Only the most naive would believe that power and wealth aren’t the best defense for the guilty. This is what makes the stomach-turning case against mega-rich financier Jeffrey Epstein so much the more galling. We don’t want to believe that what happened in his case could happen in a nation under rule of law.
But it did happen. Epstein got away with amounted to a slap on the wrist in his first case for abusing girls — spending a little more than a year in “jail.” In fact, he had the privilege of spending most days at his plush Palm Beach office where he entertained guests including, as The Miami Herald called it, “female friends.”
Our hope is that new charges against Epstein will spotlight the scourge of sex trafficking in a way that will produce a new national resolve to confront this darkness.
According to a federal indictment unsealed Monday in New York, Epstein “sexually exploited and abused dozens of minor girls at his homes” in Manhattan and Palm Beach, Fla., and other locations.
Between 2002 and 2005, the indictment states, Epstein created a “vast network of underage victims for him to sexually exploit” and paid the victimized girls hundreds of dollars to recruit other young girls. Investigators also announced that they seized a large cache of nude photographs of young women from Epstein’s Manhattan townhouse.
As this editorial board has gleaned from conversations with sex trafficking victims, social service advocates and law enforcement agencies in Texas, such heinous scenarios are all too common in the dark recesses of the sex trafficking world. Epstein may be more well-heeled with resources to get a serious crime in Florida reduced to a laughable charge, but the allegations of his actions as john and trafficker detailed in the federal indictment remind us that sex trafficking won’t end until victims are taken seriously and traffickers are prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
This should have been resolved a decade ago, when Epstein seemed enroute to a federal prison for allegedly sexually abusing dozens of minor girls at his Palm Beach mansion. He skirted federal prosecution in 2008 when Alex Acosta — then U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, and now U.S. Labor secretary — stunningly declined to pursue a federal prosecution and allowed Epstein to plead guilty to lesser state prostitution charges. Acosta’s pathetic reasoning for buckling — that Epstein brought to town a superstar defense team including former Baylor president Kenneth Starr — was unfitting of any prosecutor.
Epstein served only 13 months of an incredibly lenient 18-month sentence in a Palm Beach jail — an inexplicable sweetheart deal that permitted him to spend 12 hours a day at an office, six days a week, as part of his work-release privileges and provide him immunity from federal prosecution for his sordid activities in Florida. Not until aggressive investigative reporting last November by The Miami Herald exposed the lenient deal and identified about 80 women who said Epstein molested or sexually abused them did this new look at the case pick up steam.
For us, however, there is a clear takeaway. Victims didn’t get justice, or even their day in court, having been illegally kept in the dark about the plea deal. And it is this sort of malfeasance and indifference that makes it difficult for girls to come forward with the expectation that they will be treated as victims, not criminals, too.
We’ll probably never have a full count of the girls Epstein allegedly molested or allowed to be molested. But it is impossible for anyone with a heart and a sound mind not look at this episode with disgust and righteous indignation.
Sex traffickers ruin victims’ lives, and get away with their perverted atrocities whenever johns fuel demand and the legal system treats sex trafficking victims insensitively. This happens too often every day across the nation. It must end now.
– The Dallas Morning News