This week found prominent R&B singer R. Kelly convicted for a string of sexual abuse offenses against women and minors.
The 54-year-old was found guilty, by a jury of seven men and five women, of charges including racketeering, sex trafficking, and bribery.
Eleven accusers took the stand during his six-week trial, providing graphic testimony which described how Kelly humiliated and abused his victims sexually, physically and psychologically. He is due to be sentenced on May 4, 2022, and could spend the rest of his life in prison.
The question of whether Kelly perpetrated these crimes might be answered, but many have been left asking: why did it take so long?
R. Kelly’s crimes span almost two decades; from his illegal marriage to an underage Aaliyah, to using friends and associates to coerce young women into abusive sexual relationships with him, to videotaping himself performing sexual acts with teenagers.
In recent years a gross number of money rich, morally poor men have been exposed for their deviant behaviour. Harvey Weinstein, Jeffrey Epstein, Roman Polanski, Jimmy Saville, and Bill Cosby – to name a few. Not to mention the whole host of others who are accused, but not yet convicted, of depraved sexual behaviour and violence against women.
Indeed an entire movement has sprouted from their exposure in the form of MeToo, inspiring women across the world to come forward and share their plight. But what of those who did come forward, only to find deaf ears were listening?
The victims of R. Kelly, and their families, are examples of such people.
In the case of R. Kelly it seemed, for a long time, that the court of public opinion was king. With his shining public persona, singing songs like I Believe I Can Fly, which could be heard in arenas and churches alike – it seemed to many, R. Kelly was above reproach.
Even when evidence emerged to the contrary, die-hard fans refused to believe the truth before their eyes. A truth which in some cases, was caught on film.
The music industry was quick to dismiss any accusations, ignoring them outright or deflecting with sentiments intent on making the public more sympathetic to Kelly’s behaviour – all the while attempting to distract naysayers with yet more music.
And though they will surely disagree, it seems the courts and law enforcement were equally lenient in their judgement.
In 2002, an entire courtroom witnessed Kelly abuse an underage girl on film, performing sexual acts and urinating on her. Yet, absurdly, he walked away a free man. Only now, 14 years later, is Kelly facing a semblance of justice.
It seems odd that a criminal act caught on film could hold less weight in a courtroom than some of the historical accusations made in recent years, where evidence has been much less physical, yet justice was still dealt. One cannot help but wonder why exactly the burden of proof in the case of R. Kelly seemed especially high.
In a recent interview with Good Morning Britain, R. Kelly’s ex-wife Drea said that “victim shaming” prevented many women from coming forward with their abuse. But the victim shaming which occurred in the instance of R. Kelly appeared notably greater than other highly publicised cases.
“I’ve always said if any of his victims were blonde and blue-eyed it wouldn’t have taken this long,” Drea said simply. “Women of colour tend to be lowest on the totem pole when it comes to subjects of domestic violence and sexual abuse.”
Many will say that this is a new era: the era of MeToo. The carelessness of law enforcement and the complicity of the entertainment industry is now being held to account in a way that it never had before. People care now, people listen now.
And while this is certainly true, it is equally true that cases involving white women were quicker to reach the court of law, quicker to be judged and sentenced and far quicker to generate public empathy.
One must wonder if the case of R. Kelly is a turning point. Is this the moment that things truly change for women of colour who have endured sexual and physical abuse from powerful men? Or is this just a trophy case, to be hoisted up when convenient and held above the heads of those in power to say, “See? We’re doing something.”
Remember that ‘did’ and ‘doing’ are two very different things, and it is all too easy for the latter to become the former.
The conviction of R. Kelly feels like a victory to outsiders peering in – people who open the news in the morning and read that a sexual predator has gone to jail before drinking their coffee and going to work. But after decades of abuse, does it feel like a victory to the victims who were made to wait for someone to care enough to listen?
Let’s hope that when the spotlight and media frenzy has moved on and R. Kelly has been sentenced and sent away, people don’t fall deaf again.
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