R. Kelly’s ex-girlfriend, Dominique Gardner, ‘He tried to break me’


In the conclusion of the Surviving R. Kelly docuseries, they discussed the women still living with Kelly. Two of the women mentioned were the ladies interviewed by Gayle King during her CBS This Morning interview, Azriel Clary and Joycelyn Savage. The third was Dominique Gardner, who had been introduced to Kelly’s household by Jerhonda Johnson, also a survivor. Dominique was the woman whose mother tracked her down at her hotel and convinced to eventually leave. The docuseries noted that Dominique went back to R. Kelly but did, eventually leave him for good. After taking some well-deserved time to work on her health, Dominique reached out to reporter Jim DeRogatis to give her side of the story. In her interview, she said she was not brainwashed by Kelly, but he did try to break her.

Early last Thursday morning, I received the latest in a series of calls from Dominique Gardner, a former girlfriend of R. Kelly, who said she was eager, when we met that night, to “give my truth.” For nine years, Gardner, who is twenty-seven, was one of Kelly’s lovers. For part of that time, she says, she was one of six women living with the singer. In the documentary series “Surviving R. Kelly,” Gardner appears in the final two episodes: we watch as her mother, Michelle Kramer, tracks her down to a Los Angeles hotel room and convinces her to leave the singer’s “cult.” Gardner told me that she has not watched any of these dramatic scenes, nor any part of the documentary. “What’s the point of seeing it when I lived it?” she said. “People are using it as entertainment, when it wasn’t entertainment for me, you know?”

One of my first questions for Gardner was if she regrets spending a third of her life with Kelly. No, she said. “I loved him to death, you know what I’m sayin’? But he needs help. Who doesn’t need help?” The word “cult” is one that Gardner rejects, and so is “brainwashed”—“I am not just about to spread lies about him,” she said—but she struggles to find a better way to describe a situation that, according to her, people don’t really understand, at least not the way she does. “I wouldn’t even say ‘mind games.’ It was just the fact that he tried to break me,” she said. “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.”

“At the end of the day,” Gardner said, “I am not playing victim. I done did some shit.” Gardner said that she slept with two other men while she was one of Kelly’s girlfriends. “Maybe he did hurt. Maybe he was in love with me. But I never gave him a fair chance,” she said.

Gardner has been stung by criticism that she should have spoken out against Kelly sooner, or that she should go to the authorities. When we spoke after “Surviving R. Kelly” aired, she told me, “I just want to heal. I just want my privacy.” “People may disagree or hate me for what I’m saying,” she continued. “That’s the reason why I never wanted to come out. Because I’m not trying to defend him and what he has done, but, at the end of the day, you don’t understand what he’s been through, as a child.” She said that she does not believe Kelly should be in jail. “I feel like he should be on house arrest in a studio, because, like I said, his music makes him get through the situations, what’s he going through. Jail time, no. He needs to have a twenty-four-hour therapist at his house.” And, she added, he needs to be honest about his behavior. Here, she addressed the man whom she claims to still love. “You can stop the cycle,” she said. “Just be honest. People don’t want you in jail.”

[From The New Yorker]

The scenes of Dominique’s mother trying to get to her did seem a bit sensationalized, especially in relation to how the rest of the series was presented. It was very emotional and I was so relieved when Dominique got in that car with her mother, but it did have a dramatic “entertainment” quality to it.

I omitted much of Dominique’s comments because they discuss the abuse and I thought they’d be too triggering, but you can read the full interview here. I felt a little sick after reading it. DeRogatis noted how thin and scared Dominque was at their first meeting vs. the second when she looked noticeably healthier. She’d been reticent to seek therapy, but attended her first therapy appointment in early March, so her emotional healing will continue as well. It is hard for me to read her comments defending or justifying Kelly’s actions, but I didn’t suffer the abuse she did so I don’t feel right in commenting on them. The important thing is she is away from him and it doesn’t sound like she is ever going back. Dominique claimed that Kelly does not have locks on the doors and that Joycelyn and Azriel, “wanna walk out, they can do that.” Maybe it’s true, that there are no physical locks, but as Gayle King pointed out in her post interview comments, Kelly lets these women know he’s there, watching them. That’s its own form of lock. I appreciate that Dominique still has feelings for him but I just can’t show compassion. I do want him in jail.


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21 Responses to “R. Kelly’s ex-girlfriend, Dominique Gardner, ‘He tried to break me’”

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  1. Lukie says:

    After reading the article, all I can say is Stockholm Syndrome is real.

    • Maddy says:

      Yeah, it was really shocking to read it. Especially as she’s “out” and no longer living under his control, but the way she tells the narrative is striking.

    • ByTheSea says:

      The mental gymnastics is crazy. But not just these ladies. I was at a meeting yesterday where a man said that the people who allowed the abuse to take place (by Kelly and Jackson) are “just as, if not more” responsible than Kelly and Jackson and that they (Kelly and Jackson) could get a pass for abusing people because they, too, had suffered abuse. I almost had a fit.

  2. Athyrmose says:

    Ex-girlfriend though?

  3. Zapp Brannigan says:

    “Dominique claimed that Kelly does not have locks on the doors and that Joycelyn and Azriel, “wanna walk out, they can do that.”

    The easiest way to keep someone “locked” in an abusive relationship is to make them scared of what is outside of that relationship. You do not need to restrain a person when you have damaged then so much emotionally and mentally that they are convinced that they will never survive outside of what they currently know, that nobody will ever love them, care for them or understand them the way that an abuser does.

    • elimaeby says:

      Zapp, your comment was so cathartic and I needed to hear it today. I just broke up with an emotional abuser this past week, and I realize now that he had done exactly this to me. He would use finances, especially, to keep me in the relationship: “You could never afford a trip like this if I didn’t pay, you’ll never live in a loft like this again, could you even afford to take your dog to the vet if he got sick?” I stayed for two years. Now that I left him, he’s started trying to turn my friends and even family against me, saying that I am mentally unstable and should be committed.

      I’m so happy to be out, finally. And to see what he was really doing to me: wearing me down and making me feel worthless and helpless so he stayed in control. Reading her interview was gut-wrenching for me.

      Anyway, thank you. You really cemented why I am doing this.

      • Sandii says:

        I can highly recommend the work (book and youtube) of Dr. Armani Durvasula. She helped me get over my narcissistic ex.

      • Jaded says:

        It’s amazing how insidious that kind of abuse is. Your brain just kind of shuts down and stops processing it. I too was in an emotionally abusive relationship with a man when I was much younger. I look back on those days and wonder why in hell didn’t I just walk?? Because he’d pretty much sucked every last shred of self-esteem and confidence out of me and I was nothing, just an empty shell.

        Good for you that you had the presence of mind to get out and I wish you all the best and that you find a partner who truly loves and respects you as an equal.

    • Milla says:

      I cannot even imagine what the poor girls think. They don’t look like the same, they are like those isis brides. So sad.
      Hopefully he will be locked up for good.

  4. Erinn says:

    God this is heartbreaking. I mean, I’m so glad she’s out. But even though she KNOWS it was a horribly abusive situation, she’s still at the point where she’s trying to justify it.

    And I don’t really blame her for rejecting cult or brainwashed terms – she seems to really be clinging to the idea that she was strong (which she clearly was) and I think she sees those terms as something that happens to weaker people. I think she’s starting to come around – but it’s going to take a LOT of time and therapy to fully realize how much control he had on her.

    • Digital Unicorn says:

      It is – esp when she said he was starving her. I wish her well in her recovery and she is strong and will come out the other end. Given a few years (esp with the therapy) she will be saying very different things about the situation. I don’t think she is in a place yet to admit/understand that he does belong in jail.

      • Erinn says:

        I’m actually impressed that she was able to say what she did. I can’t even imagine how much damage he’s done. And honestly… the people who keep paying his bial, and his child support really should have some kind of punishment. They’re helping him to continue committing crimes. I just wish there was some kind of deterrent for that sort of behavior.

    • ByTheSea says:

      What’s worse is that while she’s explaining exactly how much control he had and how much abuse he was inflicting, she’s basically justifying it by saying that she “challenged” him, how he’d been abused and doesn’t deserve to be in jail, etc. I hope she gets the help she needs.

      • Andrea says:

        I am shocked she doesn’t think he deserves jail time. He kept her prisoner, withholding food, water, and inflicted abuse on her. Anyone who does that to me deserves jail time, no matter how broken that person is emotionally–he has zero right to hold me prisoner or to inflict emotional or physical abuse on me. She needs a lot of therapy I think to feel the same about herself. She was deserving of none of that and he did not treat her well despite any niceities he may have given her, abuse should not be tolerated at any level with anyone. That is not love.

      • Tootsie45 says:

        Andrea, I’m not shocked – that’s what abuse does to you. It makes you put the wellbeing of and understanding for that other person above your own life.
        It’s crazy, I can read this and hear the insanity of what she’s saying, and feel so much love and compassion for her and what she’s been through, and at the same time I know I’ve said the same things, continue to say those things about men who’ve abused me. That’s why it’s so confusing, so destructive, so hard for people outside the situation to understand – you get to a place where you think, I don’t want them to hurt, I just want them to be better, and if I have to hurt so that they can be better, well I’m strong enough to stand that.

    • Veronica S. says:

      My sister was like that for a long time after she left her abuser. A part of you just can’t reconcile yourself with the fact that you allowed somebody to treat you that way, and it can take even longer for the residual empathy to fade. IMO, the biggest sign of healing in a victim is their anger. If they’ve learned to aim it at their abuser rather than themselves, they’ve learned to love and value themselves again.

  5. Alissa says:

    This was really sad to read. I think she needed to do a lot more therapy than one session before she decided to speak out, because you can tell how conflicted she still is.

  6. BaronSamedi says:

    Wow. That woman is brainwashed as heck and has not had nearly enough therapy to even begin to make statements about her time with R. Kelly.

    But she’s also a perfect exhibit A for his obvious guilt. I wish her all the healing in the world.

  7. Ashley Garcia says:

    I’ve been binging Mr. Robot and at one point Angela gets kidnapped by White Rose and he tells her why didn’t you just walk out the door? And she says because it’s locked and he says it was never locked you just didn’t try because you assumed. I think it’s probably a metaphor for the R. Kelley kidnapping part. These girls might not be physically locked up but they are mentally. And Dominique couldn’t just leave, her Mother had to get the hotel involved and had to plan an escape. No part of her scene made it seem like it was cool to just walk out.

  8. JoJo says:

    Weeks ago I read an interview with her mom with Essence Magazine.She said after Dominique left/(escaped from Kelly- my words) they were at the grocery store and she told Nique to ask the butcher (a man) for some corned beef.She said Nique said something like I can’t talk to a man.Kelly’s “girlfriends” weren’t allowed to talk/look at to men without his permission.She also said her daughter only weighed 98 lbs down from 125lbs.

  9. Tootsie45 says:

    It’s interesting Hecate. You say, “I omitted much of Dominique’s comments because they discuss the abuse and I thought they’d be too triggering, but you can read the full interview here,” but to me, the way she describes him and her feelings about him and about what happened to her, are far more triggering that the details of the abuse. No criticism here! It’s just really interesting to notice, in myself. Her talking about it, how she explains it, how she takes responsibility – that’s the part (to me) that shows the damage.