How well-connected billionaire financiers target sex trafficking victims
As the Epstein case dominates the national headlines, I’ve studied image after image of the well-turned socialite: Epstein at a party with a future U.S. president, his hand on a woman’s waist; Epstein’s pristine, gated Florida house, his Manhattan brownstone, his palatial Caribbean island; Epstein posing for his sexual offender registry photo, his face lined, one corner of his mouth upturned.
The story is ugly, and visible, and politically charged. It’s a story of years of notorious human sex trafficking that went virtually unpunished and became on-going.
So how does a powerful man with near limitless resources recruit prostitutes for his trafficking ring?
He didn’t use his vast network to find women with specific skills. He didn’t have a particular body type, or face shape, or a hair color in mind. He wasn’t looking in the high-class districts for well-groomed women.
Turns out, well-connected billionaire financiers target sex trafficking victims just like everyone else. They prey on the most vulnerable human beings they can find, and Epstein was no exception. The more desperate, and the younger, the better.
A recent federal indictment describes his victims as “particularly vulnerable to exploitation.” They were underage girls with ages ranging from 13-17, aligning neatly with the national averages. Many came from impoverished families, single-parent homes or from the foster care system. Though young, several of the girls had already experienced abuse and neglect. Many were on the brink of homelessness.
Because it’s not all about the sex. It’s also about power and control.
Sex trafficking victims across the United States follow a similar pattern of vulnerability – with most completely lacking a support system. Almost 85% of trafficked individuals were formerly dependents of the welfare system. A disproportionate percentage of victims come from diverse racial backgrounds or identify as LGBT. Studies show that 25% of runaway teens will be approached by a sex trafficker within 48 hours of their flight. Many of these young people use “survival sex” in order to meet their most basic needs.
To get cooperation, Epstein used money as a motivator, paying hundreds of dollars to gain the girls’ trust in the beginning and to keep them from testifying against him in the end. Many sex traffickers similarly lure their victims with promises of security and opportunity, but eventually use fear and force to keep them working.
It was the Miami Herald that turned the national spotlight on the Epstein case with a series of articles by an investigative reporter. Around 80 victims of Epstein’s abuses came forward. That’s 80 girls who reported incidences of rape and sexual assault. The original police report mentioned over 100 girls.
And Epstein’s sentence for sexually assaulting and trafficking scores of children? 13 months’ jail time. And that’s with a 12-hour-a-day work release. Six days out of seven.
Slap on the wrist.
These girls were not only vulnerable, but voiceless. They had already experienced abuse. They had already experienced neglect, already had their personal boundaries crossed. These girls did what they needed to do to survive, and they were exploited in the cruelest manner.
The truth is, as a society, we failed these victims twice. Once when they felt they had no other option than to continue to work under these conditions, returning to the man who raped them. And secondly, when it took years of prosecution and a long string of testimony after testimony to produce such an insipid conviction.
As a nation, we can do better. We can show support, not blame, for those who become entangled in the sex trafficking web. We can listen to victims and prosecute with firmness those who sell or purchase other human beings. We can create safe spaces for vulnerable youth. We can open the conversation about unconditional respect for all others, particularly in our interactions involving sex. We can promote strong, sustainable family relationships, stopping neglect before it starts.
Because her life hangs in the balance.
LETS Empower is an international non-profit committed to promoting intentional fertility awareness and education. We strive to empower women and the men they love. Visit our website at http://www.LetsEmpower.org and bring your own passion to the cause.