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Singer R Kelly faces life in US prison for trafficking, child pornography, sexual violence

Sexual abuse allegations against the R&B artiste, known for songs like 'I Believe I Can Fly', date back to 1994 when he married singer Aaliyah who was just 15 years old at the time.

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New Delhi: American singer R. Kelly Monday was found guilty of running a decades-long sex trafficking circle, which recruited predominantly Black women and children.

A jury in New York convicted the singer on all nine charges against him, including racketeering (organised crime or any illegal scheme or criminal enterprise), kidnapping, child pornography and bribery.

At the hearing, federal prosecutor Elizabeth Geddes told the jury that Kelly used his popularity and the network of people at his disposal to target, groom and abuse girls, boys and young women.

Eleven people — nine women and two men — took the stand during the six-week-long trial against Kelly, and detailed the sexual violence and humiliation they suffered at his hands.

The 11 witnesses were also thanked by Jacquelyn M. Kasulis, acting US attorney in Brooklyn. “No one deserves what they experienced at his hands or the threats and harassment they faced in telling the truth about what happened to them. We hope that today’s verdict brings some measure of comfort and closure,” she said.

With this conviction, the singer could be imprisoned for life. His sentencing hearing has been scheduled for 4 May next year.


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Abuse allegations since 1994

The guilty verdict Monday is the first conviction for Kelly, whose real name is Robert Sylvester Kelly, despite misconduct allegations dating back almost 25 years ago.

In 1994, Kelly, one of the biggest R&B artistes in the US, married fellow singer Aaliyah when she was just 15 years old. He was 27 at the time, and a magazine later reported that she had lied about her age on the marriage certificate.

The marriage was later annulled in 1995 and Aaliyah died in a plane crash six years later, in 2001.

In 1996, a woman named Tiffany Hawkins accused the singer of having a sexual relationship with her when she was 15 and he was 25. She sought $10 million in damages but the matter was settled at $250,000.

Between 2002-2004, Kelly was accused of 12 cases of making child pornography in Florida, but charges against him were dropped after a judge agreed that the police “lacked sufficient evidences”.

Since then, several more allegations of rape, abuse and sexual humiliation have surfaced against the singer.

Several witnesses testified that victims of his abuse were selected from audiences at his concerts and his team lured them with the promise of a successful music career and interactions with the star.

They were then subjected to strict rules and punishment if they did not obey Kelly’s rules.


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#MuteRKelly movement, ‘Surviving R Kelly’ documentary

In 2017, two women, Kenyette Barnes and Oronike Odeleye, launched a movement called ‘#MuteRKelly’ and called for a worldwide financial boycott of the singer in the backdrop of the growing #MeToo movement against sexual harassment.

“While he hasn’t been found guilty in a court of law, the evidence is overwhelming that he has created an uninterrupted pattern of sexual violence in the African American community that must be stopped. If the court system is unable to protect our young Black women and girls, we must step forward to do so ourselves,” notes the official website of ‘#MuteRKelly’.

In 2019, a six-hour documentary series by US channel Lifetime, titled ‘Surviving R. Kelly’, detailed the allegations against Kelly, presenting victim stories and footage on how parents rescued their daughters from the singer.

This led to widespread outrage across the globe and his record company dropped him two weeks after the documentary aired and his concerts in US and New Zealand were also cancelled.


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