Trigger warning: sexual abuse
It’s been over 20 years since R Kelly faced his first allegations. On Wednesday, finally, the sexual predator and R&B singer was sentenced to 30 years in jail. His conviction represents a victory for survivors of sexual violence. And as Erum Salaam of The Guardian has written, ‘particularly those who may hesitate to speak out against abusers for fear of retribution.’
A guilty man
Wednesday’s sentencing comes after years of sexual misconduct by R Kelly, 55. While many of us may only have heard of these in the 2019 documentary Surviving R Kelly, the allegations have been in the media many years before. Perhaps it is just that now, in light of South Africa’s cry against gender-based violence and the #MeToo movement, we are starting to pay attention.
In June 2002, R Kelly was charged with 21 counts of making child sexual abuse videos. He was acquitted on all counts following trial in 2008. In 2017 a Buzzfeed article brought to light all-new allegations. It was reported that R Kelly had ‘trapped six women in a sexual “cult”, having taken advantage of them after they approached him for help with their musical careers.’ Back in the 90s, he also illegally married an underage 15-year-old Aaliyah, using a bribe to do so. His ex-wife (married from 1996 – 2009) has spoken out against him too. Drea Kelly has referred to their marriage as ‘a life of constant fear … walking on eggshells … the intimidation, never knowing which version of him you’re going to get.’
But, finally, he is a guilty man in the eyes of the law. US district Judge Ann Donnelly imposed upon R Kelly a sentence of 30 years in jail on accounts of federal racketeering and sex trafficking charges. ‘These crimes were calculated and carefully planned, and regularly executed for almost 25 years,’ said Judge Donnelly. ‘You taught them that love is enslavement and violence.’
The defence had plead that R Kelly’s actions were only because he had ‘experienced a traumatic childhood involving severe, prolonged childhood sexual abuse, poverty, and violence.’ To this, Judge Donnelly replied: ‘It may explain, at least in part, what led to your behaviour, it most surely is not an excuse.’
Oronike Odeleye, co-founder of the #MuteRKelly campaign, told the New York Times that R Kelly’s verdict was a ‘culmination of the movement of so many women who having been trying so long to have their voices heard’. Before sentencing on Wednesday, some victims had their moment as they addressed the court with impact statements.
‘You used your fame and power to groom and coach underage boys and girls for your own sexual gratification,’ said ‘Angela’. ‘With every addition of a new victim, you grew in wickedness,’ she added.
Another victim, Jane Doe 2, aimed her impact statement at her abuser too. ‘I don’t know if I’ll ever be whole. What you did has left a permanent stain on my life that I will never be able to wash away. I’m sure you never think about that,’ she said. ‘You are an abuser, you are shameless, you are disgusting and you are self-serving.’
U.S attorney Breon Peace agreed. Speaking after the sentencing he said:
With the aid of his fame, his money, and most importantly his inner circle, R. Kelly preyed upon children and young women for his own sexual gratification for decades.
He used coercive control, exemplified by a pattern of isolation, rules, dependence, threats, intimidation tactics, physical abuse, and at least once the presence of a gun to force victims, including minors, to engage in sexual activity with him and others, and to become unwilling participants in the pornographic films he wrote, produced and directed.’
May the victims feel the ability to reclaim their lives now that the horrific last 25 years of R Kelly’s abuse comes to a close. May we not let the next R Kelly get away.
Cover image from CBS News.