Posted by Diya Narag
TW: Child sexual abuse and rape
Netflix’s new docu-series ‘Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich’ is the story of the powerful American financier who used his money and power to sexually assault women and underage girls. He was also reportedly involved in trafficking and running prostitution rackets for the infamous people he was connected to. The four-part series gives an insight into the life of Jeffrey Epstein who, high on his money, power and connections, would stop at nothing to turn his perverted fantasies real.
Jeffrey Epstein was charged with the sexual abuse and trafficking of at least 40 underage girls – one even aged 14 – and then paid them to get others involved. According to a report by The Atlantic, a detective investigating Epstein’s case termed it a ‘sex pyramid scheme’. The series – that predominantly allows the survivors to narrate their stories of abuse, shows how Jeffrey Epstein projected a saviour image and used the technique of child grooming to abuse the survivors.
Also read: Being A Survivor Of Child Sexual Abuse Cannot And Should Not Define Me
Saviour Image And Child Grooming
Often, Jeffrey Epstein would ask the girls to give him a massage in exchange for 200 USD. This modus operandi was seen as quite similar to that used by Harvey Weinstein to sexually assault women. Later, a New York Times report accessed cached documents that revealed that Epstein used ‘massage’ as a code to demand sex. The docu-series revealed that Epstein would promise them odd jobs and admissions in top universities and as a result, some of the survivors felt obliged to Jeffrey Epstein for having improved their lives and what he was asking them was a small price to pay. Some even believed that he was their boyfriend. Some recounted how it was only in retrospect that they realized that Epstein was abusing them.
A 2019 Miami Herald report stated that one of the survivors – Sarah Ransome alleged that Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell (Epstein’s then girlfriend) threatened to physically harm her as well as thwart her career prospects if she refused to comply with their demands. Epstein flew some survivors to his private island as his assistants, and eventually abused them in a completely desolate locality where they could not contact anyone. Many girls believed they deserved this brutal treatment.
The girls Jeffrey Epstein didn’t have sex with, he paid to recruit more girls to bring to him, hence making it a vicious never-ending pyramid scheme of deceit, trauma and objectification of these children. Maxwell was also involved in trafficking these young girls for him and often using a “calm and soothing” voice to gaslight them. Epstein had also employed a bunch of other models who acted as recruiters for him to perpetuate the cycle.
Child grooming, another aspect of Jeffrey Epstein’s strategy, is about establishing a sexual relationship with a minor by an offender and making the child feel the abuse is normal or that they have no choice. According to Psychology Today, offenders do this by building a relationship and emotional connection with the child. They could do this by acting as the child’s mentor, as a familial figure in their life, gaining their trust and getting them to share their secrets. The predators could also get close to the family members of the minors involved to gain their trust as well. Then they usually use emotional manipulation tactics to sexually abuse the child and normalize it for them. For example, blackmailing the minor by threatening to expose their secrets or telling them they asked them for something because they love them.
Another tactic that is highlighted in the docu-series is how Jeffrey Epstein’s targets were often women who have already been dealt a bad hand in the past. These women were from lower economic strata, broken homes, in desperate need of money and those who have survived abuse, etc. What bound most of them together was that they all wanted to earn desperately and Epstein fed on this insecurity to abuse them.
The Elite Boys Locker Room
The documentary brought to light Jeffrey Epstein’s elite social circle and connections which included Prince Andrew, Donald Trump, Bill Clinton, among others. Virginia Giuffre, one of the survivors, spoke about how Epstein trafficked and raped her, and then forced her to serve his friends the same way she had served him. Even though Prince Andrew denied all allegations, Giuffre clearly identified him as one of the perpetrators who sexually assaulted her when she was merely 17. Reportedly, there is also photographic evidence of the two of them together at Jeffrey Epstein’s private island, a fact that was also corroborated by one of Epstein’s telecommunication workers at the island.
This vicious social circle that Epstein and other powerful men reportedly formed is a brohomie built on sexual deviations. The impunity that Epstein enjoyed between 2002-2005 is absurd and frightening. Jeffrey Epstein looted businessmen and transferred their money to illegal offshore accounts, was a pathological liar and was knee-deep in fraudulent pyramid ponzi schemes. He had the facade of a suave and charming man with remarkable entrepreneurial skills and it seems, he used the same manipulation skills to groom children and prey on their vulnerabilities.
Finally when justice was served and Jeffrey Epstein was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2019, he died shortly after, mysteriously in his jail cell. In the documentary, he is not seen admitting to committing child sexual abuse, showing any guilt or acknowledging how he induced trauma for many of his victims.
An important facet of the docu-series is how the survivors got a chance to control the narrative and play a part in sharing their stories themselves, thus wielding agency over their own narratives. The documentary also gave viewers a glimpse into some survivors’ careers and family lives, thus destigmatizing the idea of survivors not being able to lead “conventionally normal” lives.
Media’s Portrayal Of Child Sexual Abuse
The docu-series manages to highlight how little we discuss sex education and the fine line between consent and coercion. In the rare times that we discuss child sexual abuse, we largely discuss the stigma around it and sometimes even participating in propagating the same. The media sensationalises but does not highlight the manipulation techniques employed by the predators and offenders as much as the ‘character’ of the survivors. Merely reporting an incident without delving into the reason it took place,understanding the motive of the perpetrator and the conditions in which it took places, only creates anxiety instead of educating the masses.
According to a report by The News Minute, in 2017 Hasini, a 7 year old girl from Chennai was sexually assaulted and murdered by a neighbor in her colony. Irresponsible reporting by media outlets, playing videos of her charred body and giving inaccurate accounts of Hasini’s whereabouts when the incident took place, forced her family to relocate to another city.
Also read: The Ticking Bomb Called Online Child Sexual Abuse
It is important to highlight the different modalities used by predators to target children and teenagers. These could include blackmail, emotional manipulation and preying on other specific vulnerabilities. In many cases there is so much more to sexual assault than what meets the eye, especially when younger, more impressionable individuals involved. In another case of online sexual grooming, a 13 year old girl in Tirupur was lured and raped by a 21 year old man, after he befriended her on Facebook.
Due to increased presence of sexual offenders on digital platforms that children access, Maharashtra police launched ‘Operation Black-Face’ to tackle cases of child pornography and monitor these digital offences.
How To Assure Children Safe Spaces To Open Up
According to Dr Shelja Sen children with supportive parents and emotionally safe spaces at homes, grow into confident individuals with a sense of emotional security.
Children need to be assured that their homes and parents form safe spaces where and to whom they could open up to and express their sadness, anger, joy and whatever else that they are feeling, freely, writes Dr Sen in Pune Mirror. This could further help them trustingly open up to their parents in the unfortunate situation that they face child sexual abuse.
Lastly, we as accountable men, women and gender-fluid individuals, should be ready to dismantle the system one day at a time. We could start with encouraging the voices in the MeToo movements, quashing rape culture one joke at a time, understanding that nuances of consent and always listening to any survivor instead of finding ways to shut them up.
The Jeffrey Epstein docu-series imply how the words man, power and responsibility almost seem incongruent to each other. The Me Too movement in India that highlighted the names of many prominent men such as Nana Patekar, Sajid Khan, Alok Nath, and MJ Akbar is an indication of the same.
Epstein, you represented all men who walk free without facing due consequences for their actions, and we see you. Believe me when we say, we’re not being over-sensitive, resentful or irrational. We’re angry and we’re coming for you!
Diya Narag is a political science graduate of Lady Shri Ram College for Women. She likes exploring the world today through prose and poetry. She is passionate about reading, a true-blue movie buff and an ardent advocate of human rights issues, particularly concerning women, children and the marginalised. You can find her on Facebook.