R Kelly Sentenced to 30 Years in Prison for Sex Trafficking

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R Kelly

R & B Singer R Kelly has been sentenced to 30 years in prison for sex trafficking women and girls. 

The charges relate to his use of managers and aides to meet girls and keep them obedient – an operation that prosecutors say amounted to a criminal enterprise.

During the sentencing proceedings, District Judge Ann Donnelly told Kelly:

“These crimes were calculated and carefully planned, and regularly executed for almost 25 years. You taught them that love is enslavement and violence.”

Why so long?

The question on many people’s lips though, is that despite allegations first coming to light in the late 1990s, why did it take so long to bring this man to justice? 

In 2008, R Kelly acquitted of more than a dozen counts of child pornography, although prosecutors now say that Mr. Kelly tried to manipulate the trial’s outcome by ‘buying off’ witnesses and victims. 

The end of a long road for victims 

Over the years, more women spoke out, but there was no action against R Kelly, until the #TimesUp social media-based movement (which was established in the wake of #MeToo) pushed for further investigation. 

Around the same time, a documentary series called ‘Surviving R Kelly’ aired, which interviewed a number of R Kelly’s accusers. 

Some alleged they were ordered to sign non-disclosure contracts, and others said they were threatened with violence. 

R Kelly was finally arrested in 2019. 

According to legal experts in the US, the fact that justice took a long time to be delivered had nothing to do with the justice system itself which worked quickly and effectively to prosecute when it had a substantial body of evidence. 

Parallels with the Weinstein case 

In this case, it had a lot more to do with what we have all seen before: A wealthy privileged man protected by an industry which made money from his talents. 

The whole horrific saga is reminiscent of Harvey Weinstein’s systemic preying on young women , the secret well protected for decades by his power and wealth, and a team of people on the payroll who were simply able to make ‘problems’ – specifically those young women who complained about their treatment by Weinstein – ‘just go away.’ 

In R Kelly’s case, it’s been reported that, as with Weinstein, similar settlement payments were made over many years. Commentators have also suggested that in R Kelly’s case, race also played in his favour. As one of his victims so pointedly remarked: ‘I was a young black girl, who was going to believe me?’ 

Victims may now get some closure from his conviction and sentencing, during which US District Judge Ann Donnelly told R Kelly in court: “Although sex was certainly a weapon that you used, this is not a case about sex. It’s a case about violence, cruelty and control.”  

What about bringing the ‘enablers’ to justice? 

Kelly’s lawyers had argued he should get no more than 10 years in prison because he had a traumatic childhood “involving severe, prolonged childhood sexual abuse, poverty, and violence”.  

Psychologists will attest to the fact that it is not unusual for people who have been abused in childhood to repeat the cycle, and even the most hardened human can perhaps find an ounce of compassion for the fact that ‘damaged people have a tendency to damage other people’.

Of course, that doesn’t absolve perpetrators by any means, but the real problem lies with those who are aware of the abuse and yet do nothing about it. 

The role of the ‘enabler’ has recently been played out in the US courts by former socialite Ghislane Maxwell who was also sentenced this week to 20 years behind bars for her role in procuring young women for her former partner Jeffrey Epstein.

Another trial ahead for R Kelly 

R Kelly has been in jail without bail since 2019, and is still facing child pornography and obstruction of justice charges in Chicago. 

He stands charged along with two former employees, Derrel McDavid and Milton Brown. 

The charges relate to a scheme in which the men allegedly tried to buy back sex tapes R Kelly allegedly made with underage girls which prosecutors believe affected the outcome of his original trial. 

Prosecutors allege in this case that one man received about $170,000 in 2008 to stop him from making public a video he had of the singer’s alleged illegal sexual behaviour. 

The legal battle is not yet over – the Chicago trial is due to begin in August and R Kelly’s lawyers have said they will appeal the current conviction and sentence. 

If R Kelly is found guilty in Chicago any sentence that is handed down would be served concurrently with the 30-year jail term he just received. 

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Sonia Hickey

Sonia Hickey is a freelance writer, magazine journalist, and owner of 'Woman with Words'. She has a strong interest in social justice and is a member of the Sydney Criminal Lawyers® content team. Sonia is the winner of the Mondaq Thought Leadership Awards, Spring 2022.

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