scorecardresearch
OPINION | renée graham

Everyone knew about Jeffrey Epstein. Nobody cared

A protestor holds up a sign of Jeffrey Epstein in front of the Federal courthouse on July 8 in New York City.
A protestor holds up a sign of Jeffrey Epstein in front of the Federal courthouse on July 8 in New York City.(Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)

SERIAL SEXUAL ABUSE takes more than a predilection for predation. It requires enablers, too — both explicit and implicit.

According to published reports, Jeffrey Epstein, a man of seemingly vast and certainly mysterious wealth, had associates who helped recruit teenage girls into his lair of trafficking and sexual assault. He also had friends who knew Epstein was a registered sex offender and accused pedophile, but treated the allegations as little more than a nasty habit best ignored.

In the toniest circles of Manhattan and Palm Beach, the rich and famous flocked to his lavish homes for parties, flew on his planes, and went scuba diving off the coast of his private Caribbean islands. Befriended by former and future presidents, Epstein made contributions to politicians, and burnished his reputation as a philanthropist with major donations to top-notch universities, including Harvard and MIT.

Everyone knew. And except for Julie K. Brown, the intrepid Miami Herald reporter who pursued the Epstein story for two years, few gave a damn.

Advertisement



“What is so amazing to me is how his entire social circle knew about this and just blithely overlooked it . . . all mentioned the girls, as an aside,” said Vicky Ward, who interviewed Epstein for a 2003 Vanity Fair profile, but claims her editor, Graydon Carter, removed all references to the accusations.

Like Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, and R. Kelly, Epstein was suspected of sexual misconduct, and enjoyed relative impunity for decades. Even when he was arrested for multiple counts of unlawful sex acts with a minor in 2006, Epstein received extraordinary leniency in a secret deal brokered by Alexander Acosta, then a US attorney for the Southern District of Florida, and now labor secretary in the Trump administration. (He announced Friday that he would resign July 19.)

Advertisement



After Cosby’s carefully curated public image finally crashed in 2014, David Carr, the late New York Times media critic, called out the comedian’s enablers — including himself. “We all have our excuses,” he wrote, “but in ignoring these claims, we let down the women who were brave enough to speak out publicly against a powerful entertainer.”

To be a woman, to be a survivor of sexual assault, often means being let down.

Cosby is in prison, and Weinstein and Kelly are awaiting trial. And as with those men, only now are people beating a mean retreat away from Epstein — none more so than President Trump. After Epstein’s recent arrest on sex trafficking charges, Trump said he was “not a fan.” That’s not what he told New York magazine in 2002 when he called Epstein a “terrific guy” and “a lot of fun to be with.”

Of course, the president himself has been accused of sexual misconduct by at least 17 women, including writer E. Jean Carroll, who last month alleged she was raped by Trump in the mid-1990s. And his administration has always been rife with men accused of violent or objectionable behavior against women.

Recently General John Hyten, tapped to be the next vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was cleared in an investigation of a junior female officer’s claims that he made unwanted sexual advances, then tried to upend her career when he was rebuffed. She has not backed down from her accusations.

Advertisement



Facing calls for his resignation, Acosta, at a Wednesday press conference, claimed, “We now have 12 years of knowledge and hindsight, and we live in a very different world. Today’s world treats victims very, very differently.”

No, it doesn’t.

Too often, survivors are still regarded as lying whores hungry for money and attention, or are branded as shock troops in a clandestine war many men believe is being waged against them.

October will mark two years since the first stories about the Weinstein accusations were published, launching the viral rise of the #MeToo movement, founded by Tarana Burke a decade earlier. It may have empowered girls and women to be more outspoken about sexual assault, but that still hasn’t translated into a general willingness to listen or believe.

This problem deepens when the accused is a man of power and privilege who has all the right friends in all the right places. And Epstein was allowed to operate in plain sight because those who knew the truth willfully looked the other way.


Renée Graham can be reached at renee.graham@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @reneeygraham.