R Kelly, a massive figure in the world of R&B music, was found guilty on Monday all counts of racketeering charges and sex trafficking. The singer faces life in prison after the conviction, following a decades-long plot of recruiting and sexually abusing women and underage girls in the background of his career.
According to The New York Times, the jury deliberated for over nine hours before delivering their guilty verdict. R Kelly sat motionless all throughout six weeks of graphic testimony and allegations of misconduct.
Catalyzed to trial following the 2019 documentary, Surviving R Kelly, accusers who first spoke out in a 2017 BuzzFeed expose titled, “Inside the Pied Piper of R&B’s ‘Cult,’” were able to speak to the public on television of their horrifying experiences. Jerhonda Pace, one of R Kelly earliest accusers, wrote on her Instagram that, “Today my voice was heard.”
“For years, I was trolled for speaking out about the abuse that I suffered at the hands of that predator,” she said. “People called me a liar and said I had no proof. Some even said I was speaking out for money. Speaking out about abuse is not easy, especially when your abuser is high-profile. However, I DID IT.”
“I’m happy to FINALLY close this chapter of my life,” Jerhonda Pace wrote. “No matter what you think of me or how you feel about things; today, I MADE HISTORY.”
The conviction was a long time coming, however, as R Kelly’s criminal abuse dates back all throughout his lengthly career. In 2002, R Kelly was alleged to have had sex with an underage girl when video surfaced said to depict the singer with a 15-year-old. He was found not guilty in a Chicago court.
In 1994, R Kelly also attempted to marry fellow-singer Aaliyah, whom he believed was pregnant at 15 years old. Witnesses testified in court that they had faked her age on the marriage license to say that she was 18 years old. She first met R Kelly when she was 12 and died in a devastating plane crash when she was 22.
“This is culmination of the movement of so many women who having being trying so long to have their voices heard,” said Oronike Odeleye, co-founder of the #MuteRKelly campaign. “We have never had full ownership of our bodies. And we’re at a moment where Black women are no longer accepting that as the price of being Black and female in America.”
While most #MeToo cases have been about high-profile white women and celebrities who have been mistreated in the workplace, R Kelly’s trial represented one of the largest cases for relatively unknown black women and girls, who are sadly often cast aside and forgotten by police.
The phrase #MeToo was originally used for sexual assault survivors back in 2007 by a Black female activist named Tanya Burke. Many of her supporters wondered if her legacy would be forgotten because the hashtag was soon used for wealthy white women and men.
For some, R Kelly’s conviction could mean the beginning of a #MeToo movement in the music industry. In what began with allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, the movement to oust sexually abusive men in positions of power has made waves in the world of politics and sports, but had yet to truly pierce the music industry.
Questions will now turn to music streaming services such as Apple Music and Spotify, and whether they will remove R Kelly’s music from their platform. A previous policy that removed music by R Kelly and the late XXXTenacion from prominent playlists for “hateful conduct,” came under fire for being either arbitrary, not enough, or disproportionately affective for Black artists. The policy was later rescinded entirely.
The music world has also largely been quiet about the R&B singer’s trial, especially frequent collaborators such as Jay-Z, and recent songs within the last seven years from Chance the Rapper, Jhene Aiko, Lil Wayne, Kelly Rowland, Lady Gaga, and more.
R Kelly still faces other criminal court cases in Chicago, which could add another decade onto his prison term, as well as sex crime cases in Illinois and Minnesota.