A couple of decades have passed since the girls and women abused by billionaire Jeffrey Epstein went unheard and unheeded.
It’s been 10 years since his accusers began a campaign to reopen the case against him.
Three years ago, the Miami Herald published its series, Perversion of Justice, that led New York prosecutors to start investigating again in another effort to put the wealthy sex offender behind bars.
And it’s been more than two years since Epstein was found dead in a Manhattan jail cell, his mysterious suicide coming a month after he was arrested on sex trafficking charges.
Now, finally, someone stands to be held accountable in Epstein’s global sex trafficking scheme.
Ghislaine Maxwell, a 59-year-old former British socialite who was Epstein’s top associate, is facing federal charges in a case that has shown just how different justice can look when you’re rich and all your friends are, too.
Maxwell will have to answer to six charges, including sex trafficking and enticing minors to travel to engage in illegal sex acts, among others. She could end up in prison for decades if she’s convicted. What Epstein escaped in death, she might have to face.
Putting Maxwell on trial isn’t enough, of course. It should also be the former hedge fund manager sitting in that courtroom as well. The alleged victims should have had their chance to confront him, a man whose desire for teenage girls as young as 14 was an open secret in Palm Beach and Manhattan and other playgrounds of the wealthy. Epstein, whose friends included former President Donald Trump, former President Bill Clinton and Great Britain’s Prince Andrew, preyed on underage girls for years and still obtained unheard-of leniency in the criminal justice system.
But it is Maxwell, his former girlfriend and alleged chief procurer, who will be forced to listen to all the ugliness laid out before her, prosecutors say she helped Epstein recruit, groom and sexually abuse girls in the late 1990s and early 2000s. For six weeks — that’s how long lawyers expect the case to last — she’ll have to bear witness to the damage she’s accused of: the lives she helped stunt, the inhumanity that she helped perpetrate. Though she tried an array of legal maneuvers to avoid this moment, she won’t be able to close her ears as it all comes pouring out.
While the focus during the trial will be on Maxwell, and on Epstein as well, it is the accusers who deserve our consideration. They’ll be taking the witness stand to relate, publicly, the trauma they suffered, the humiliation, the ways they were targeted as vulnerable. They’ll have to recount the very thing that they no doubt wish the most to keep from thinking about.
Painful and re-traumatizing as it will no doubt be, we hope it is also a moment of strength, a demonstration of the power of the truth for other women in similar situations, who have been doubted and dismissed. This is a chance to speak the words out loud that need to be said — even when the person who needs to hear them most is dead.
Yes, justice delayed is justice denied, and this case is decades late in coming. But it is never too late for the truth.
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