When the singer Sparkle testified in a Chicago courtroom 13 years ago, she offered jurors a jarring account of sexual abuse: A man seen in a video urinating on and having sex with her teenage niece was R. Kelly, one of the biggest names in R&B music.
But even after others shared similar stories during Mr. Kelly’s first criminal trial, in Chicago in 2008, jurors acquitted him of the child pornography charges against him.
And so, a decade later, when the Me Too movement’s reckoning around sexual misconduct swept the country, Sparkle said she did not feel that it represented her experience. That changed on Monday, when Mr. Kelly, on trial in New York, was convicted of all nine counts 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 aren’t really cared about.”
Mr. Kelly’s case has been widely viewed as a crucial moment for Me Too, serving as the first high-profile trial since the movement took hold to feature an accuser whose victims were primarily Black women.
In the days and weeks that preceded the jury’s verdict, many observers said they feared the stories from a group of Black accusers, no matter how harrowing, might be dismissed.
Instead, Mr. Kelly’s conviction on Monday was viewed by many as a powerful validation of the accounts of both those who took the stand against him and others whose stories have never been made public.
“For years, I was trolled for speaking out about the abuse that I suffered at the hands of that predator. People called me a liar and said I had no proof,” Jerhonda Pace, who became the first woman to ever testify against Mr. Kelly at a criminal trial, wrote on Instagram after the verdict. “I’m happy to FINALLY close this chapter of my life.”
But whether Mr. Kelly’s conviction represents a broader shift toward better treatment of Black victims of sexual abuse is still unknown.
“This moment will go one of two ways,” said Mikki Kendall, an author from Chicago who has written about feminism and intersectionality. “Either we will finally say that Black women and girls deserve to be protected. Or we’re going to say again, as we have, this idea that Black girls are ‘unrapeable’ because of their skin color.”
She added: “We’re making a choice here in the Me Too movement.”
The issue of whose stories are prioritized has been central in the recent activism efforts.
When Tarana Burke, a Black woman, started the original iteration of “Me Too” around 2007, she hoped to use the phrase to raise awareness of sexual assault and connect victims to resources. But observers noted that the effort had not been supported by prominent white feminists. And when the actress Alyssa Milano tweeted the same words a decade later, it spurred concern that Black women would be left out of the story.
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 accusers. To legal experts and advocates for victims of sexual assault, who have long warned that Black women and girls face deep challenges in raising accusations of sexual abuse and rape, the gap was not surprising.
They point to data that shows 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 hardships of sexism and racism form a dynamic known as misogynoir.
To some, these factors explain what, until Monday, was a decades-long failure to bring Mr. Kelly to justice.
“We needed a first trial, a video, a marriage license, a docuseries, a social media campaign, organizers in town — all just to get to this moment within the criminal legal system,” said Treva B. Lindsey, a professor at Ohio State University. “I don’t think that bodes well for the overall treatment of Black girls and women who’ve been sexually violated.”
She added: “If we need this level of sexual predation to get an acknowledgment that Black women and girls are enduring a disproportionate amount of sexual violence compared to the broader population, I think that’s actually a really sad sign.”
Emily Palmer contributed reporting and Kitty Bennett contributed research.