Jeffrey Epstein, the billionaire charged with sex trafficking minors, was found injured in his Manhattan jail cell on Thursday. Either Epstein did this to himself or – far from his private jets and mansions – he encountered the honor of thieves. It’s understandable to not feel any sympathy for a wealthy and powerful man who exploited and abused children in the most disgusting of ways. However, it’s worth considering whether characters like Epstein have become scapegoats for something in which we are all complicit.
Over 10 years ago, Epstein was charged with the sexual abuse of underage girls, but managed to use his money and influence to wiggle out of a long sentence and keep off the sex offender’s list. After striking a deal with prosecutors, he served 13 months in a state jail. But such leniency doesn’t fly in the age of #MeToo. The charges Epstein now faces – sex trafficking and conspiracy – are at the federal level, and he could be looking at a 45-year sentence. It isn’t just him, either. Days after his arrest, the singer R. Kelly was brought in on charges of creating child pornography.
My National Review colleague Kyle Smith, writes: ‘In years to come, anyone learning about the Jeffrey Epstein case will ask: why didn’t anybody raise the alarm?’ The answer, depressingly, is that it simply wasn’t convenient. It was easier – professionally, culturally, and legally – to look the other way. Now as survivors of the Lolita era – the time when sexualizing underage girls was all just fun and games – come forward, we are prepared to confront the perpetrators of this abuse. For those harmed, of course, this is too little, too late. And we should be looking to ensure it never happens again.
And yet, the sordid cycle of child sexualization continues. Are we not supposed to notice, for instance, the sexualization of so-called ‘drag kids’? Are we supposed to censor our unease when an 11-year-old autistic boy dances for dollar bills at a New York gay bar? And are we to applaud PinkNews – a website devoted to adult sexuality – when it criticizes lawmakers for trying to make such practices illegal?
The sexualization of children in American culture continues. We choose not to notice. Then, later, when it turns out that some rich and powerful person used our blindspot to abuse and exploit minors, we feign shock, make an example of them, and go to bed easy.