The topic of Jeffrey Epstein and sex trafficking is in the news once more. Over a decade ago, Epstein was charged in 2008 with sex trafficking young girls as young as 14 years old to go to his apartments in the Upper East Side in New York and Palm Beach in Florida. Epstein pleaded guilty on numerous acts of solicitation, including on a minor, and was registered as a sex offender. However, in his 18-month sentence (which he only served 13 months of) he was allowed to leave his jail cell for 12 hours a day to go to work and even received a private chauffeur.
Even despite this, Epstein has been welcomed by high society. He has been supported by wealthy friends, high-powered lawyers, and essentially welcomed back to the 1% with no issue. Recent reports say that some of these wealthy people may have attended “sex parties” Epstein threw with underage girls and that is what prompted him to be accepted so readily. People such as Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Steve Bannon have been named. Unnamed are more politicians and a former Prime Minister. Epstein’s case has been back in the news due to new allegations that he bribed two potential witnesses in the 2008 case involving a 17-year-old and sex trafficking and former Florida prosecutor Alex Acosta resigned from his position as US Labor Secretary because of public backlash due to his possible involvement in the bribery and mishandling of the case.
Victims of Epstein range from the ages 14 to 17, and they came from difficult backgrounds such as single-parent homes, foster care, abusive or abused parents and bordering into poverty. Unfortunately, because of these backgrounds, Epstein’s lawyers used this as a way to claim that the victims were not being truthful about their allegations and had not been truthful about their own ages to Epstein. The legal team argued that the victims exaggerated and lied about their stories due to their age, that their drug use and homelessness made them unreliable witnesses and ultimately labeled one 14-year-old victim as a “child prostitute”.
Due to the rise of the #MeToo movement, news of Epstein’s recent case where he has been accused of sex trafficking with new victims and witnesses has definitely gained traction and the Miami Herald soon released a damning story on the case. Yet, Epstein always had the upper hand in his cases, in part because of the privilege he comes from. Epstein has donated millions of dollars to Harvard despite not even attending the college, has been invited to events with Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk, and received donations to his foundation by powerful individuals like the chairman of the MOMA. When one has such powerful friends and a good deal of money, that always puts those opposed at a serious disadvantage. Especially when the opposed are disadvantaged young girls who were taken advantage of by a very powerful man in a society that allows this power to be used for the wrong reasons.
From the murder of the highly sexualized pageant queen JonBenet Ramsay to the sexualization of Aaliyah and excusing her marriage to R. Kelly, we’ve too often seen sexualization of children become normalized in our culture. In Epstein’s case, this proves that we can excuse the sexualization of children because it’s what we are used to, and we have powerful people with money that can soften the blow of the information we learn from. We also shift the blame to the victims. Epstein referred to the 14-year-old as a “child prostitute”, a laughable association due to the fact that the age of consent in Florida is 18 and, of course, because federal law calls it child sex trafficking regardless of whether Epstein further trafficked his victims. Children around the age of 16 and 17 who are victims may have a harder time due to being older than other victims and looking more mature, being more prone to the title of “prostitute”.
No matter the age of the victims, many people believe that the child is responsible for the sexual assault, whether that be because of their poor background leading them to be assumed to be more “promiscuous” or because people believe a person of Epstein’s stature would not sink so low as to be with a child. This case is also older, with the victims ranging around 20 to 30 years old now, which might make others believe that the victims should be over it all now that they are older and have grown past their youthful “mistakes” or “adventures”. However, these “mistakes” or “adventures” were a form of trade and nothing more — in one case a victim was given $300 for her time with Epstein. Something she desperately did because of her family’s financial suffering and something that psychologically damaged this victim. Furthermore, these “mistakes” and “adventures” caused severe emotional, psychological, and mental damage resulting in PTSD, anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses after sexual abuse or assault. For many victims, they wanted to move on, forget and didn’t feel that they could talk about this. However, I feel that with this new discussion, they feel that they will be more credible, more courageous and have more of a chance to see their offender be punished.
Epstein’s case is incredibly important because it can be used to crack the normalized facade we use in cases involving the sexual assault and abuse of minors. By further prosecuting him under these new charges of bribery and sex trafficking, we can prove that the powerful people in society and their money are not exempt from punishment due to harming those that they consider weaker than them. It also can be used to, perhaps, not remedy what has happened, due to some victims passing away due to frequent drug use, but could be used as a standard for child sex victims in the future. The movement on holding him accountable has already begun, with Epstein being denied bail on these new charges.
Photo Source: New York Division of Criminal Justice Services