How Not to Talk About a Tape Depicting Child Sexual Abuse


Lawyer Michael Avenatti has submitted two incriminating tapes of R. Kelly to prosecutors, but on Twitter continues to share lurid details of a tape that reportedly depicts a man raping a child.

A week after Avenatti told CNN that he had handed over a VHS tape from someone who has “worked for and has known R. Kelly for decades,” Avenatti released screenshots from the footage on Twitter to tease a press conference announcing updates on the case. (Avenatti wrote on Twitter that he represents “2 whistleblowers, 2 parents, and 3 victims in the R. Kelly matter.”) On Tuesday, Avenatti released more details of the tape, including that R. Kelly allegedly says to the victim, “Give me that 14 year old pussy.” Avenatti’s handling of the tapes, which are a key component in a criminal investigation and allegedly capture an act of child rape, is exploitative and unnecessarily lurid: the lawyer is tweeting graphic details flippantly, as if he’s promoting an upcoming release, not handling sensitive evidence in a case with international interest.

Reporters can risk sensationalizing a traumatic event by sharing explicit details of alleged abuse as a hook to garner attention, and that’s what it feels like Avenatti is doing here. At this point, the public is well aware of the extent of the accusations against Kelly, which include alleged sex cults and abuse of underage girls, as well as recordings of Kelly allegedly raping girls. Avenatti’s job is to the hand the tapes over to law enforcement officials (which he did), and then prepare for trial. The images and language depicting alleged child sexual abuse he’s sharing now do not shed further light on the survivors. They do, however, keep Avenatti’s name in headlines.

Avenatti has a pattern of turning himself into the focus of his cases, often eclipsing his clients: with Stormy Daniels, Avenatti quickly became a subject of controversy after Daniels accused him of filing a defamation lawsuit against Donald Trump without her permission. He used his newly acquired fame to mull a bid for president, declaring that the Democrat nominee “better be a white male.” In October, he bungled representation for Julie Swetnick, one of the women who accused then-Supreme Court Justice nominee Brett Kavanaugh of rape. While Avenatti has fashioned himself as a champion for women, his record suggests otherwise: In November, he was arrested on suspicion of domestic violence and, though felony charges were dropped, he is currently under a restraining order against his ex-girlfriend for the alleged incident.

R. Kelly, meanwhile, is out on bail. He was charged with 10 counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse in Chicago on Friday. Three of the four alleged victims were younger than 17.

This piece has been updated to remove an embedded tweet.

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