Maryland native Rochelle Washington remembers the night her best friend Latresa Scaff called late to tell her she’d changed her mind — she was ready to publicly share the details of the night they met the famous singer R. Kelly.
For years, Washington pushed Scaff to join her in telling their story of an alleged sexual encounter with the musician when the women were teens in Baltimore. But it wasn’t until Scaff’s son was murdered — and she saw how witnesses helped identify his killers — that she finally called Washington and said, “Let’s do it.”
“My son’s murder went all over Maryland because people spoke up about his death. I thought ‘Why can’t I speak up for these women and help out these other innocent women,’” Scaff said in an interview with The Baltimore Sun.
The Sun does not typically identify victims of sexual assault, but Scaff and Washington joined lawyer Gloria Allred at a New York City news conference to tell their story publicly.
The longtime friends described how they met R. Kelly, whose legal name is Robert Kelly, in the mid-1990s at a party following a concert in Baltimore. The women allege they were given marijuana and alcohol and invited back to the musician’s suite at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in the Inner Harbor.
It was there the women say Kelly exposed himself to them, and had sex with then-16-year-old Scaff, who said she was under the influence of drugs and alcohol and unable to consent. Kelly’s attorney Steve Greenberg declined to comment for this article.
In the past several years, multiple women have come forward with sexual misconduct allegations against Kelly, some of which was detailed in the 2019 documentary “Surviving R. Kelly.”
Several weeks after the documentary aired, Kelly was charged on Feb. 22 with 10 counts of aggravated sexual abuse for allegedly assaulting three underage girls and one adult woman . He has denied the allegations — which are unrelated to Scaff and Washington’s accusations.
Both women said they want justice for themselves, but also for the other women who say they’ve been victims of the musician.
For years, the Maryland women say they kept their story a secret, primarily because Scaff feared the repercussions for speaking out against a major celebrity.
All of that changed after Scaff’s 18-year-old son, Amoni Grossman, was fatally shot in Baltimore in 2016. Her perspective on witnesses shifted, she said, after community members worked with police to help identify her son’s attackers, both of whom were sentenced to life in prison in 2018.
“The death of my son put a big impact and strong encouragement on my heart,” Scaff said.
Scaff believes her son would be proud of her for mustering the courage to speak out about Kelly.
“I definitely think he’s smiling down right now for the positive things I’m doing to help these women,” Scaff said of her son.
Since their news conference last month, Washington and Scaff say they’ve received significant criticism, even from their own families.
“People always keep bringing up ‘Where was our parents,’” Washington said. “That’s not even the point of the matter. We didn’t know what to do, who to tell. We just lived with this for years and years. It haunted us.”
Allred, who represents Scaff and Washington, said the women are role models for sharing their story.
“They’ve spoken their truths at the right time for the right reasons,” Allred said. “The negative hurts, but I know they’ve had a lot of positive feedback as well.”
The women have spoken with investigators in the federal Eastern District of New York about their allegations toward Kelly, Allred said. The lawyer declined to say why investigators outside Maryland were interested in the case.
The memory of that night has left its scars. Sharing their experience more than 20 years later is still painful and uncomfortable, Washington said.
“We’re just staying strong because we want justice to be served,” she said.
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The Associated Press contributed to this article.