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'Don’t Think It’s Enough’: Survivors React To R. Kelly's 30-Year Sentence For Sex Trafficking

Survivor Lizzette Martinez says she is pleased with R. Kelly's 30-year sentence for sex trafficking, but wishes it were longer. Other survivors believe it is a strong enough sentence.

By Gina Tron
R Kelly Court G 5

Survivors abused by R. Kelly are reacting to this week’s sentencing of the once-beloved R&B singer.

U.S. District Judge Ann Donnelly sentenced Kelly to 30 years in prison on Wednesday. Kelly, 55, had been convicted in September on federal charges of sexual exploitation of a child, bribery, kidnapping, racketeering and sex trafficking.

"Thirty years is spot on for me," a survivor going by the name Sonja told the Los Angeles Times. She said Kelly had locked her in a hotel room for days and assaulted her when she was an intern at a Utah radio station. She was lured to his room by the promise of an interview.

"I have been enduring this for almost two decades," she said. "I am very happy with the sentence. Very happy."

Survivor Jovante Cunningham also told the Los Angeles Times that she is pleased with the sentence. She said she’s “excited to hear what’s going to happen and how our judicial system will continue to handle the justice process for us as victims.”

She met the singer, whose real name is Robert Sylvester Kelly, when she was a teenager and a backup dancer for him; she said she has spent years being harassed for speaking out against him. She was involved in the making of “Surviving R. Kelly” in which she claimed she witnessed Kelly sexually abusing Aaliyah as well.

And while some survivors like Cunningham and Sonja are happy with the sentence, others don’t think it’s quite enough.

"I personally don't think it's enough, but I'm pleased with it," Lizzette Martinez, 45, told the The New York Times outside of the Brooklyn courthouse where Kelly was sentenced on Wednesday.

She was 17 when the abuse began. 

"I don't know what else to say except that I'm grateful," she told the Los Angeles Times. "I'm grateful for today. And I'm grateful that Robert Sylvester Kelly is away and will stay away and will not be able to harm anyone else."

Throughout Kelly’s trial, prosecutors detailed how Kelly had sexually abused numerous young women and men, some of whom were underage, over a nearly two-decade period. Furthermore, they said he'd led an enterprise of managers, bodyguards and other employees who recruited the victims for him while giving them false hope that he’d help them with their entertainment careers. 

"These crimes were calculated and carefully planned and regularly executed for almost 25 years," Donnelly told Kelly during Wednesday’s sentencing. "You taught them that love is enslavement and violence.”

During the sentencing hearing, multiple survivors testified about what they had gone through. The first, a woman who went by Angela, spoke directly to Kelly, stating, “With every addition of a new victim, you grew in wickedness. You used your fame and power to groom and coach underage boys and girls for your own sexual gratification,” the New York Times reported this week.

The singer also faces separate state sex crimes trials in Illinois and Minnesota, and has pleaded not guilty in those cases. He is due back in Chicago on Aug. 15. Kelly had faced child pornography charges in Chicago in 2002; he was ultimately acquitted in 2008.