THE testimony, when pieced together, sounded like the plot of a horror film. Woman after woman spoke of being sexually degraded, brutally assaulted, threatened and blackmailed into complying with a regime of control so oppressive that they had to ask permission just to eat or go to the toilet.

They told how they came to be trapped under the control of a man they had adored and idolised, never knowing which version of him they would encounter next – the loving, vulnerable partner or the sadistic, sexually violent monster.

As his ex-wife put it: “People have no idea that there’s two different men here. There’s a person: Robert. There’s the persona: R Kelly.”

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In many ways, the New York trial of Robert Sylvester Kelly was extraordinary. Here was a man who had – like Jimmy Savile (below) before him – operated in plain sight for decades, using his wealth, influence and celebrity to carry out unspeakable acts of abuse against countless victims.

The charges he faced in a New York court were unprecedented, in that prosecutors had to convince the jury that the singer’s entire music career amounted to a criminal enterprise designed to “target, groom, and exploit girls, boys, and young women for his own sexual gratification”. He was found guilty of racketeering – a charge normally used against mafia bosses and drug kingpins – as well as multiple counts of sex trafficking. He faces further sex crimes trials in Illinois and Minnesota.

The National: Jimmy Savile 'had voracious sexual appetite and used fame to groom victims'

Those who have watched the harrowing documentary series Surviving R Kelly will not have been surprised to hear lawyer Gloria Allred – who has previously represented victims of Jeffrey Epstein and Harvey Weinstein – described him as the worst predator she has ever pursued.

However, there’s one aspect of R Kelly’s systematic abuse – or rather, the response to initial reports of it – that is not unusual at all. It is summed up in four little words that act as a huge barrier to women who have experienced abuse, by shattering their hopes of being listened to, believed and supported.

“Why didn’t she leave?”

Within that question, survivors may detect some insinuations. That if things were really as bad as she says, she would have left. That anyone in their right mind would have left. And if those things really did happen, anyone who put up with it should be treated with scepticism.

There are many, many reasons why those who were caught in R Kelly’s web did not leave, even when police officers came to check on their welfare or desperate parents tracked them down and pleaded with them to come home. Some of the reasons are unique to what many lurid headlines described as his “sex cult” – a group of women living under his control in properties in Chicago and Atlanta – but others are not unusual at all.

The National: Courtroom sketch of R Kelly being read the jury's verdictCourtroom sketch of R Kelly being read the jury's verdict

They are coercive control tactics used by abusers of all walks of life, all over the world. Young people were plucked by Kelly and his associates from audiences at concerts and lured with promises of record deals and mentoring; others were picked up in shopping malls or fast-food restaurants. Some were children who had strained relationships with their families; others were adult women with careers and stable lives. In each case, however, Kelly lured them into relationships from which it became very difficult to escape.

The scale and complexity of Kelly’s offending is certainly all the more staggering given he has a significant learning disability and can barely read or write. It’s clear he had a lot of help from employees and associates (and much less clear that any of those who assisted him will face prosecution for doing so). His extensive resources allowed him to abuse and control on a grand scale, manipulating girls, boys and women in sex acts with himself and each other, filming them without their consent, and then blackmailing them with the recordings, some of which constituted child pornography.

One survivor claims Kelly even filmed victims molesting their own younger relatives, and she believes shame will prevent them from ever speaking out about what they endured. The singer also forced captives to write letters making a range of false claims, including that they had stolen from him and that they had been abused by their parents. Evidence about these “collateral” letters ultimately helped to convict him.

While this was clearly an extreme case, it is worth bearing in mind if you are ever tempted to ask “why didn’t she leave?” when reading or hearing about any domestic abuse case in the news. Threats to share intimate images and videos are increasingly being recognised as a significant tactic used by abusers in the UK. This behaviour was criminalised in Scotland as part of 2017 legislation covering “revenge porn”, and England’s Domestic Abuse Bill is now being amended to make threats of this nature punishable by up to two years in prison.

These are positive steps forward, but the reality is that many victims of domestic abuse will never manage to leave, let alone see their abusers prosecuted. Fear and shame are powerful emotions, so it’s vitally important that survivors feel they will not be judged, and that the context of their own actions – which may seem perverse and unfathomable to an outsider – will be taken into account.

Those who testified against R Kelly have faced intense personal scrutiny, smears and yet more threats, but finally they have been vindicated. Hopefully now they can find peace.