It has been 41 days since Jeffrey Epstein, a wealthy man accused of a variety of sex crimes against minors, including sex trafficking, took his own life while in jail awaiting trial. His face and name are still above-the-fold news—still permeating our social media feeds—still reminding us that he seemingly thwarted justice. In the time that has passed, we have seen expressions of outrage, grief, confusion, and frustration about Epstein’s apparent escape from justice. Is it good to have one less abuser in the world? Did he thwart justice? Will justice continue to be pursued for his alleged victims?
When news stories like this hit, we’re often confronted with the need to speak—and speak promptly—we’re an anti-trafficking organization, after all. Over the years, however, we’ve come to realize—and believe—that it’s best if we slow down and invite survivors to speak into the situation, and simply amplify their voices.
Last month when Epstein passed, we invited survivors to tell us about their reaction to his apparent suicide. Three survivors responded—and wrote beautiful expressions that focused less on Epstein’s death, and more on a collective commitment to dismantling systems of abusive power and bringing forth justice in their day to day lives.
Is there justice for me?
Epstein’s death is a blow.
Sheltered in the leather shops, grocery stores, schools, restaurants, and bowling alleys, amongst the line ups of uncles, and average guys is the lucrative business of selling bodies. Most of the men and women participating directly in exploiting bodies walk free, living lives in daylight. Epstein’s death leaves an empty space at the table of justice—his victims in an abyss of hopelessness. And the rest of us? We were cheering for justice; the ones who can never come forward as trafficking, rape, and domestic violence survivors. Those who will never be believed by a justice system were cheering for the brave souls who someone believed.
These brave ones who confront power are hope to all of us.
I remember the grueling task of testifying, knowing someone with power believed me. I also remember the wonder at how that same perpetrator could produce character witnesses, easing his sentencing. He was offered a plea deal to lesser charges. Finally, I remember the stomach knots, sickness, and silence.
Epstein’s escape from justice reveals the system’s lack of ability to hold justice. I ask myself, what is justice? Is there justice for me? Others? Anyone?
Truth: Not everyone gets free. Not everyone survives.
Epstein, his cronies, and my perpetrators are held to justice in each breath I take, each time I hug my children, each client I love regardless of anything, and each credit I finish towards my Master’s degree. I am not waiting on the system to lend its credibility to my story; however, I ask that system to live into the values it espouses. I fight for those who call on Jesus’ name to stand for justice, whether it’s popular or not. In faith and endurance, together, I declare God’s promises are for me. For my children. For my neighbor. For you.
Danielle Rueb-Castillejo, Survivor, REST Survivor Engagement Specialist
Read her full blog: “The Epstein Effect: When power trumps justice”
The time is NOW to speak up and speak loud.
My reaction is disgust. The people that think because they have money, property, and prestige they can exploit, degrade, and harm others with their perceived power and get away with it have some soul-searching to do. The world of yesterday is quickly turning. Women's and children’s roles are accelerating. WE are rising as fast as a flash flood. The time is NOW to speak up and speak loud. Do not let false power get in the way of power to the people. You can’t escape your dirty deeds. Not in life, and especially not in death.
(This survivor wanted us to let you know she was trafficked at 12 years old, kidnapped at 13, and is currently a 63-year-old survivor.)
What is justice, and how is it served?
As the news stories begin to unfold about conspiracies I wonder how we can depoliticize the investigation and come back to the core. Those that Epstein has caused harm to will not get to have their day in court where the judge looks them in the eye and gives them the confirmation that Epstein will face the consequences for not having any regard for human life—especially those of our children.
Another failed attempt! How is it this man was given a slap on the hand in 2008 when he was convicted of soliciting a “prostitute” and of procuring an underage girl for prostitution? His sentence was lenient and really unjust. Have we not learned from this? The criminal justice system continues to have a lack of accountability, protecting those who do harm. Often individuals use the phrase “money can’t buy you everything”—in this case, does that phrase ring true? It doesn’t, and time and time again we are reminded Money=Power=Control. Currently, we are dealing with a betrayal of the justice system. Epstein utilized his assets and connections to high powered individuals. He was able to prey often on those who may be considered, “lost, broken, poor, and unloved.” We often see this played out every day in the systems that are supposed to be set up to protect and be just.
To my siblings that have had the courage to stand up and come forward, I am sorry that you may never get the sense of peace that you are looking for. As the questions circle around your head, I want you to know I see you. I appreciate you coming forward and doing what you could to protect the next potential victim, thank you for continuing to shed light on a deep-seated issue that affects so many of us. You deserve justice and I will continue to stand with you. Do not lose hope, stay strong. The fight doesn’t end, it is just the beginning. Lean into your supports and know that we are all walking in this together and won’t stop, even when people are not listening.
Jacquelynn Loos, Survivor, REST Community Advocate Supervisor
As you sit with the words of these survivors, we encourage you to contemplate these two things:
How can you amplify the voices of survivors who are calling for justice?
How can you uphold, promote, and pursue justice in your immediate surroundings today?