Over the past several years, the Epstein and Maxwell case has captured the eye of world news. Our hearts ache for each person who was victimized by Epstein and his accomplices. And we are eager to see them heard and acknowledged by the criminal justice system.
There’s actually quite a bit about this case that echoes the experiences of the children we have served in our programs, children whose traffickers were not elite or famous. To that end, here are a few things that we can learn about child trafficking from the Epstein and Maxwell case.
Grooming has a playbook.
When we say “grooming” we’re talking about the process predators use to gain trust with a child and prepare them for sexual exploitation. Epstein and Maxwell’s alleged tactics of finding and grooming children were textbook.
- Vulnerability Targeted: They looked for youth with financial need or histories of trauma.
- Manipulation: Valuables and special treatment were given prior to exploitation creating an illusion of indebtedness.
- Trust gained: …with statements like “You’re so beautiful,” and “I’m gonna take care of you.”
- Peer Recruitment: Epstein & Maxwell were accused of bribing children into bringing others for sexual exploitation
Who are traffickers?
Traffickers are certainly not all billionaires. But what happened in the Epstein and Maxwell case further highlights that traffickers don’t fit one stereotype, and can be…
- well-respected or relatively unknown
- wealthy or impoverished
- a family member, “friend”, “romantic partner” or someone else
- a woman, man, or person of any gender
Victims took money home.
There is a false narrative that victims of trafficking never keep any money; sometimes victims do receive money. That does not negate what they experienced or their trauma. These were vulnerable children who were targeted and exploited.
According to federal law, children being used for commercial sex are victims of trafficking. It’s trafficking, it’s a crime. Remember: Child sex trafficking occurs any time someone exchanges something of value for a sex act with a minor.
People saw and didn’t help.
The crimes were hidden, but not invisible. Some may not have known the signs of child trafficking, while others may have chosen to stay silent. This is why awareness is so important: It allows more people to recognize signs, normalizes asking questions, and provides information on where to go for help. Even if it’s not safe or we are not able to step in at the moment, there are ways to safely report crime. The National Hotline Number is 1-888-737-3888. Don’t live in a world full of suspicion, but if you see children being exploited, don’t be a bystander – say something.
Victims struggle to see justice.
Epstein’s power to buy or blackmail his way out of consequences is deeply disturbing. While it’s impossible to say how common or uncommon this is, we can say that it is notoriously difficult to recieve justice in cases of sex trafficking and exploitation.
We’ve stood alongside children as they’ve testified against their traffickers in court. We’ve also grieved and processed with many others who haven’t had that chance or have seen their perpetrators receive very light sentences.
We’re thankful for people like Hon. Judge Richard Berman. By keeping Epstein’s trial open after his death, Berman did what was in his power to ensure that victims had a chance to testify and be heard. Maybe it wasn’t everything, but it was something. Sarah Ransome, a survivor in this case said,
“For the first time, I actually saw someone in a position of power who actually had any form of respect for us. And he listened. And that’s all I ever wanted was for someone to listen and someone to hear me.” 1
We need to continue investing in effective, sustainable solutions.
There’s a lot we can learn from the Epstein and Maxwell case.
Children are being trafficked, victims are being criminalized and re-victimized, and justice is going unserved. We need to collectively take ownership. It’s time to learn about the issue. It’s time to listen to victims. It’s time to look for redflags and ensure that children have the resources and support they need to thrive.
1. Ransome, Sarah. Bryant, Lisa, Dir. Netfilx. Jeffrey Epstein:Filthy Rich, 2020. Film.