About “Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich” and the myth of victim responsibility
By: Verónica Mesa
This article was inspired by a heated Twitter discussion started by a man who claimed 14 year olds are fully grown women, completely aware of what they are doing and more than capable of consenting to sex with much older men. He states those women are not innocent. I write this to argument just the opposite.
Jeffrey Epstein’s millions gave him notoriety and a sort of celebrity status. Often compared to a modern Gatsby, he was a mysterious figure. Always surrounded by important people, known for hosting great parties and having a large fortune. Despite early rumors (and evidence) of his sexual misconduct with underage women, these would end up being dismissed both by the authorities and his personal social circle of powerful people.
Turns out there is a widely accepted myth that paints rapists as horrible monsters. Therefore, if someone is considered successful in any aspect of their life (earns good money and can afford a luxurious way of life, is attractive, has a great deal of friendships and is well connected, etc.) people tend to disregard, minimize or completely ignore darker aspects of their behavior like sexual misconduct [rapes in this case] with minors.
How can he be a rapist if he is such a nice guy? That’s impossible.
News flash. You can be nice to some people and also be a rapist. In fact, for many predators it is a prerequisite, since they need to find a way to get close to their prey.
Jeffrey Epstein’s hooks were his money, his looks and his smooth and convincing way of talking, an ability that helped him get away with things others wouldn’t. He was an expert manipulator with a practically patented technique and means to live out his perversions as long as he could almost completely unpunished.
To most of us, Epstein wouldn’t even show up in our radar until late 2018 when a Miami Herald article revealed how 10 years earlier he had already mocked the justice system and gotten a laughably light sentence for raping a considerable amount of teenagers in Palm Beach, Florida. A privileged pedophile who had gotten away with it. Two years later, after “committing suicide” in his prison cell when finally awaiting trial for his crimes, Netflix releases a documentary series. The first thing we learn is that he had been reported to the authorities for abusing a teenager since the late 90’s. This means he had around three decades (that we know of) of abusing women, raping minors and getting away with it.
The documentary commits to a powerful narrative twist. It finally puts the survivors front and center and we learn their stories narrated with their own voices, something uncommon with sexual assault where victims are often taken out of the conversation. Most survivors were teenagers when they first met Jeffrey. The girls were lured in with the premise they would receive 200 dollars for giving a rich man a massage.
Here comes the first claim of the victim blamers: why would those girls put themselves in that situation? They should know it is not right to go to an older man’s house to give him a massage. I find it curious that they fail to wonder why a millionaire would need to summon teenagers to give him massages when he can afford professional masseuses.
According to most legal frameworks in the continent, minors (usually people under 18 years old, but it can vary a couple of years in some states and regions) can’t consent to sexual activities with people of age. I’m not trying to be sex negative claiming teenagers shouldn’t have sex or criminalizing their sexual desire, that’s not what I mean. It is just that in no case can a teenage girl and an older man establish any kind of relationship on equal footing, let alone a sexual relationship. Gender, age, income and autonomy place the older man in a position of privilege and authority.
Disparity in resources and maturity are key components here. Many of them lacked both. There is a rich man who wants some massages. How bad can it be? I will get paid for a massage. Me, being young, poor and need the money, well this is a way of earning it.
Most people don’t make 200 dollars a day, let alone if you are an underage woman from a difficult background performing unqualified labor. As you can see the bait was very tempting.
Once they arrived at his imposing mansion, they were escorted to the massage room. When they were about to fulfill their task, Epstein asked them to take off their clothes and perform different kind of sexual activities. When they were done, he would pay them 200 bucks and told them they could always come back for more. He would rape them, give them money as if that had always been the arrangement and then sent them goodbye.
Dude, I didn’t rape her if I paid her afterwards. Many can excuse Epstein acting on his pedophilia precisely by this economic exchange. Behind this allegedly fair and innocent premise lays a dark philosophy; anyone can perform any act over another human for a price, no matter the conditions, or if it violates their human dignity.
According to this logic, he wasn’t a rapist pedophile because he paid them (with money, travels, opportunities, education) and that makes it not a rape but a simple monetary transaction. As if they had not been groomed, recruited and manipulated to get into that situation. As if they didn’t feel already trapped and lacking opportunities because of their family’s backgrounds. As if some of them didn’t think of it as the only way to survive.
However, when the law establishes minors can’t consent to sexual activities with older people it means all sexual activities. So even if the minor had voluntarily agreed to engage in sexual activities for money, the one who is committing the crime is the adult involved.
Ok, but if they didn’t like it, why did they come back? This is another argument the victim blamers like to use.
Shawna Rivera had run away from home because she watched her ex-con father and her stepmother beat her stepbrother to death. She was 14 when she was taken to Jeffrey Epstein’s mansion and he raped her. Shawna kept coming back to the mansion for the next 3 or 4 years.
After you get raped you tell yourself a thousand different things to try to make sense of what happened. Anything is better than being raped. Maybe I got it all wrong. Maybe I did something to provoke him. Maybe I am exaggerating. It is most difficult to admit to yourself you were raped because that means now you are a victim and that is a whole other story.
Nobody wants to be a victim. Especially when you are in a position where you can’t afford to be one. If literally you can’t go to the hospital or the police and get the attention you need. If your guardians can’t find out what happened to you. If you are scared to be blamed. If you don’t have medical insurance and where you live there is no free healthcare. So, it is better to tell yourself anything else. It was a misunderstanding… He gave me money… What if I see him again and he doesn’t rape me? Does that mean we are friends? There are a ton of triggers, fears and insecurities involved for a woman who has been raped.
Epstein, like many other rapists, preyed on teenagers and adult women from very vulnerable conditions. Besides their young age, they also came from impoverished places, with difficult or absent families, or they had already suffered from sexual trauma in the past. Rapists really have a nose for these things. That’s the first stage of grooming, locating an easy prey whose vulnerabilities they can play on.
From early on he would get to know their dreams, aspirations and also their traumas. He said he could help them fulfill their dreams. More importantly, he knew they didn’t have economic stability nor many people in whom they could rely on, so he sold himself as their only option to become “someone in life” and without him they would be nobody. That is why many of them stayed or kept coming back to him. Despite constant abuse and manipulation, they saw him as their only way of improving their current conditions.
Victim-blamers also claim: The girls who recruited the other girls are the real guilty ones
Those girls who were vehemently reluctant to comply with Jeffrey’s wishes and resisted the assault, would end up being involved in his pyramidal scheme since they showed a different kind of character. He told them they could bring friends and he would pay her friends and her for everyone she brought. He would also treat them amicably and present them with gifts. He made them feel part of his circle. He assessed them, their personalities, their needs and from then on decided who would be useful to him for each purpose. The women (young and old) that Epstein chose to involve in his dirty deeds entered a cycle of sexual violence, manipulation and abuse from which is very difficult to get out of.
Can we claim free will when many of the girls thought that was their only possible way? When most of them weren’t even out of high school and knew no job would pay them what he did. When they needed the money to get out of other abusive situations in their homes? When they didn’t have the tools to identify what is happening to them as systematic rape and sexual violence. When they were scared to go to the police because they thought they were going to go after them for receiving money, as effectively happened to a young Haley Robson.
We have to stop minimizing rape, abuse, human trafficking and the predatory schemes which lead to them. A rape is something that scars you for life and if it happens so early on in your personal development (although no matter when it happens it will deeply affect you) it can really mess you up and have negative effects on the way you relate with the rest of the world. It can fuck you up for good.
If we really want to find someone to blame, responsibility lays with Jeffrey Epstein and his partners who also participated in this teenager sex trafficking ring. If we really want to find someone to blame, let’s blame all those silent witnesses, who saw the signs and preferred to turn a blind eye. If we really want to find someone to blame, responsibility lays within a criminal justice system which can easily be corrupted when you have unlimited funds and an All-Star legal council team. If we really want to find someone to blame, we blame all of them. Responsibility never lays with the victims-survivors. Think on it, you victim-blamer.