On Tuesday, Ghislaine Maxwell was sentenced to 20 years, and yesterday, R. Kelly was sentenced to 30 years – both for their crimes related to child sex trafficking. We see too many cases that never make it as far as Kelly’s and Maxwell’s did this week. Beyond their fame, both of these cases didn’t see this milestone without years of victims fighting for it, investigative journalism, and full production documentaries. It should 👏 not👏 take👏 this👏 much.👏
Oftentimes we refer to events like these sentencings as “justice.” Whole books and philosophy papers have been written about this loaded term, but one thing is certain: in the face of such horrific abuse, the word “justice” often seems to fall flat. When we consider the impact on victims’ lives, 20 or 30 years in jail doesn’t FEEL like “justice”. Nothing seems like enough when we know the harm caused can ripple for a lifetime – and sometimes farther. As a victim of R. Kelly’s, known on court transcripts only as Jane Doe No 2, put it: “I hope you go to jail for the rest of your life.”
At Love146, we’ve been present in court for sentencings, alongside survivors of child trafficking. We’ve seen one perpetrator sentenced to life; but this is rare. A few years ago at a sentencing, we took the stand and spoke to the perpetrator… as our colleague Erin remembers,
Knowing the details of the nightmare this man put her through, I was determined to confront him directly with his crimes. With this youth in mind, I locked eyes with her abuser. I told him and the court: “The impact of what you did to her has been significant. When I first met her she was hospitalized as a result of the trauma she experienced at your hands. She would wonder why she was “locked up” in the hospital while you were still “free;” She continued to feel imprisoned even after your arrest — from her memories, nightmares, and flashbacks. She is often reminded of your abuse. Her body is always alert, anticipating that at any moment she could be re-victimized. She told me that she doesn’t have control over what happens to her body because she was unable to control or stop what you inflicted on her. She’s not sure who she can and should trust, and is very confused about what constitutes a healthy relationship. She knows she has experienced something that most children her age cannot even fathom, and as a result she struggles in her relationships with peers, family, teachers, and other individuals. You should not be free while she continues to be imprisoned by the violence you inflicted.”
Justice isn’t elusive just because it doesn’t happen enough — but also because it never feels like enough. Even when there is a punishment, a consequence, it never feels like enough. So if at this moment, you’re feeling like decades behind bars still isn’t a satisfying answer, you’re not alone.