In R. Kelly’s verdict, black women see long-awaited justice

NEW YORK (AP) – For years, if not decades, allegations have circulated that R&B superstar R. Kelly abused young women and girls, with apparent impunity.

Most of them were young black women. And black girls.

And that, say the accusers and others who have called for him to be held accountable, is part of what took so long to turn the wheels of the criminal justice system, ultimately leading to his conviction on Monday in his trial for sex trafficking. What he did, they say, is also due to the efforts of black women, who don’t want to be forgotten.

Speaking out against sexual assault and violence takes a heavy toll on anyone who tries it. Those working in the field say the barriers faced by black women and girls are even higher by a society that hypersexualizes them from a young age, stereotyping them as promiscuous and judging their physique, and in a country with a story of racism and sexism that has long denied their autonomy over their own bodies.

“Black women have been in this country for a long time and… our bodies were never ours to begin with,” said Kalimah Johnson, executive director of the SASHA Center in Detroit, which provides services to survivors of sexual assault.

“No one allows us to be something worth protecting,” she said. “A human who needs love and sacredness.” It is as if, she says, “there is nothing sacred in the body of a black woman.”

In a 2017 study by the Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality, adults were asked about their perceptions of black girls compared to white girls of the same age in terms of their education and protection needs, as well as their knowledge of adult subjects. like sex.

At all ages, black girls were seen as more mature than white girls, needing less protection and more knowledge about sex. The gap was largest between blacks and whites for girls aged 10 to 14, followed by girls aged 5 to 9.

“We don’t like black girls, and they are dehumanized, and they are also blamed for the sexual violence they have suffered to a greater extent than white girls,” said Rebecca Epstein, executive director of the center and one of the leaders of the study. authors.

For years, girls suffering from R. Kelly’s hands have been treated more like a punchline than a parody, even in a child pornography trial where a video, allegedly of him abusing a girl, was shown. . He was acquitted in 2008.

Lisa Van Allen, who testified against Kelly in 2008, told ABC’s “Good Morning America” ​​in an interview aired Tuesday that she “almost cried” when she learned of Monday’s verdict. “You know, that’s what I was looking for in 2008,” Van Allen said. “So I would say the difference this time around is that there is the power of numbers. A lot of people have come forward. “

When asked if she believed the accusers weren’t initially believed because they were black women, Van Allen replied, “Yeah, I think that’s the main reason why. “

Music writer Jim DeRogatis couldn’t figure it out. He and a colleague were the first to report on R. Kelly’s interactions with girls, in December 2000, and DeRogatis has continued to write about it for years.

Every time something came out, like the video, DeRogatis thought, it had to be it – it had to be the thing that would finally make a difference. And each time, it was not.

It made DeRogatis, a middle-aged white man, realize the injustice that “no one is less important in our society than young black girls.”

And the girls and women he interviewed knew it, he said. The first thing he heard from the dozens he interviewed, he said, was, “Who’s going to believe us? We are black girls.

And so, R. Kelly went on for years, making hit songs, playing with other artists, even sometimes calling himself the “Pied Piper”, but professing that he did not know the story of the musician who kidnapped the children of a town.

Those who hailed Monday’s sentencing, which came after weeks of disturbing testimony and now carries the possibility of Kelly spending decades in prison, said it was a testament to the strength and perseverance of black women, who have been the strength motor, especially in recent times. years of denouncing and demanding attention remain on him.

Tarana Burke, founder of the Me Too movement against sexual abuse, highlighted the #MuteRKelly campaign, a protest launched by two black women in Atlanta in 2017 to pressure radio stations to stop playing her music and places to stop allowing it to happen.

And the most widespread public condemnation followed in the wake of the 2019 docuseries “Surviving R. Kelly”, a setting produced by dream hampton, a black woman.

Asked about the guilty verdict Tuesday on “CBS This Morning,” Hampton said: “You know I want to believe that means surviving black women will be heard, but I don’t want it to depend on a media going viral or be successful. She said she thinks of “all the stories of everyday black girls in neighborhoods like the ones I grew up in Detroit who don’t have predators, who don’t have ‘famous or rich aggressor’.

Burke, who was interviewed for “Surviving R. Kelly,” said: “I think that says you have to believe in the power of your own community because that wouldn’t have happened if black women hadn’t kept the power going. cap. It was the black women who decided, “We’re not going to let this fall on deaf ears. It was the black women who decided,” If nobody else cares, we will take care of black women and girls in our community. ”


Associated Press reporter Gary Hamilton contributed to this report. Hajela is a member of the AP team covering race and ethnicity. She is on Twitter at

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