Continuing to listen to Jeffrey Epstein’s victims

When The Miami Herald’s Julie K. Brown broke an explosive story late last year about a past lenient plea deal scored by Jeffrey Epstein, the sex offender and financier, justice for Epstein’s victims was front of mind. Brown started reporting before the allegations against Harvey Weinstein sparked the #MeToo movement, but her investigation moved it forward regardless: “At a time when Olympic gymnasts and Hollywood actresses have become a catalyst for a cultural reckoning about sexual abuse, Epstein’s victims have all but been forgotten,” Brown wrote. “The women—now in their late 20s and early 30s—are still fighting for an elusive justice that even the passage of time has not made right.” Last month, after federal officials arrested Epstein on sex trafficking charges, Brown once again centered the survivors. “Oh my God,” one of them, Michelle Licata, told her. “Finally, finally, finally! Justice!”

Then Epstein killed himself. Many of his victims were shocked and incensed: “I just wanted him to be held accountable for his actions,” Licata told Brown. “I would never wish that somebody would die, but he took the easy way out.” Justice, it seemed, had eluded them again; many journalists echoed that sentiment. But Epstein’s suicide has not curtailed their story or his, at least not yet. In the two-and-a-half weeks since his death, his accusers have continued to speak out, and public attention has shifted toward his purported associates and the systems that repeatedly allowed Epstein to escape accountability—including in death.

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In the days following Epstein’s suicide, Jennifer Araoz—who came forward with a rape claim against Epstein after his arrest but before his death—filed a civil suit against his estate and his alleged accomplices, taking advantage of a freshly enacted New York law allowing survivors to revive claims that would otherwise be barred under the statute of limitations. “I want my story to hold Epstein to account and also his recruiters, the workers on his payroll who knew what he was doing and the prominent people around him who helped conceal and perpetuate his sex-trafficking scheme,” Araoz wrote in a New York Times op-ed. One of the prominent people around Epstein—Ghislaine Maxwell, the socialite who has been accused of trafficking girls on Epstein’s behalf—has found herself the subject of sharp media scrutiny, as has Prince Andrew, the son of Queen Elizabeth II of Britain who, along with a cluster of other powerful men, has also been accused of complicity in Epstein’s sex crimes. (Maxwell and Andrew deny all wrongdoing.)

On Monday, Mike Baker, of the Times, told the stories of Maria and Annie Farmer—sisters who say they were abused by Epstein and Maxwell—both in print and in a wrenching episode of the paper’s Daily podcast. The Farmers are the first women known to have reported Esptein to the authorities, but at the time, their case went nowhere. Vicky Ward, the author of a 2003 Vanity Fair profile of Epstein, has alleged that Graydon Carter, then the magazine’s editor, scratched the Farmers’ testimony from her article. Carter says their claims did not pass legal muster, but has previously been accused of caving to pressure from Epstein. Last week, NPR’s David Folkenflik reported that Epstein may have been responsible for sending a bullet and a severed cat’s head to Carter’s homes—part of a broader look at the media’s long-term failure to properly investigate Epstein.

Yesterday, nearly two dozen of Epstein’s accusers gathered in court in Manhattan to share their experiences. A federal judge had convened the hearing following a motion to drop the charges against Epstein in light of his death; normally, such motions are a formality, but the court, in this instance, gave Epstein’s victims a chance to have their say for the record. According to the Times, it was a cathartic experience. Sixteen victims spoke in person. Some entered written statements. Reporters weren’t allowed to record in the courtroom but they crammed in anyway; afterward, they crowded round as some of the victims gave a press conference outside. “All I’m going to say is today is a day of power and strength,” Teala Davies, one of the victims, said.

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The victims got their day in court—but they won’t get days in court. Epstein’s death has clearly robbed them of the long, high-profile trial that would have fixed media attention on Epstein’s conduct. It is a disgrace that he was able to kill himself while in jail, and the press should continue to investigate how it was allowed to happen. If we are diligent, in fact, we can ensure that the fight for justice outlives Epstein in more ways than answering the questions posed by his death. Lawsuits related to his estate will move forward, as will the investigation into alleged co-conspirators. The Herald reports that yesterday’s unusual, survivor-centered hearing could in itself “serve as a catalyst for change in the way the US criminal justice system treats victims of sexual assault.” The press can cover all of this. And it can continue to produce hard-hitting journalism centering victims’ stories.

Days after Epstein’s death, Rachel Denhollander—who was the first woman to publicly allege assault by Larry Nassar, the former USA Gymnastics team doctor—wrote for Vox that the Epstein story is still a chance to “to dispel cultural myths about rape and abuse. To show how power and money are wielded. To expose how traffickers work, and how those who help them operate.” The survivors, she said, are still here. “His victims have quite literally survived him.”

Below, more on Jeffrey Epstein, and victims:


Other notable stories:

  • On Monday, amid reports of a bedbug infestation at the Times, Dave Karpf, a media professor at George Washington University, tweeted “the bedbugs are Bret Stephens,” a joking reference to the conservative Times columnist reviled by many on the left. The tweet got only a handful of engagements, but that didn’t stop Stephens emailing Karpf—and cc’ing GW’s provost—to tell Karpf to “call me a bedbug to my face.” The story then exploded. On MSNBC, Stephens said the insult echoed the rhetoric of totalitarian regimes. Karpf spoke to Slate and wrote for Esquire; Stephens cc’ing the provost, Karpf said, was “an exercise in wielding power—using the imprimatur of The New York Times to ward off speech that he finds distasteful.” Last night, Trump—whose Doral resort was just accused of a bedbug problempoked fun, too.
  • Two weeks from tomorrow, Houston will host the next Democratic primary debate; ABC News’s George Stephanopoulos, David Muir, Linsey Davis, and Jorge Ramos will moderate. Today is the deadline for candidates to qualify. So far—thanks to stricter rules than for the first and second rounds of debates—only 10 have made the stage, the maximum number allowed on a single night. But polls out today could push another candidate—most likely California billionaire Tom Steyer or Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard—over the line. If an eleventh candidate does make it, the debate will split across two nights—a prospect some campaigns are dreading, CNN’s Brian Stelter reports.
  • For The Washington Post Magazine, Scott Nover explores how reporters for niche outlets took over DC: according to Pew data, speciality journalists now outnumber daily newspaper reporters on Capitol Hill. “Trade publications… are often more financially viable these days than writing for a general audience,” Nover writes, “because unlike average readers, those who want trade news are willing to pay for it.”
  • In a worrying economic climate for local newspapers, paid obituaries are a rare reliable source of revenue, Axios’s Sara Fischer and Alison Snyder report. In addition to paying a range of printing fees, bereaved family members often load up on print copies. But “the financial strain on newspapers, in which obituary rates increased over the years, makes it easier for the rich to be remembered,” Fischer and Snyder write.
  • Nieman Reports has an excerpt from a new book by Christopher R. Martin that explores the mainstream media’s abandonment of the working class. “Today there are just six full-time labor reporters in the top 25 newspapers across the US, none in network or cable news, none at NPR or PBS, and just a few at digital news organizations and magazines on the left,” Martin writes.
  • Last week, Amir Tohid Fazel, a journalist with an Iranian state news agency, fled a press pool traveling with Mohammad Javad Zarif, the country’s foreign minister, and applied for residency in Sweden, CNN’s Per Nyberg, Sara Mazloumsaki, and Jonny Hallam report. Fazel says he was the subject of an arrest warrant after he revealed citizenship and residency ties between top officials and countries that Iran considers to be enemies.
  • On Monday, Oregon’s Portland Mercury reported that Andy Ngo, a controversial right-wing writer, saw far-right activists planning violence in the city but did not report it. The same day, Quillette, the conservative website where Ngo worked, announced his departure. Claire Lehmann, Quillette’s top editor, said Ngo quit the site weeks ago for “bigger & better projects,” but that the news was not made public at the time.
  • And Joel Pollak, a reporter for Breitbart, says Beto O’Rourke ejected him from a campaign speech in South Carolina yesterday. Per CNN’s Caroline Kenny, “a police officer walked in with an advance staffer and they asked [Pollak] to come with them. He never came back in the room.”

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Jon Allsop is a freelance journalist. He writes CJR's newsletter The Media Today. Find him on Twitter @Jon_Allsop.