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R. Kelly has been charged with 10 counts of aggravated sexual abuse

The charges may involve a tape that appears to show Kelly engaging in sexual acts with a 14-year-old girl.

Protestors Rally In Support Of Sex Abuse Survivors At R Kelly’s Chicago Studios
Protesters call for a boycott of R. Kelly’s music on January 9, 2019, in Chicago. 
Scott Olson/Getty Images

R. Kelly has been charged with 10 counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse, reports the Chicago Sun-Times. A judge has approved a no-bail arrest warrant for him.

Prosecutors say that each of the 10 charges against Kelly is a class 2 felony, punishable with three to seven years in prison or with probation. Kelly is expected to appear at a bond hearing on Saturday.

The charges, which were filed Friday morning in Cook County, Illinois, come just weeks after reports by the New Yorker and CNN suggesting that Kelly would soon be indicted. The Cook County state attorney’s office did not immediately reply to a request for comment from Vox, but both CNN and the New Yorker reported earlier this month that Illinois law enforcement officials had received a videocassette that appears to show Kelly engaging in sex acts with a very young girl.

In addition, the New Yorker reported on Friday that Kelly is the subject of multiple other criminal investigations. According to the report, a grand jury has been convened in the Southern District of New York, based on investigations by the FBI and the IRS. The Department of Homeland Security plans to convene another grand jury shortly in the Eastern District of New York to investigate claims that Kelly has transported girls across state lines for “immoral purposes,” in violation of the Mann Act. Finally, officials in Fulton County, Georgia, have reportedly “re-activated” an investigation into claims that Kelly is holding girls against their will in a “cult-like” atmosphere.

The Chicago Sun-Times has not yet confirmed that the Cook County charges against Kelly are connected to the new sex tape, although the New Yorker suggests that they are. Per the Sun-Times, the charges involve four victims, at least three of them minors between the ages of 13 and 16, and span the years from 1998 to 2010.

The charges against Kelly come weeks after reports surfaced that a new tape appeared to show Kelly engaging in sex acts with a minor

Please be aware that this story contains a brief but graphic description of the apparent sexual assault of a minor.

On February 14, celebrity lawyer Michael Avenatti wrote in a statement on Twitter that the new tape came from his office. Avenatti said he was representing multiple clients with complaints against Kelly, one of whom he described to CNN as a “whistleblower.” He said the tape contains new material that has never before been criminally investigated, and that the incident it depicts falls within the Illinois statute of limitations on sexual assault (three to 10 years, depending on the exact charges).

Reporters for CNN watched the video and offered a fairly graphic summary of its contents. According to CNN, both the man who appears to be Kelly and the girl in the video describe the girl’s body parts as being “14-year-old” multiple times. The girl calls the man “daddy,” and at one point he urinates on her. Most of these details match descriptions of the sex tape for which Kelly was previously indicted on child pornography counts in 2002. (Kelly was found not guilty.)

In a statement emailed to Vox after reports of the tape emerged but before charges were filed, Kelly’s lawyer Steve Greenberg maintained his client’s innocence. He wrote, “I have not been contacted by anyone connected with law enforcement, nor has R Kelly. Mr. Kelly denies that he has engaged in any illegal conduct, of any kind whatsoever.”

Greenberg further questioned Avanetti’s credibility, noting that Avanetti himself “was the subject of unfavorable news articles just yesterday.” (Avanetti gave up control of his company on the day before reports of the tape emerged, as part of a dispute with a former partner.) Greenberg added that Kelly “would like to be able to continue to write and sing and produce and perform.”

Vox has contacted Greenberg for further comment but has not yet received a response.

This new tape is just the latest episode in a long series of accusations against R. Kelly

This isn’t the first time R. Kelly has faced similar accusations in a courtroom. In 2002, Chicago police received a copy of a tape that — like the tape currently in question — appeared to show Kelly engaging in sex acts with and urinating on a very young girl, and they indicted Kelly on 21 counts of child pornography.

Kelly’s lawyers held off a trial for four years, in a strategy experts call “victory by delay,” and in the interim successfully knocked out seven of the charges against Kelly. When he eventually went on trial, it was for only 14 counts of child pornography — and Kelly was found not guilty.

In that case, the defining question was the age and identity of the girl on the tape. The jury members all agreed that the man on the tape was clearly Kelly, but the young woman whom police identified as the girl on the tape said that it wasn’t her and refused to testify. Although family members, friends, and teachers of the girl took the stand at Kelly’s trial and confirmed her identity and said she would have been 14 at the time the video was made, the jury eventually concluded that it could not determine her identity beyond a reasonable doubt — and as a result, they couldn’t determine that she was legally a child and that the tape was in fact child pornography.

While Kelly largely avoided public scandal for almost 10 years after the trial, he made headlines again in 2017 when reports surfaced that he was holding multiple young women in his home and brainwashing them in a “cult-like” atmosphere. (Kelly maintains that all the women living with him were there of their own free will.)

Earlier this year, the Lifetime docuseries Surviving R. Kelly galvanized widespread outrage against Kelly. It featured harrowing first-person accounts from multiple women who say Kelly abused them, from the parents of young women who they say are currently being held in Kelly’s “cult,” and from former employees of Kelly who confirmed the stories.

In the series’ wake, multiple musicians spoke out against Kelly. Radio stations announced they would boycott his music. Law enforcement in Cook County, Illinois, and Fulton County, Georgia, both reportedly began pursuing new criminal investigations against him — and with the new charges against Kelly, it’s now clear that the reports of the Cook County investigation were correct, and that the investigation bore some fruit.

Still, experts suggested that if all law enforcement officials have against Kelly is the evidence presented in Surviving R. Kelly, he will be difficult to prosecute. Fulton County was reportedly exploring the possibility of charging Kelly with illegal imprisonment, but in January, victims advocate Maureen Curtis told me that it’s hard to make such charges stick without evidence of physical coercion. Juries tend to want to see evidence of locked doors and guards holding captives at gunpoint; Kelly, however, is mostly accused of using psychological coercion and emotional abuse to control his victims.

It is not yet clear whether the new charges against Kelly revolve around the tape that CNN and the New Yorker reported on. The Chicago Sun-Times does not mention child pornography in its report, just criminal sexual abuse.

In 2006, despite years of accusations against him, Kelly was able to win a sex crime case. Will he be able to pull off the same trick now, with more than two decades’ worth of accusations in his past, after the #MeToo movement changed the way our culture talks about sexual assault?