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Why R. Kelly’s Conviction Is a Victory For All Sexual Abuse Survivors

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Editor's Note

If you’ve experienced sexual abuse or assault, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact The National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.

On July 11, 2019, R&B singer R. Kelly was arrested on federal charges alleging sex crimes, human trafficking, child pornography, racketeering, and obstruction of justice. Now, Kelly has been convicted on all nine federal counts, including child pornography, kidnapping, and forced labor.

I wrote here about how triggering it is to have trials such as these in the news and what it does to survivors of sexual assault. I implored my readers to stay away from the news and practice self-care if inadvertently exposed to the news about the trial. I took my own advice as well.

The trial went on for six weeks and woman after woman (and some men) testified to his brutality and disdain for women and others. Tearful testimony could be heard as anonymous women told their truths. “This case is about a predator,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Maria Cruz Melendez told the jury during opening statements last month. “A man who, for decades, used his fame, popularity and network of people at his disposal to target, groom and exploit young girls, boys and women for his own sexual gratification.”

I grew up with a predator, uncertain to whom to turn to make it stop. The main person who could have helped me was also hurting me. I had grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, caring teachers and still I remained silent. My perpetrator had me convinced that no one would believe me and that I would get in trouble if I told. He threatened me with child protective services, hurting others I loved, losing my family, and death. I had no choice but to remain silent.

Eventually, the abuse ended… sort of. He was no longer raping me, but I was (and I am) still under his control. I am 49 now and am very capable of walking into a police station and reporting him and all of those who hurt me. I originally thought there was a statute of limitations of sexual abuse in my state. Turns out there is not. When I learned this, it scared me. Now, what was my excuse?

R. Kelly abused a series of women. What if my abuser is doing the same? What is my responsibility to stop him? (I do often think that I was special, and he would never hurt anyone else; this is misguided, but I still hold on to that.)

I am scared to tell. What would people say? Would they blame me? What would he say? Would he take any responsibility? Would I be blamed? Would they say I wanted it? Would they say I caused it? Would I be believed?

I do not have any evidence — just my word against his. He is a minister, a family man. What am I? A diagnosed mentally ill woman. I feel like I would not have a chance.

I am sure that is what the women in R. Kelly’s world were thinking. How could they possibly speak up? Who would believe them? He is so powerful and has the weight of the world to bring down on them. How could their story be believed? How could they survive reliving and sharing in their shame what happened to them in open court with no protection? With R. Kelly feet away, threatening them at every turn.

The reality is they did it — after years of abuse. They did it. They stood up to him and spoke their truth. They walked into a media circus and told their stories and they won.

R. Kelly was convicted “after nine hours of deliberation … a jury of seven men and five women found Kelly guilty on one count of racketeering and eight counts of violating the Mann Act, which prohibits transporting individuals across state lines for the purpose of prostitution.”

What an inspiration these women are. The system worked — it worked late, but it worked. There are more trials to come and more testimony to give but today, there is victory. Today, he is behind bars where he belongs, and all women
are safer for it.

I do not imagine me walking into a police station to tell my story, but these women’s victories are partly my victory too. Times are changing, and more women are speaking out. More juries are believing the victim and more of these men are spending significant time behind bars.

Dear Mighty Survivors:

Your story is yours to tell, no one else’s, and in your own time. Maybe, for now, you just tell your journal or a therapist. You may tell your spouse or a trusted friend. You may even walk into a police station and make a report.

When you were assaulted, your power was stripped from you. I am here to tell you that you have it back. You have choices and you have the power to decide your next steps. No one can dictate your path; that is for you to decide.

We can celebrate the victory of the women who testified against R. Kelly. It is our victory too.

You are Mighty Strong!

Image via YouTube

Originally published: September 29, 2021
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