Here’s the second most important message that the jury in the Ghislaine Maxwell trial delivered in finding her guilty of trafficking minor girls to be sexually exploited. It comes courtesy of a statement by state Sen. Lauren Book, of Broward County: “The brave women who testified in the trials against Maxwell and [Jeffrey] Epstein not only held their own abusers accountable, but also paved the way for other survivors to come forward with the knowledge that they, too, can be heard and believed.
“Times have changed: No matter how rich and powerful, if you seek to harm or exploit children, justice will be served.”
We can only hope.
Strip away the Palm Beach mansion, the Manhattan townhouse, a complicit British socialite, the millionaire A-list men aboard Epstein’s private plane that flew them to his private island — and even the voyeuristic tales of sex (we know it was abuse) with pretty teens, and the victims’ testimony exposed the untold stories of likely millions of young girls and boys. These are stories of abuse at the hands of an authority figure, coaching them, grooming them, guaranteeing their buy-in to their own abuse. Then, when they finally tell someone else in authority, the victims’ claims are ignored, dismissed, hushed up.
We’ve seen school coaches accused of coercing sex from young athletes, and school administrators, once informed, doing little to nothing about it. We’ve seen a mother’s live-in boyfriend sexually abuse her daughter. But the mom, desperate for companionship or the boyfriend’s help with household expenses, fails to protect the young girl. In fact, we have seen priests and pastors and Olympic doctors given better protection — from prosecution — even when the facts are known.
Which is why too many victims don’t come forward. Even when Epstein’s victims did speak up, a U.S. attorney ultimately ignored the depth of his depravity and sent the financier to a comfortable jail for relatively brief time on trafficking charges.
This insidious dynamic is about power, which can’t be measured exclusively in wealth or social status.
It’s imperative that the individuals who have the authority to make a difference, do so. Right now, we live in a society that too often trains victims of sexual abuse to think they are the guilty parties, not empowered to stick up for themselves. And too many institutions affirm that.
Sen. Book, a victim of sexual abuse as a child herself, said in her statement Wednesday that, “Despite evading justice for years, today’s verdict shows that what’s done in darkness will always come to light and that survivors’ voices matter.”
Yes, we can hope so, but, as a society, we must do more than merely cross our fingers.