I ended up calling Robert in ’07 and telling him I had it, seven years later. I didn’t have it in my possession, but I wanted him to know that it was around. He was very calm. He just paused for a second, and then he said, like he always said, when could I get up there. He flew my fiancé and me to Olympia Fields, Illinois, where he lives. He met with me and he brought up money. I didn’t say anything about money. He said, “I can give you this if you can get that tape back for me.”
Essence.com: How much did he offer you?
Van Allen: I don’t really want to get into numbers. He ended up paying in installments. The guy that I gave it to, he had made a copy and didn’t bring the original. That was an issue. So Robert’s accountant ended up giving us some money, and then we had to come back later with the original tape and then we could get the rest. Then we had to take a lie detector test proving that we didn’t have any more copies.
Essence.com: When you told R. Kelly you had a tape, did he ever threaten you?
Van Allen: He didn’t, but one of his employees did. He told me that when I failed one of lie detector tests. The test that I failed had nothing to do with the tape or what we were dealing with. He was asking me crazy questions that I didn’t know the answers to, where I wasn’t sure of the answers. He would ask me stuff like, “How much of the money we gave you do you have left?” I didn’t keep track of that because we had other money coming in from our business. He said, “Just give us an idea, just say anything.” So I did, but I ended up failing the test. When I failed the test, he said, “You know what? I thought you were going to be honest. I should have had you murked [this term can be interpreted to mean murdered] from the beginning, like I wanted to.” I started crying. I was upset.
Essence.com: But nothing ever happened to you?
Van Allen: No.
Essence.com: Do you worry about your safety now?
Van Allen: Yeah, I still worry about it, but I have Yul, my fiancé. He’s my backbone. He’s great at making sure everything’s the way it should be and keeping me safe. I don’t feel like I have anything to worry about.
Essence.com: If you had no financial motivations, what compelled you, seven years later, to call him about having the tape rather than just never mentioning it at all?
Van Allen: Well see, that’s the thing. I didn’t have it in my possession. I didn’t have too much control over it. I trusted my friend to hold onto it. But he had been calling me saying that people were interested in the tape. That’s what scared me and got me to the point where I wanted to give it back to Robert because I didn’t want it to get out. I knew that my friend wouldn’t mind giving it back to Robert, and that he wouldn’t just hand it over to me. It worried me that he would do something with it, so that’s why I took the drastic move to call Rob and let him know what was going on.
Essence.com: What is your response to his attorneys’ charge that the tape in the trial was fabricated, and you were just extorting him for money?
Van Allen: They just made up a whole bunch of nonsense.
Essence.com: But the fact that you did accept money for the tape that you took, that looks suspicious to some people. Given that, can you understand why his attorneys would call your integrity into question?
Van Allen: I have no comment about that. There are always two sides.
Essence.com: Why did you decide to come forward and testify against him?
Van Allen: My fiancé and I had talked about it a lot. It was something that was bothering me. It was a part of my past that I hadn’t really dealt with. Just having done those threesomes with Robert and the emotional stress it put on me. We decided it was something that I needed to address in order to move on. And the truth needed to come out. We ended up getting in contact with the prosecution, with Shauna Boliker.
Essence.com: Why did you feel so strongly about the truth coming out?
Van Allen: It’s just a bad situation. He has a problem, and I felt like people need to know that.
Essence.com: In retrospect, do you feel that your relationship with him was damaging to you?
Van Allen: Yeah. As you can see, it still bothers me when I think about what went on. It’s emotionally stressful just knowing how I felt, how vulnerable I was. How I wanted him to love me and accept me. I didn’t want to get him mad at me. And I didn’t know what real love was. He was the first man I had ever dealt with-I was 17 when I met him, I hadn’t dealt with men before. I really didn’t know what I was getting myself into.
Essence.com: If these allegations are true, some people have suggested that you are just as reprehensible as R. Kelly is-that you also were having sex with an underage girl. What is your response to that?
Van Allen: I didn’t know that she was 14. He left me in the dark just like everybody else was in the dark. People hear that I’m 27, and they think that I was an adult when it happened. They don’t realize that I was coming in to being a young woman. I didn’t know her real age. I didn’t know the truth.
Essence.com: Why do you think nobody else in R. Kelly’s circle has come forward about him and teenage girls?
Van Allen: Because they don’t want people to look at them in the wrong light, like how they’ve done me. You see how this case went. It was supposed to be about him, but when I came out, they just switched it all over to me.
Essence.com: The allegations and the video haven’t put a dent in R. Kelly’s career. He still has droves of devoted fans, and his albums still top the charts. Why do you think so few people seem to care about this issue?
Van Allen: It’s like no one wants to step up and take responsibility for what’s happening. I have no idea why more people don’t want to get involved and put themselves out there for our children. I guess if it was closer to home, maybe they would. If it was their child or their sister. But it shouldn’t be that way.
Essence.com: What do you hope will come from you telling your story?
Van Allen: I hope it will give some young girls the strength to come forward and speak about anything like this that they might be going through. It doesn’t have to be an artist or anything like that. It could be anyone who’s taking advantage of them in any way.
Essence.com: How’s life today?
Van Allen: After dealing with Rob, it was a little rocky for me, of course, going from that to having nothing for a while. I had a couple of rocky relationships. But then I met my fiancé. Now we have our home-investment business together, which is doing great. I have a 5-year-old daughter and a baby on the way. In the end, I’m blessed. [Laughs]
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