R Kelly walking outside of a courthouse with a black umbrella held over him. He's wearing a suit and sunglasses.

R Kelly has abused his victims for decades. Why did it 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 dodging justice.

The allegations were first leveled against the Grammy-winning singer in the 1990s.

But despite multiple women coming forward, Kelly continued to tour and rack up millions of streams.

So why did it take Kelly so long to be brought 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 and has 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 built 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 has been sentenced to 30 years in prison for using his fame to subject young fans – some still children – to systematic sexual abuse

In September 2021, Kelly was found guilty of all charges in his New York sex trafficking trialincluding one count of racketeering – essentially running a criminal enterprise – and eight counts of violating the Mann Act, making it illegal to take people across state lines for prostitution purposes.

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

The Brooklyn federal court jury convicted him after learning that he was using his entourage of executives and assistants to meet girls — some plucked from crowds at his concerts — and keep them obedient, an operation prosecutors say amounted to a criminal enterprise.

His alleged victims included the late singer Aaliyah, whom Kelly briefly and illegally married in 1994 at the age of 15. Kelly was 27 at the time.

Aaliyah teamed up 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 the age of 22.

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

Kelly was one of the most prominent people tried during the #MeToo movement on sexual charges, with allegations dating back decades.

Despite accusations of his abuse of young girls, which circulated in the 1990s, Kelly was still adored by legions of fans and sold millions of albums.

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

At the time, court records showed the same pattern: Kelly used his fame to force underage girls into sex.

Women dressed in winter coats with handwritten signs with slogans like "mute R Kelly"
After years of accusations, Sony Music was pressured to drop R Kelly, with protesters gathered outside the company’s New York headquarters in 2019. AP: Richard Drew

DeRogatis says there existed what amounted to a “settlement factory,” where would-be prosecutors would be paid for their silence — sometimes before a case was even filed publicly.

This method allowed Harvey Weinstein to continue abusing women for just as long.

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

“I’m not so sure we would have seen the conviction or the conviction today if he still had the money and fame he had at the height of his power through the ’90s, through the 2000s,” told DeRogatis. RN Breakfast following the conviction.

“He’s broke. As he sang in the last song he released to the world: I am a legend.

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

R Kelly looks down in courtroom orange jumpsuit
R Kelly is still accused of child pornography in Chicago. Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune via AP, Pool, File

Kelly’s trial saw 22 witnesses testify, many of whom DeRogatis had not interviewed in the 30 years he had been reporting on the case, despite speaking to 68 women.

“But you have to realize that women in general are not believed. America just revoked a woman’s right to control her own body. The consequences of not believing our sisters, our wives and our daughters have never been seen in America. been as big as now.

“Chicago has a lot to answer for and the United States has a lot to answer for.

“They all allowed him to keep chasing girls as long as the money kept flowing.”

What did Kelly’s victims say?

The judge imposed Kelly’s sentence after hearing from several survivors explain how his exploitation reverberated through their lives.

“You made me do things that broke my mind. I literally wished I would die because of how low you made me feel,” said one unnamed survivor, addressing Kelly directly.

Many of Kelly’s prosecutors say they are grateful for the conviction.

A woman wearing sunglasses speaks to a media package.
Lizzette Martinez told reporters R Kelly “is ruining” her life and that she is thankful he “will not be able to harm anyone else”.Reuters: Brendan McDermid

“Today was a very special but tough day for us,” Lizzette Martinez told reporters out of court.

“I was an up and coming singer. I was a girl full of life. Very innocent but very driven, and assaulted, actually, at the mall in Aventura, Florida, and only promised a mentorship and quickly turned into, I’d just say, a sex slave .

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

Kitti Jones, who starred in the doco series Surviving R Kelly after dating the singer from 2011 to 2013, also testified, telling reporters the result was “a long time coming.”

A woman dabs her eyes with a tissue as she cries as she testifies in court.
Kitti Jones called the outcome a “victory” and said “it feels like the beginning of my retaking my life.”AP: Elizabeth Williams

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

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

One of Kelly’s most prominent 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 teamed up 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 the age of 22.

Two young black girls attend a vigil, one of them is holding a sign with the name Tupac and Aaliyah "priceless treasures."
Fans mourn Aaliyah’s death at a candlelight vigil in her memory on August 27, 2001 in Los Angeles. Reuters: Address Latif

During the trial last year in Brooklyn, DeRogatis says a three-story billboard rose over the river in lower Manhattan reading “Aaliyah is coming,” advertising the release of the late singer’s music on streaming platforms.

“Someone very close to the family told me it was a message for R Kelly as well, so today’s verdict is partly a justification for the damage he did to Aaliyah,” DeRogatis said.

What happens now?

Kelly has been held without bail since 2019.

He continues to be charged with child pornography and obstruction of justice in Chicago, which is due to start a trial in August.

DeRogatis has called the next proceeding “horrific” as multiple underage victims will testify in a video evidence trial, something that was not present in the 2021 trial.

“I’m sure he will be sentenced there and the sentences will be served consecutively. Even with the 30 years he has received today, he will be 85 before he is released.

“He spends the rest of his life in prison.”


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