Recently I published a post about the arrest of 66-year-old hedge fund billionaire Jeffrey Epstein, charged with sex trafficking and paying underage girls to give “massages” in his luxurious homes and Virgin Islands retreats. The irony of the latter destination should not be lost on anyone.
A few days ago, it was reported that he took his own life in a New York jail cell. Few will mourn, many will sleep more easily. In my opinion, he showed us he was too timid to face the shameful crimes for which he stood accused.
What else does this tell me about Epstein? Well, that perhaps he felt remorse about misusing his power and wealth, hiding behind his position, money and lawyers to keep from the public gaze to avoid the full legal wrath for his crimes. But I don’t think I’m fooling anyone: much more likely this predator was ashamed about being exposed and abandoned by rich friends, more than he was feeling conscience-stricken.
By committing the ultimate act of avoidance, suicide, Epstein has dodged allowing the women, some as young as 14, the chance to have their day in court. At the very least, they deserve the opportunity to speak of how Epstein’s vileness has altered the course of their lives, and then witness his punishment for poisoning the adolescence of so many young women. He was facing around 45 years in jail, society’s measure of the seriousness of his crimes.
However, his recent suicide means none of this will happen. Epstein’s rich and famous pals who happily availed themselves of his illicit sexual largesse won’t have the opportunity to see what happens to those who flaunt the law in this way. However, they clearly lack the morality to understand how appalling their behaviour is anyway, if their public ducking and weaving is any guide. So, is there a way that we can still bring Epstein’s and his accomplices’ crimes to account, even though he’s no longer here?
Instead of closing the book, I think it’s time to read further into the chapter. We know child sex trafficking is rampant and, if even only some of the stories we are hearing are true, there is a pervasive cancer infecting a large cohort of rich, well-connected men. How can we, as a society, shine the light of exposure into these dark corners of our humanity. Is there a way we can look at what happened with Epstein so that his death was indeed not in vain and the many victims can still feel as though justice is possible? And, more importantly perhaps, that a legacy from their suffering may even be created.
Whether official or not, a conversation has begun, and the public are more aware and less tolerant of misogynistic, sociopathic behaviour perpetrated by powerful men. Young women are also becoming more informed and aware, more protective of themselves, as they should be, and more likely to look after one another. I would like more to be done from a higher level too and believe that this is entirely possible and in fact, integral to change.
As a society we must not let this episode be for nothing and need to be calling loud and long to our political leaders to step up and be counted. They have mostly ignored the calls or meted out their platitudes; some have even been complicit in these crimes against vulnerable young women. I suspect many still are.
Many brave young women have gathered the courage to come forward and have set a fine example to us, and the result has been less than ideal for them, though perhaps Epstein’s death may be partly attributable to their voices.
Let this be the start, not the end, of this investigation.
Read more commentary from Lily Yang at Lily’s website plus her books and charity work.
This article was first published on Medium