Content warning: This article discusses sexual and physical abuse.
After more than two decades of evading criminal responsibility, R. Kelly was convicted on Sept. 28 during his sex trafficking federal court trial in New York. Kelly was found guilty of all nine counts, which includes charges on sexual exploitation of a child, bribery, racketeering and sex trafficking involving five victims.
His case is considered the first high-profile trial of a powerful man whose victims were primarily Black women. At the same time, his conviction has brought attention to the horrific shaming that Black sexual abuse survivors face.
NPR reports that federal prosecutors proved that Kelly headed a criminal enterprise that lured girls, boys, and women for his sexual gratification.
Among the 14 alleged underlying acts associated with this racketeering charge, 12 acts involving five victims—the late R&B singer Aaliyah, as well as women who went by Stephanie, Jerhonda Pace, Jane, and Faith—were proven. Those who testified spoke of Kelly’s perverse and brutal acts against them when they were underage.
Apart from sexual coercion, Reuters reports that the accusers also alleged that they were forced to sign non-disclosure forms and were subjected to punishments if they broke Kelly’s orders. Among these punishments were physical abuse and shaming videos involving feces.
Kelly will be sentenced to 10 years to life in prison. He faces more federal charges including child pornography and obstruction charges.
Kelly has been acquitted from similar charges in the past despite multiple accounts of his abuses such as those in the documentary “Surviving R. Kelly” and a Gayle King interview of his girlfriends, one of whom admitted that she was a minor when they met Kelly.
“There isn’t a person who’s been in Chicago for 20 years that doesn’t know a survivor or an incident around sexual violence with R. Kelly,” Scheherazade Tillet, the founder of non-profit A Long Walk Home that deals with violence against women, told The New York Times. “It is deep in our culture here as Black people — we all knew that there was something that existed.”
Drea Kelly, the singer’s ex-wife who has also previously accused him of emotional and physical abuse, said about the conviction, “I’ve always said if any of his victims were blonde and blue-eyed it wouldn’t have taken this long. Women of color tend to be lowest on the totem pole when it comes to subjects of domestic violence and sexual abuse.”
According to a report from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, more than four in 10 Black women experience physical violence from an intimate partner during their lifetimes. Black women also experience significantly higher rates of psychological abuse.
Black women face unique challenges when accusing Black men of abuse or assault, the New York Times noted in its report. Among the factors that come into play are “distrust in the criminal justice system; a history of false accusations against Black men from white women; and a desire to protect Black men.”
Kelly’s conviction is long overdue. But it doesn’t change the fact that the survivors went through harrowing experiences at the hands of Kelly, had to face indifferent prosecutors, and endured a culture that punished them because they “owed” their silence to the Black community. While the guilty verdict is a win for and by Black women, the fight for systemic changes to protect them from prejudice and sexual violence continues.
Photo screengrabbed from the “Surviving R. Kelly” trailer