R. Kelly Found Guilty on All Charges

The Legacy of Celebrity Sexual Assault

Nicholas Reed, Staff Writer

Trigger Warning: Rape, Sexual Assault

Singer, songwriter, and pop music sensation Aaliyah died tragically on August 25, 2001, in a plane crash. She was only 22 years old, but her outsized impact on music remains her legacy. 

Another remnant of her legacy is dominating the news right now: her abuser, R. Kelly, has been found guilty on all his charger and is currently awaiting sentencing for sex trafficking and statutory rape cases. 

This is not new news, however; rumors and trials surrounding R. Kelly’s preference for younger women have abounded since the early 2000s, also often coinciding with his most visible moments in the spotlight. 

In 2002, Kelly was arrested for child pornography charges. This followed years of allegations of sexual misconduct with young girls, and it finally seemed that there was proof. However, as is so often the case, Kelly was acquitted on all charges. 

This would not be the first or last time Kelly managed to escape trouble for his pedophilic actions. This brings us back to Aaliyah. 

Only 15 when they first met, Kelly took the young girl “under his wing”, producing and advocating for her as an artist, eventually resulting in the success of her first album “Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number”, a retrospectively chilling name. 

In this period, Kelly began sleeping with Aaliyah. Before long, they were married (illegally, I might add). Eventually, Aaliyah would manage to distance herself from Kelly, but before long she would pass tragically before her career could truly take off. Her last album, “One In a Million”, that featured collaborations with rapper Missy Elliot, would be released after her death. 

Kelly not only stole much of Aaliyah’s future but the future and safety of many young women who trusted him. As the Netflix documentary Surviving R. Kelly pointed out, Kelly has had the same pattern with many lesser-known girls and gotten away with it for nearly three decades. 

What allows people in positions of power to get away with so much? Does our culture excuse heinous actions as long as those actions are done by someone famous? Does good art excuse bad actions?

Although the arrest and conviction of R. Kelly is a significant step in the right direction, it doesn’t excuse the fact that R. Kelly did what he did with few obstacles standing in his way. Not only should it never have happened, it shouldn’t have been allowed to continue for years unabated. 

Aaliyah is the most well-known victim of Kelly. There are many more whose names will never be known, and their lives were dominated for years by an angry, sadistic pedophile. 

There are still those that defend Kelly and continue to play his music, believing the nostalgia of the early 2000s to be more important than the pain these young girls endured. 

It’s nothing exclusive to R. Kelly; when Kobe Bryant passed away, no one seemed to want to mention the violent sexual assault of a 19-year-old attributed to him in 2003, the same goes for rapper XXXTentacions’ various assault crimes. It seems the limelight allows people to get away with a significant amount, as fans are willing to forget all the bad for the good. 

Although R. Kelly has finally been put behind bars, there are still many larger questions that I find myself asking: How do we stop this from happening again? How do we make sure no human being ever has the power that man did? It’s not an easy question to answer, and not one I’m fully prepared to answer. 

So, in light of this whirlwind of news, I’m going to take some extra time to appreciate the music of Aaliyah, a beautiful mind and a beautiful voice gone way too soon. Make sure to put “Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number” on shuffle tonight, and maybe start with my favorite track, “Young Nation”.