The R&B singer R. Kelly was found guilty on Monday of all nine charges brought against him. These include eight counts of sex trafficking and racketeering.

Predator in Plain Sight

The trial follows decades of accusations from multiple women, including Kelly’s ex-wife Andrea Lee. Kelly’s actions are part of a pattern that amounts to the systematic sexual exploitation of young women. In 1994, when Kelly was 27, he married 15-year-old Aaliyah Dana Haughton. He also wrote and produced her disturbingly titled debut album Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number. She was a child bride who was a victim of statutory rape but nothing was done at the time. The marriage license was leaked to the public but his career continued. People close to Kelly knew what was happening, but they turned a blind eye. Why was this allowed to happen?

Justice has taken so long because wealthy and powerful men can puppeteer those around them to hide their vile acts. They think they are untouchable. The law has started to demonstrate that they are not. The trial of Harvey Weinstein is now an infamous case of sexual exploitation in the entertainment industry. As with Kelly, things could have been so different if those who knew spoke up. Quentin Tarantino admitted that he should have done more based on what he knew. He even said that everyone who was close to Weinstein knew about at least one incident.

Kelly, like Weinstein, was able to hide in plain sight because he was surrounded by a network of enablers. Kelly’s former tour manager, Demetrius Smith, admitted at trial to being aware that Kelly believed 15-year-old Aaliyah was pregnant. He then obtained a fake ID so that Kelly could marry her. In the documentary ‘Surviving R. Kelly’, Smith recounts how at the time of the marriage Aaliyah looked worried. He then recalls how she looked at him as if she was willing him to talk to her. He didn’t. His loyalty to Kelly overruled his concern for a child he knew was a victim of rape. Rape culture and sexual misconduct are so entangled in the world of the rich and powerful that what should be met with shock and disgust is instead dismissed. No wonder justice has taken so long.

The Untouchables

Weinstein, Epstein, Kelly and now, if the allegations prove true, Prince Andrew are part of an elite, tight-knit circle that has exploited young women for decades. What they all have in common are power and money. This is a dangerous combination that leaves privileged men like them with a false sense of safety in thinking that they can commit despicable crimes with impunity. It may take longer for those with influence to face a judge, but if the latest court verdicts are any indication, they cannot pay their way to freedom forever.

The allegations against Prince Andrew involve the then 17-year-old Virginia Giuffre. Giuffre claims she was forced to have sex with him after being trafficked by the now known paedophile, Jefferey Epstein. It is well-known that Prince Andrew was once close friends with Epstein. Giuffre’s statement has been supported by flight logs showing that she had travelled with both men. Prince Andrew, however, has consistently and vehemently denied any wrongdoing.

A Landmark Case for ‘Me Too’

As a black man, money and influence have helped Kelly stay out of jail. Statistically, the incarceration rate of black boys born in the US today is 1 in 3, compared to 1 in 17 for white boys. Despite the clear racial bias in the justice system, Kelly is a fine example that wealth overrides many things — even prejudice.  In this instance, however, Kelly’s get-out-of-jail-free card has not served justice. The singer’s wealth and popularity have shielded his abominable actions for decades, at the expense of ruined lives.

This is also the first major Me Too case in which all of the victims have been black women. Shockingly, 1 in 4 black girls will be sexually abused before the age of 18. Even more concerning, for every black woman who reports rape, at least fifteen others stay silent. This is not that surprising. Women have little reason to believe their rapist will be made to pay. It has, after all, taken decades for Kelly’s victims to come forward and receive justice.

Robert Sylvester Kelly won’t be the last rich, powerful man to abuse his power. As we contemplate the pain so many have suffered at his hands, we also have to remember that there will be other victims suffering right now at the hands of someone else. I truly hope that this case will make every person who has witnessed any questionable behaviour consider if they have done enough to stop it. Let’s not make it decades before the next set of victims get the justice they deserve.


Image Source & Credit: Nicholas Ballasy

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