On Wednesday, 29 June, singer R Kelly was sentenced to 30 years in prison for sexual abuse, more than 20 years after the first charges were brought against him.
Lizzette Martinez, one of the first young women to speak out against Kelly, shared her reaction to the sentencing.
She addressed the singer at the end of his trial, saying: “You’ve ruined my life.”
Here’s what you need to know about Lizzette Martinez, now aged 45, and her response to Kelly’s 30-year jail sentence.
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Who is Lizzette Martinez?
Lizzette Martinez first came under the media spotlight when she went public with her accusations against R Kelly, with whom she had a relationship between 1995 and 1999. Her story was published by BuzzFeed News in 2018 as part of wider coverage of accusations of sexual assault and grooming brought against the singer.
Martinez is now 45 years old and the mother of twins – one girl and one boy, both in their teens now – and works as a development co-ordinator in the restaurant industry.
She’s an honorary board member of domestic violence advocacy non-profit organisation Love Equals. She has also launched her own organisation, Delia’s House Safe Houses, for women and teens escaping abuse.
Lizzette talked about the abuse she suffered at the hands of the musician in a 2019 docuseries entitled Surviving R Kelly.
Martinez first met Kelly in winter 1995 when she was 17 and a cheerleader at North Miami Beach Senior High School. Martinez was an aspiring R&B vocalist and part of amateur trio Sweet Sensations, so she knew of Kelly and his music.
Mostly, she said in a post-sentencing interview with ABC yesterday, she was a fan of Aaliyah. She and her best friend had been lucky enough to see Aaliyah perform live and spotted R Kelly at the concert. That was how they recognised him one fateful day in 1995 at Miami’s Aventura Mall.
On Kelly’s request, his bodyguard slipped the teen a crumpled note with Kelly’s phone number scrawled on it.
Martinez was just 17 when her relationship with R Kelly started
R Kelly promised Martinez he could help get her singing career off the ground so she agreed to meet him at his Miami recording studio. From there, their relationship became sexual and the singer took the 17-year-old’s virginity (the age of consent in Florida is 18).
The New Yorker reports Martinez told Kelly her age at their first meeting. He was 28 at the time and had married 15-year-old Aaliyah in an illegal ceremony the previous summer (31 August 1994, according to a voided marriage certificate).
Lizzette claimed the singer grew increasingly controlling and abusive towards her, imposing rules on everything from her wardrobe to her friends. She said eventually the relationship took its toll on her health.
In late 1998, Martinez says she contracted mononucleosis from Kelly and had to be hospitalised for serious complications. The singer didn’t visit her but sent a $1,000 check to her mother. After recovering, Martinez ended the relationship in early 1999.
Her mother told Buzzfeed in 2018: “I cannot stand this man [Kelly].”
’30 years is not enough’: Lizzette Martinez reacts to R Kelly sentencing
Martinez was in the courtroom on Wednesday when R Kelly received his 30-year sentence for sexual abuse of young women, girls and boys over a 30-year time span.
She told reporters outside the courthouse she didn’t think 30 years was enough but felt grateful for the sentence. She said she was “a young girl full of life” who dreamed of becoming a singer before the abuse she endured “took her dreams away”.
In her victim impact statement, Martinez told Kelly: “You’ve ruined my life. You’ve hurt a lot of people and you need to sit with yourself and realise that – and I hope you get help in jail.”
How she rebuilt her life
In 2000, after her relationship with R Kelly ended, Lizzette Martinez married and started a family in an attempt to “have a normal life”.
In a post-sentencing interview with ABC, she admitted she still struggles with what happened to her: “I felt like I had to continue. I got married and had children young and tried to get on with my life.”
“I don’t think I dealt with the trauma,” she explained. “I think I put it away, for years, but today I’m feeling better.”
She added that for herself and the other women who spoke out about R Kelly’s abuse, healing was still ongoing. “We don’t know when we’re going to be healed from this.
“If I could go back in time and never step into that mall in January 1995 – I would. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about what happened to me. It doesn’t go away, you just learn to live with the trauma.”
If you have been affected by this story and live in the UK, you can contact the Rape Crisis team. Call 0808 802 9999 for confidential emotional support, open 12pm-2.30pm, 7pm-9.30pm every day of the year. You can also contact victim support on 08 08 16 89 111.
If you have been affected by this story and you live in the US, you can contact the RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, National Sexual Hotline). Available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week on 1 (800) 656-4673. You can also contact the Department of Defense Safe Helpline for Sexual Assault on 1 (877) 955-5247.