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Postmature justice

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Jim DeRogatis — who has been indefatigable on this story — reflects on R. Kelly finally getting convicted for his routinized sexual assault:

Twenty-five years ago, Tiffany Hawkins, a young woman from the South Side of Chicago, approached the Illinois State’s Attorney Office to press criminal charges against R. Kelly. She claimed that the R. & B. star had sexually abused her when she was a minor, but the office was not interested in pursuing the charges. “I was a young Black girl,” Hawkins told me, in 2019. “Who cared?” On Monday, after decades of accusations and a five-and-a-half-week trial in federal court, in New York, Kelly was found guilty of all charges, including racketeering, sex trafficking, bribery, and the sexual exploitation of a child. Kelly’s case, arguably the most high-profile sex-abuse trial in the history of the music industry, marks the first major prosecution in the #MeToo era on behalf of victims who are primarily women of color. Kelly now faces a possible sentence of ten years to life in prison.

“Robert Sylvester Kelly used his fame, his popularity, and the network of people at his disposal to target, groom, and exploit girls, boys, and young women for his sexual gratification,” the Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Geddes told the jury, last Wednesday, during the prosecution’s closing argument. “He used lies, manipulation, threats, and physical abuse to dominate his victims. He used his money and his public persona to hide his crimes in plain sight.” In order to make its case, over the span of a month, the prosecution called on nearly four dozen witnesses, including many who claimed to have been victimized by Kelly.

The jury, comprising seven men and four women, reached its verdict relatively quickly. And, yet, as a journalist who has been reporting on Kelly’s abusive behavior for twenty-one years, I am struck by how many questions remain in this long and disturbing story. How, exactly, did Kelly avoid repercussions for illegally marrying his protégé Aaliyah, in 1994, when she was fifteen and he was twenty-seven, and they were two of the biggest stars in popular music? Aaliyah died in a plane crash in 2001, but prosecutors did not call the two family members who could have shed more light on her relationship with Kelly: her mother, Diane Haughton, and her uncle, Barry Hankerson, who ran Aaliyah’s record company, and who managed Kelly’s career from the making of his début album, in 1992, until early 2000. How did Kelly avoid a conviction, back in 2008, when the state of Illinois tried him for child pornography? (The answer to that one may come in a second federal case that Kelly still faces in the Northern District of Illinois; prosecutors allege that Kelly bribed one of his victims and her parents to lie to the grand jury.) And how many more victims are there who we don’t know about? This case involved twenty women and two men, but there are likely many more. Prosecutors told the judge that they intended to call Susan E. Loggans, a Chicago attorney who has said that she negotiated “numerous” settlements for Kelly’s underage victims—such as Tiffany Hawkins—in return for their signing nondisclosure agreements, but the jury never heard from her.

So much misery could have been prevented, but I’m glad some measure of justice prevailed.

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