For decades women and girls, most of them Black, sounded the alarm over R. Kelly's web of abuse, only to hear their voices silenced.

Weeks of devastating testimony threw the severity of Kelly's crimes into stark relief, but to many advocates, the harrowing pattern of abuse was nothing new -- it was just the first time police, the justice system and society at large had taken it seriously.

Now, the multi-platinum R&B singer's conviction as the boss of a decades-long sex crimes scheme offers a measure of justice to long-dismissed victims and activists.

"For years, I was trolled for speaking out about the abuse that I suffered at the hands of that predator," wrote Jerhonda Pace, who was among those who testified against Kelly in Brooklyn federal court, on Instagram after the verdict dropped.

"People called me a liar," said Pace, whose testimony included searing descriptions of Kelly choking her until she passed out when she was a teenager, before demanding sex when she came to.

Kenyette Barnes, who co-founded the #MuteRKelly movement in 2017, said that the prosecution that many people have called long-overdue was down to the "blood, sweat and tears of Black women who would not stop beating that drum."

Well before viral hashtags, she said Black women and allies tried to shed light on Kelly's abuse only to be "silenced" and "threatened."

"On the surface," Barnes told AFP, "Black women and girls are not rapeable. They're not believable."

Activists and victims warned of R. Kelly's abuse long before his conviction of sex crimes Activists and victims warned of R. Kelly's abuse long before his conviction of sex crimes Photo: GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / SCOTT OLSON

The first documented cases of Kelly's abuse date back to the early 1990s. But for decades the women and girls whose lives were traumatically upended by the powerful celebrity were seen as punchlines -- if they were seen at all.

Kelly's 2008 trial on child pornography -- he was acquitted -- centered around a sordid tape that included footage of Kelly have sex with and urinating on a child, which became colloquially known as the "pee tape."

Bootleg copies of the nearly 27 minutes of footage were hawked on street corners, and provided fodder for comedians and late-night sitcoms.

Chicago music critic Jim DeRogatis, who received the tape from an anonymous source and turned it over to law enforcement, has been reporting on Kelly's systematic abuse for years.

A middle-aged white man, DeRogatis thought the tape -- "the most horrifying thing I'd ever seen," he told AFP -- would be enough to take Kelly down.

But he watched in bafflement as the public turned a blind eye.

For decades before his sex crimes conviction singer R. Kelly was accused of myriad crimes including child pornography, sexual battery and rape For decades before his sex crimes conviction singer R. Kelly was accused of myriad crimes including child pornography, sexual battery and rape Photo: GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Jason Kempin

It became increasingly clear, he said, that in American society "no one matters less than young Black girls."

The stakes are high for any sexual assault survivor to come forward, but LaShanda Nalls -- director of trauma therapy at the Chicago-based Resilience, which advocates for sexual violence survivors -- said it can be even more "isolating" for women of color.

"So many Black girls are just denied services, not believed, and just put in this category like they don't matter," she said.

The singer Sparkle, now 46, long decried Kelly's disturbing behavior -- only to lose out on career opportunities and see close ones shun her.

She testified at his 2008 trial that the girl in the infamous video was her 14-year-old niece.

"It felt like I was carrying this on my back alone," she said this week in an interview with New York Magazine.

"Even when Me Too came around, I didn't think it was for Black women. We are so marginalized. We don't get that same support white women do -- we're treated as the bottom of the bottom."

Black girls also face obstacles of "adultification" and "hypersexualization" from a young age, research shows, making them more susceptible to abuse and subsequent dismissal in a country whose history of racial subjugation runs deep.

A 2017 Georgetown study found that Black girls are seen as needing less protection and nurturing than their white peers.

The study from the university's Law Center on Poverty and Inequality canvassed adults whose responses indicated that Black children are viewed as "more adult" and more knowledgable about sex beginning as early as age five.

What those misguided perceptions translate to, Barnes said, is "no protection."

Barnes said she hopes the Kelly verdict helps survivors begin "healing."

"Speaking out about abuse is not easy," wrote Pace, who is now 28. "No matter what you think of me or how you feel about things; today, I MADE HISTORY."

"I'm happy to FINALLY close this chapter of my life."