R Kelly’s ex-wife says victim shaming stopped women coming forward

Drea Kelly puts focus on what happens outside courtroom after singer’s racketeering and sex trafficking conviction

The culture around victim shaming stopped women coming forward sooner about the abuse they experienced at the hands of R Kelly, the singer’s ex-wife Drea Kelly has said.

A New York jury on Monday found R Kelly guilty of being the ringleader of a decades-long racketeering and sex trafficking scheme that preyed on women and children.

Kelly, 54, was found guilty on all nine counts after decades of avoiding criminal responsibility for numerous allegations of misconduct.

Drea Kelly, who was married to Kelly for 13 years until 2009, said it was “great that we’ve taken a step forward” but that the most important thing was what happens outside the courtroom.

“[It’s important] that women are supported to even feel like they have the strength to come forward and tell their stories,” she told ITV’s Good Morning Britain on Tuesday. “If they’re still victim shaming, victim blaming, and women being afraid to speak their truth, we can never get to a court system where justice can be served.”

Drea Kelly, who has three children with the disgraced R&B star, has previously spoken of being emotionally and physically abused by him. “I’ve always said if any of his victims were blonde and blue-eyed it wouldn’t have taken this long,” she said. “Women of colour tend to be lowest on the totem pole when it comes to subjects of domestic violence and sexual abuse.”

She referred to her marriage as “a life of constant fear … walking on eggshells … the intimidation, never knowing which version of him you’re going to get”.

The panel of seven men and five women began deliberating the charges on Friday afternoon after a six-week trial in Brooklyn which heard shocking testimony detailing Kelly’s abuse of women, girls and boys.

Allegations against Kelly came to wider attention in the 2019 Lifetime documentary Surviving R Kelly, which explored claims that an entourage of supporters protected Kelly and silenced his victims for decades. Witnesses at the trial said Kelly had forced them to obey perverse and brutal whims when they were underage.

Jerhonda Pace, one of the six main accusers in the trial, was the first to testify about the relationship she had with Kelly when she was 16. She said Kelly physically abused her multiple times for breaking his “rules”, including not acknowledging him when he entered a room. “That’s when he slapped me and he choked me until I passed out,” Pace said. “When I woke up, I was on the floor.”

Gloria Allred, a lawyer for some of Kelly’s victims, said that of all the predators she had gone after – including Harvey Weinstein and Jeffrey Epstein – “Mr Kelly is the worst”.

Kitti Jones, a former girlfriend of Kelly who separated from him in 2013, said on Tuesday she was “disgusted” at the amount of evidence. “I kept my time with him and some of the abuse a secret from family and friends, so I wasn’t aware of the long line of other people that had experienced similar things,” she told GMB. “Just to hear how he had evolved over time … hearing new stories … it really did disgust me.”

Jones encouraged women with similar experiences to speak up. “There’s not an expiration date on when a person should come forward. All truths deserve a platform. Create your own if you don’t have one. If it takes you a year, a week, 10 years, as long as it’s your truth, no matter when you’re ready to tell it, tell it.”

Kelly’s conviction has been hailed as an “important moment for accountability” in the #MeToo movement by the New York attorney general, Letitia James.

Oronike Odeleye, co-founder of the #MuteRKelly campaign, told the New York Times the verdict was the “culmination of the movement of so many women who having being trying so long to have their voices heard”.

Kelly, born Robert Sylvester Kelly, faces up to 20 years in prison. Sentencing is scheduled for 4 May.

• Information and support for anyone affected by rape or sexual abuse issues is available from the following organizations. In the US, Rainn offers support on 800-656-4673. In the UK, Rape Crisis offers support on 0808 802 9999. In Australia, support is available at 1800Respect (1800 737 732). Other international helplines can be found at ibiblio.org/rcip/internl.html


Nadia Khomami Arts and culture correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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