Julie K. Brown’s Miami Herald story on serial sex offender’s Jeffrey Epstein sweetheart plea deal is a masterwork of investigative reporting. After abusing and trafficking dozens of underage girls, Epstein went to prison for 13 months (months!!) and his co-conspirators got immunity from prosecution. His victims weren’t told about the deal until it was too late to change. The prosecutor who okayed the deal? Trump’s Secretary of Labor, who is now charged with enforcing U.S. labor laws, including laws around human trafficking.
Most of the girls came from disadvantaged families, single-parent homes or foster care. Some had experienced troubles that belied their ages: They had parents and friends who committed suicide; mothers abused by husbands and boyfriends; fathers who molested and beat them. One girl had watched her stepfather strangle her 8-year-old stepbrother, according to court records obtained by the Herald.
Many of the girls were one step away from homelessness.
“We were stupid, poor children,’’ said one woman, who did not want to be named because she never told anyone about Epstein. At the time, she said, she was 14 and a high school freshman.
“We just wanted money for school clothes, for shoes. I remember wearing shoes too tight for three years in a row. We had no family and no guidance, and we were told that we were going to just have to sit in a room topless and he was going to just look at us. It sounded so simple, and was going to be easy money for just sitting there.”
Epstein’s plea is vile not just for the way it allowed him to skirt any real punishment — he spent his 13 months on a work-release program, even though sex offenders aren’t eligible for work-release — but for the way it bent over backward to minimize his actual crimes and smear the victims.
Despite substantial physical evidence and multiple witnesses backing up the girls’ stories, the secret deal allowed Epstein to enter guilty pleas to two felony prostitution charges. Epstein admitted to committing only one offense against one underage girl, who was labeled a prostitute, even though she was 14, which is well under the age of consent — 18 in Florida.
“She was taken advantage of twice — first by Epstein, and then by the criminal justice system that labeled a 14-year-old girl as a prostitute,’’ said Spencer Kuvin, the lawyer who represented the girl.
“It’s just outrageous how they minimized his crimes and devalued his victims by calling them prostitutes,’’ said Yasmin Vafa, a human rights attorney and executive director of Rights4Girls, which is working to end the sexual exploitation of girls and young women.
“There is no such thing as a child prostitute. Under federal law, it’s called child sex trafficking — whether Epstein pimped them out to others or not. It’s still a commercial sex act — and he could have been jailed for the rest of his life under federal law,” she said.