On Monday, R. Kelly was found guilty on all counts of racketeering and sex trafficking, the culmination of a weeks-long trial against the former R&B star. The verdict comes after years of Kelly dodging countless accusations of sexual misconduct, including an acquittal from child pornography charges in 2008.
But this moment, which could result in a lifelong prison sentence, is filled with uncomfortable tension. To call the guilty charges a sign of justice is true — the verdict is undoubtedly meaningful — but also a fact that is mixed with a particular rage at just how long and how much it took to get here.
The trial itself could be seen as a long, harrowing act of witness — one that served as a public affirmation of the horrors his victims had to endure, but that also required his survivors to relive their traumas in order to finally ensure he faced consequences. Among the 45 witnesses called to the stand, eleven were survivors who described in graphic detail what they faced from R. Kelly, often as underage teens. How could a public-facing star have gotten away with a highly organized enterprise of abuse for so long?
The answer is perhaps in the sobering fact that if not for the global reckoning of the #MeToo movement, R. Kelly likely would still roam free. After all, for years we collectively treated the open secrets of his predatory behavior as a pop culture joke. And his success and stardom, of course, only continued and flourished alongside the rumors.
The result of this trial might serve as a litmus test, then, for how seriously we as a culture will begin to treat the realities of sexual misconduct, particularly in the music industry — a space in entertainment perhaps more than any other where a culture of abuse is historically and latently ignored or accepted. (Marilyn Manson and Russell Simmons, both of whom have been accused of rape, have yet to be brought to justice — and the path to get there is likely just as tricky as it was in R. Kelly’s case.)
Then again, it may be naive to expect such a sea change from one case. Still, for a moment at least, today’s verdict can exist as its own small, if shaky victory against one serial predator, even if it can never right the wrongs done to his survivors.