R. Kelly was sentenced to 30 years in prison for federal racketeering and sex trafficking. Despite decades of evidence of the abuse of young girls and women, there are still many crying out that R. Kelly is innocent. As we continue to watch people attempt to “separate the artist from the art” in a performance of cognitive dissonance, one thing remains true— sexual abuse is still not being taken seriously and we must do something to change that immediately.

Let’s face it, people are not going to stop playing R. Kelly’s music despite his conviction. However, there is still a larger issue at play here when it comes to sexual abuse victims, and the constant support abusers get from Black communities. It took nearly 25 years to convict R. Kelly. At the age of 27, his marriage to Aaliyah, who was 15 at the time, to cover up a pregnancy was not a secret. Despite this, people continued to support him, tour with him, make music with him and ignore the abuse that was so clearly in everyone’s faces.

The decision to overlook abuse has spilled over into several cases that continue to play out in the public eye where victims are still being silenced with no accountability for abusers in sight. The question now becomes, will this verdict spark any change in the way we protect victims or believe victims in cases of sexual abuse? The answer unfortunately is likely no. R Kelly is the exception and not the rule as he is not the only person we have watched skate around accountability.

Singer and songwriter Trey Songz has been accused of sexual abuse by four women with three of those women filing a civil suit against him. Yet, despite these allegations, his music continues to be played and there have been little to no consequences for his actions. Although Songz denies the allegations, it has not stopped the onset of more stories coming out about the singer. We must also admit part of this is because of his desirability. His desirability from his fans has made many say “why would he need to rape anyone when it’s constantly being thrown at him” which disregards how rape and sexual abuse are about power.

Actress Keke Palmer was one of the first to talk publicly about Songz, describing what she felt was “sexual intimidation” when she was filmed in the singer’s “Pick Up The Phone” music video without her consent. She said to Larry King “I mean, like, I feel as a female often I’m put in situations where sometimes males will use their masculinity, their sexuality, to taunt you.” After her allegations, Palmer received more heat as the victim than Songz ever did as the alleged abuser.

We can also look at the ongoing allegations with rapper T.I. and his wife Tiny. There have been nearly 30 allegations with 17 women coming forward in March 2021 to press charges against the two. Despite these allegations, the two continue to live life as usual with Tiny touring with Xscape and T.I. on a sold-out comedy tour throughout the U.S. Many, once again, accuse the victims of wanting money, rather than understanding the power dynamics in play when victims remain silent in fear of disbelief and skepticism.

Russell Simmons is another who has escaped accountability for his sexual abuse allegations which he denies. So much so that he moved out of the U.S. to Bali where they have no extradition treaty if he was convicted. Despite a documentary called On the Record detailing his abuses, he has yet to see a courtroom and continues to be heralded as a hip-hop pioneer while his alleged victims continue to be silenced without true justice.

This also makes us have to ask what is justice in these situations? The other side to this is the prison industrial complex that has been sold to us as the moniker for accountability in these cases. Prison has long stood as the place where punishment equals justice. When realistically, it is a violent inhumane system that has never served its “intended” purpose of being part of rehabilitation.

For prison abolitionists, verdicts like these can be nuanced. There currently is no system outside of prison to hold abusers accountable. However, when people ask “what do we do with rapists,” the truth of the matter is prison and police are not doing anything with them now. Most rapists are not in jail, and there are hundreds of thousands of rape kits that remain untested in the U.S. And although Law and Order SVU may have a 95% conviction rate, in the United States of real America, that number is much closer to 6%, with less than 1% ending in felony convictions.

One thing many of us can agree on is that we need a system that keeps our community safe from violent offenders, including rapists and especially those with esteemed status and privilege.

Suffice to say, R. Kelly is now the property of the state. And many of his victims may feel a semblance of some peace and a form of justice. But his imprisonment does not repair the harm they faced and that many of them continue to live with. As I stated earlier, R. Kelly is simply the exception to the rule. So the work must continue as we create a society that doesn’t allow sexual violence to be an acceptable part of our society’s way of life.