Jeffrey Epstein’s life has been examined by documentaries, articles and podcasts alike. His wealth, success and powerful network of affluent friends and acquaintances created the illusion that he was a financial genius; a larger than life figure who was charismatic and seemingly well connected. Why else would the rich and powerful flock to him? However, what becomes increasingly clear throughout the Netflix documentary “Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich” is that Jeffrey Epstein was not special. Jeffrey Epstein was not particularly talented. Jeffrey Epstein was a sophisticated sex trafficker bent on exploiting vulnerabilities with the same tactics used by traffickers across the United States, and beyond. The only thing unique about Epstein his immense wealth and privileged access to a global network of the world’s most powerful individuals.
Vast resources allowed Epstein to abuse hundreds of underage girls for himself and his powerful friends. What made Epstein particularly dangerous was the power and prestige attached to his name. As demonstrated in the documentary, Epstein was able to silence victims’ voices, make investigations disappear, and strike deals with law enforcement resulting in soft punishments. Limitless money and social influence clearly set Epstein apart from most traffickers but utilizing power over victims is “trafficking 101”. Most traffickers utilize a combination of resources, knowledge, and gender disparity in order to silence their victims and perpetuate a cycle of abuse. Epstein was no exception.
After decades of alluding serious punishment for his abusive actions, Epstein was finally indicted on federal trafficking charges in 2019. Under federal law, sex trafficking is defined as is the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, obtaining, patronizing, or soliciting of a person for the purposes of a commercial sex act, in which the commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age (22 USC § 7102). A The term “commercial sex act” means any sex act, on account of which anything of value is given to or received by any person. (18 USCS § 1591). The federal law is intentionally broad in order to capture the vast ways in which traffickers exploit their victims. The law is especially illustrative of a case like Epstein’s where he purchased sex from children and adults using force, fraud, and coercion. But he also recruited, harbored, transported, provided, obtained, and solicitated victims to engage in commercial sex acts with his friends.
The unsealed indictment confirmed the ways in which Epstein trafficked women and girls, revealing the pattern of recruitment and sexual abuse the survivors interviewed in “Filthy Rich” attested to in great detail. Epstein would manipulate his primarily minor victims to recruit others. This process was replicated hundreds, perhaps thousands of times. A victim would convince a friend to come to Epstein’s house to give him a massage in exchange for money. That victim would offer to drive the friend to his house. That victim would wait outside while the friend was abused by Epstein. Then, Epstein would offer the victim more money to recruit additional victims. Financial vulnerabilities coupled with the fear of Epstein’s power pressured his victims to follow orders. This tactic of recruitment was Epstein’s way of convincing girl after girl to come to his home. As a result, the twisted circle of exploitation and abuse continued for decades and spanned across continents.
“Filthy Rich” makes it a point to emphasize the plight of trafficking victims who are consistently overlooked and silenced, even when they choose to report. Epstein and his network of abusers preyed on vulnerable youth and young women who were struggling with familial abandonment, poverty, drug dependency and prior sexual trauma. Shauna Rivera and Haley Robson, describe their recruitment in the first episode of the documentary. Shauna Rivera had been through immense trauma, had no money and very little family. Haley Robson had a supportive family, but a sexual assault at fifteen led her to self-medicate through frequent drug and alcohol abuse. Choosing victims that the world deems troubled, or simply not “worthy” of victimhood strategically allows predators to fly under the radar. Community apathy towards the circumstances of “troubled” young people acts as a passive enabler in Epstein’s case, and the case of so many other survivors.
Epstein used his financial and social capital to maintain his trafficking enterprise, and his power to scare victims into silence. While the specific tactics he employed could not have been possible without the clout being a famous financier, he is not the first nor will he the last man to sexually abuse marginalized individuals. Human trafficking is a crime that preys upon the vulnerable to satisfy the privileged. Men, like Epstein, use their money to purchase sexual access to the bodies of others, with little to no regard for anything other than their own pleasure. The entitlement at the heart of all commercial sexual transactions is universal and does not discriminate. From the man who solicits an 18-year-old for sex online, to the guy who takes a trip to Germany to visit a brothel, a perceived entitlement to the bodies of others is what keeps human trafficking and the sex trade alive. Epstein was a prolific predator enabled by wealth, but his desire to please himself at the cost of others continues to be mirrored by every human trafficker and every person who purchases sex.