NEW YORK | The late American R&B star R. Kelly, convicted in September 2021 in New York of years of running a “system” for the sexual exploitation of young people, including teenagers, was sentenced to 30 years in prison on Wednesday.
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This harsh sentence against the 55-year-old singer was pronounced by the federal court in Brooklyn, where his trial nine months ago had lifted the veil on sexual crimes within the black community in the United States.
According to journalists present at the hearing, the singer known worldwide for his hit “I Believe I Can Fly” did not say a word when the verdict was announced.
In their latest indictment, federal prosecutors demanded at least 25 years in prison for the “danger” that R. Kelly, whose real name is Robert Kelly, would pose to his victims and to public opinion.
The US Attorney’s office found him to be “a brazen, manipulative, controlling and coercive individual, showing no signs of remorse or respect for the law.”
During the six weeks of trial last August and September, the prosecution described the fallen singer as “criminal, predatory.”
Nine women and two men had accused him of having sexually abused them, describing rape, forced drug use, imprisonment or even child pornography.
The man, who said he was raped when he was eight years old, was found guilty at the end of September 2021 of all charges: extortion, sexual exploitation of a minor, kidnapping, trafficking, corruption and forced labor, during a period ranging from 1994 to 2018.
R. Kelly has always denied the facts.
Throughout his trial, the former African-American R&B star had remained silent, showing no particular emotion at his guilty plea, content to lower his head and close his eyes.
Already detained and awaiting another federal trial in Chicago in August, R. Kelly was awaiting through his lawyers a maximum sentence in New York of 17 years in prison.
This lawsuit was considered an important step in the #MeToo movement: it was the first time that the majority of the plaintiffs were black women and accused a black artist.
For Kenyette Barnes, who coined the hashtag #MuteRKelly (“Shut up R. Kelly”) in 2017, the same year as the global #MeToo movement caused by the fall of the almighty Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, US justice made it possible for the first time to echo “the blood, sweat and tears of black women” that American society until now did not want to see.
Long before sexual violence was the subject of the media and social networks in the United States, African-American women fought to alert the authorities and public opinion. But for one section of society, “black women are neither likely to be raped nor credible,” Mrs. Barnes denounced in September.
The trial exposed R. Kelly’s “system” to attract very young women and sexually assault them, with the complicity of those around him, as in a kind of mafia enterprise, according to the prosecution. Many victims had told of meeting him with his idol during concerts, after which they were slipped a small piece of paper with the singer’s contact information.
He would do something for their music career, they were promised.
Instead, they were “indoctrinated” into R. Kelly’s “sleazy” environment, forced to have sex, and kept in that “system” through “coercive measures,” according to the prosecution.
Six women were the main accusers, some of whom claimed to have been drugged for rape, kidnapped, forced to have abortions and infected with sexually transmitted diseases.
For the lawyer Gloria Allred, who represents three of the six plaintiffs, the verdict against R. Kelly – the day after the 20 years in prison handed down by the Manhattan court against the former British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell for sexual trafficking of minors – should serve as an example for celebrities who use their “notoriety to take advantage of their fans.”
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