R Kelly abused his victims for decades. Why did he take so long to bring him to justice?

R Kelly will now spend decades behind bars, but the disgraced R&B star spent just as long evading justice.

The accusations were first leveled at the Grammy Award-winning singer in the 1990s.

But despite several women showing up, Kelly continued to tour and racked up millions of streams.

So why did it take so long to bring Kelly to justice?

Who is R Kelly?

R Kelly (whose full name is Robert Sylvester Kelly) is considered one of the most influential R&B artists of his generation, having sold more than 70 million records worldwide.

He is best known for the 1996 hit I Believe I Can Fly, which won three Grammy Awards.

But before that, he had developed a reputation for his take on R&B with songs like Bump & Grind and Sex Me.

He has also written and produced for many artists including Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston and Aaliyah.

What did R Kelly do?

The former R&B star was sentenced to 30 years in prison for using his fame to subject young fans, some just children, to systematic sexual abuse.

In September 2021, Kelly was found guilty on all counts at his New York sex trafficking trial, including one count of racketeering, essentially running a criminal enterprise, and eight counts of violating the Mann Act, which makes it illegal to take people. across state lines for the purpose of prostitution.

A courtroom sketch of R Kelly during his sentencing hearing in federal court. (AP: Elizabeth Williams)

A federal court jury in Brooklyn convicted him after learning he used his entourage of managers and assistants to meet girls, some plucked from the crowd at his concerts, and keep them obedient, an operation prosecutors said amounted to enterprise. criminal.

His alleged victims included the late singer Aaliyah, whom Kelly briefly and illegally married in 1994 when he was 15 years old. Kelly was 27 at the time.

Aaliyah worked with Kelly, who wrote and produced her 1994 debut album, Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number. She died in a plane crash in 2001 at age 22.

Why did it take so long to bring R Kelly to justice?

Kelly was one of the most high-profile people tried on sex charges during the #MeToo movement, with allegations going back decades.

Despite allegations about his child abuse, which began to circulate in the 1990s, Kelly remained adored by legions of fans and sold millions of albums.

Journalist Jim DeRogatis first covered the singer’s alleged crimes in 2000 and broke the story about Kelly’s infamous video, which showed the singer allegedly abusing and urinating on a 14-year-old girl.

Back then, court records showed the same pattern: Kelly was using her fame to force underage girls to have sex.

Women wearing winter jackets holding handwritten signs with slogans like "silence ar kelly"
After years of accusations, Sony Music was pressured to remove R Kelly, with protesters demonstrating outside the company’s New York headquarters in 2019. (AP: Richard Drew)

DeRogatis says there was what amounted to a “settlement mill,” where accusers were paid for their silence, sometimes even before a case was made public.

This method was in part what allowed Harvey Weinstein to continue abusing women for so long.

But DeRogatis says systemic failure and racism also allowed Kelly to evade justice.

“I’m not so sure we would have seen the conviction or the sentence today if he still had the money and fame that he had at the height of his powers during the ’90s and 2000s,” DeRogatis said. nurse breakfast following the sentence.

“It’s ruined. As she sang in the last song she released to the world: I’m a ruined legend.

“Justice is too often bought in America by money and fame and that’s what happened when he was first tried for doing child pornography in 2008.”

R kelly looking down while wearing orange jumpsuit in court
R Kelly still faces child pornography charges in Chicago. (Antonio Pérez/Chicago Tribune via AP, Pool, File)

At Kelly’s trial, 22 witnesses testified, many of whom DeRogatis had not interviewed during the 30 years he spent reporting on the case, despite speaking to 68 women.

“But you have to realize that women in general are not believed. The United States has just revoked a woman’s right to control her own body. The repercussions of not believing our sisters, our wives, our daughters have never been as serious in America as they are today.

“Chicago has a lot to answer for and America has a lot to answer for.

“Everyone allowed him to continue abusing the girls as long as the money kept flowing.”

What have Kelly’s victims said?

The judge imposed Kelly’s sentence after hearing from several survivors who attested to how their exploitation had affected their lives.

“You made me do things that broke my spirit. I literally wanted to die because of how bad you made me feel,” an unidentified survivor said, addressing Kelly directly.

Many of Kelly’s accusers say they are grateful for the sentence.

A woman wearing sunglasses speaks to a group of media.
Lizzette Martinez told reporters that R Kelly “ruined” her life and that she is thankful that he “can’t hurt anyone else.”(Reuters: Brendan McDermid)

“Today was a very special but difficult day for us,” Lizzette Martinez told reporters outside court.

“She was an up-and-coming singer. She was a girl full of life. Very innocent but very motivated, and basically, in the mall in Aventura, Florida, I was harassed and promised only a mentorship and quickly became, I would just say, a slave sexual.

“This happened to me a long time ago. I was 17 years old, today I am 45. I never thought I would be here to see him held accountable for the heinous things he did to the children.

Kitti Jones, who appeared on the documentary series Surviving R Kelly after dating the singer from 2011 to 2013, also testified, telling reporters the outcome would be “a long time coming.”

A woman wipes her eyes with a tissue as she cries while testifying in court.
Kitti Jones called the result a “victory” and said that it “feels like the start of me reclaiming my life.”(AP: Elizabeth Williams)

“A lot of people have been waiting for this, not only the survivors, but also the families of the survivors,” he said.

“I’m not angry [it took so long], it was just a different time when a lot of these things happened. It’s about time. And we were at the right time.

One of Kelly’s most high-profile victims was the late singer Aaliyah, whom Kelly briefly and illegally married in 1994 when she was 15. Kelly was 27 at the time.

Aaliyah worked with Kelly, who wrote and produced her 1994 debut album, Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number. She died in a plane crash in 2001 at age 22.

Two young black women attend a vigil, one of them holding a sign calling out Tupac and Aaliyah. "priceless treasures."
Fans mourn Aaliyah’s death during a candlelight vigil in her memory on August 27, 2001 in Los Angeles. (Reuters: Andres Latif)

During last year’s trial in Brooklyn, DeRogatis says a three-story billboard went up across the river in lower Manhattan reading “Aaliyah is Coming,” announcing the release of the late singer’s music on streaming platforms. transmission.

“Someone very close to the family told me that it was also a message to R Kelly, so today’s sentence is in part vindication for the harm he did to Aaliyah,” says DeRogatis.

What happens next?

Kelly has been jailed without bail since 2019.

He still faces child pornography and obstruction of justice charges in Chicago, where a trial is scheduled to begin in August.

DeRogatis called the upcoming proceedings “horrific” as several underage victims will testify in a trial with video evidence, something that was not present at the 2021 trial.

“I am sure he will be sentenced there and the sentences will be served consecutively. Even at 30 years old that she is today, she will be 85 before she gets out.

“He will spend the rest of his life in prison.”

ABC/wires

Aware , updated

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