Sunday, May 16, 2021

Women Don't Protect Other Women

politico |   Jeffrey Epstein has become a near-universal villain in the public eye. Dozens of women, some of whom were as young as 14 at the time, have accused him of molesting them over two decades, primarily in the 1990s and 2000s, in Florida, New York and New Mexico, as well as on his private Caribbean island. A number of powerful men, from Britain’s Prince Andrew to lawyer Alan Dershowitz, have been accused in court documents of having sex with a young woman Epstein introduced them to, allegations both men deny. One male associate of Epstein’s has been charged in France. Other influential men were friends with Epstein or accepted his money. Yet after reporting on Epstein for months and speaking to associates like Oh, I came to a realization: Beyond these men exists a group of women, possibly even larger, who helped keep Epstein’s massive sex-trafficking operation running for more than 20 years.

Dozens of these women worked for Epstein, formally or informally. If you think of this group as a pyramid, at the top sits Maxwell, a longtime Epstein employee and confidante who now stands accused of recruiting minors for Epstein and sex-trafficking a 14-year-old girl, charges she denies. Below her were women Epstein employed as assistants, who allegedly scheduled and managed dozens of minors for Epstein to abuse. There were also women like Oh who brought friends to meet Epstein and received gifts or access to his wealth.

These women aren’t household names, even for people following Epstein’s story. But his victims say they were key to grooming and deceiving them and allowing Epstein to operate with impunity. In fact, most of Epstein’s victims were introduced to him through other women, according to the 12 victims I’ve spoken with over the past year and a half, as well as dozens of allegations in court and in the media. Often, victims say, it was the women around Epstein who tried to make them feel comfortable, as if what they were experiencing was normal or harmless.

Once Epstein began to face legal scrutiny, other women made it easier for him to rehabilitate himself and reemerge with his power and social cachet largely intact. Two women served as the lead prosecutors on his case when he first faced charges, in 2006, and were closely involved in crafting his federal non-prosecution agreement, plea deal and lenient sentence. For those without deep knowledge of the case, Epstein’s short incarceration of 13 months in a county jail could be read as a signal that, whatever crime he had committed, it wasn’t that bad. After his release, a number of female socialites and professionals helped to welcome Epstein, by then a registered sex offender, back into elite circles. His abuse then continued, court documents assert.

To point this out is not to excuse any of the men or prestigious institutions—universities, banks, funds—that also helped to protect Epstein, nor is it meant to hold women to a higher standard. But as a woman myself, I have been struck by the sheer number of women around Epstein, and many of the victims I’ve spoken with say they feel especially betrayed by those who violated the unspoken rule that women protect other women, especially minors.