When singer Sparkle testified in a Chicago courtroom 13 years ago, she offered the jury a jarring account of sexual abuse: A man seen on video urinating and having sex with his teenage niece was R. Kelly, one of the biggest names in the world. R&B. music.
But even after others shared similar stories during Kelly’s first criminal trial in Chicago in 2008, jurors cleared him of the child pornography charges against him.
And so, a decade later, when the Me Too movement’s calculations of sexual misconduct spread across the country, Sparkle said she didn’t feel it represented her experience. That changed on Monday, when Kelly, on trial in New York, was found guilty of all nine charges against him.
“I didn’t even know that the Me Too movement was for us black women,” Sparkle, whose real name is Stephanie Edwards, said in an interview after the singer’s conviction. “Back then, and still today, black women didn’t really care about black women.”
Kelly’s case has been widely viewed as a pivotal moment for Me Too, serving as the first high-profile trial since the movement was established to present an accuser whose victims were primarily black women.
In the days and weeks leading up to the jury’s verdict, many observers said they feared that the stories of a group of black prosecutors, no matter how heartbreaking, could be dismissed.
Instead, Kelly’s conviction on Monday was seen by many as a powerful validation of the accounts of both those who opposed him and others whose stories have never been made public.
“For years, I was harassed for speaking out about the abuse I suffered at the hands of that predator. People called me a liar and said they had no proof. ” Jerhonda Pace, who became the first woman to testify against Kelly in a criminal trial, wrote on Instagram after the verdict. “I’m happy to FINALLY close this chapter of my life.”
But it is still unknown whether Kelly’s conviction represents a broader shift toward better treatment for black victims of sexual abuse.
“This moment will be two ways,” he said. Mickey kendall, a Chicago author who has written about feminism and intersectionality. “Or we will finally say that black women and girls deserve to be protected. Or will we say again as we have, this idea that black girls are ‘impossible to treat’ because of the color of their skin. “
She added: “We are making a decision here in the Me Too movement.”
The issue of whose stories are prioritized has been central to recent activism efforts.
When Tarana burke, a black woman, started the original version of “Me Too” around 2007, hoping to use the phrase to raise awareness about sexual assault and connect victims to resources. But observers noted that the effort had not been supported by prominent white feminists. And when actress Alyssa Milano tweeted the same words a decade later, it sparked concern that black women would be left out of history.
And as high-profile cases involving influential men (Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, Larry Nassar) began to define the mainstream movement, white women and girls made up the majority of the prosecutors. For legal experts and advocates for victims of sexual assault, who have long warned that black women and girls face profound challenges in bringing allegations of sexual abuse and rape, the gap was not surprising.
They point to data showing that black women are disproportionately more likely than most to experience sexual abuse or violence, but less likely to report it in some situations. The concurrent difficulties of sexism and racism form a dynamic known as misogynoir.
For some, these factors explain what, as of Monday, was a decades-long failure to bring Kelly to justice.
“We needed a first trial, a video, a marriage license, a documentary series, a social media campaign, organizers in the city, all just to get to this point within the criminal legal system,” he said. Treva B. Lindsey, professor at Ohio State University. “I don’t think it bodes well for the general treatment of black girls and women who have been raped.”
She added: “If we need this level of sexual predation to gain recognition that black women and girls are experiencing a disproportionate amount of sexual violence compared to the general population, I think it’s actually a really sad sign.”
Emily palmer contributed reports and Kitty bennett contributed research.