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Category: Media, Violence against Women

Time Served, Justice Lacking: How Media Can Help.

| March 28, 2011

Media has long reigned supreme in the court of public opinion, and in today’s viral information culture, it takes little more than a tweet to set off a firestorm.

Online opinions may not constitute legal rulings, but public discourse and media exposure can create real pressure for justice inside the courtroom. Take the case of Jeffrey Epstein. It’s a storyline that seems ripped straight from an episode of Law & Order: SVU. A prominent, wealthy businessman lures underage girls to his home under some pretext, sexually assaults them and then uses his status and money to cover his tracks.

On the television show, however, he likely wouldn’t have gotten away so easily. Off screen, the hedge fund mogul was accused of sexual assault by at least 40 underage girls, one of whom he allegedly labeled a “Balkan sex slave” and bragged about purchasing when she was just 14-years-old. Ignoring police recommendations, Florida prosecutors presented evidence against him to a grand jury in 2006, resulting in a single charge of soliciting prostitution. Epstein was convicted and sentenced to 18 months in jail (he served 13). 

Far from the typical federal prison term of 10 to 20 years, Epstein served his time in a private wing of the Palm Beach jail and was granted a free daily pass to leave the premises for work. How could this happen? In light of newly obtained documents, a Daily Beast article analyzes exactly how it did and puts the spotlight back on Epstein.

“Fear and intimidation experienced by victims during pre-trial proceedings, combined with a ferocious, protracted campaign to undermine the prosecution, culminated in a set of charges that became a virtual slap on the wrist.” Recently, a new accuser emerged from anonymity, claiming she spent her teenage years as Epstein’s sex toy.

Epstein isn’t the first, and likely won’t be the last, to use power and wealth to perpetuate abuses against women and undermine the justice system. Thankfully, media can play a valuable role in keeping stories like these front and center until something changes.