In July 2019, Jeffery Epstein was charged with sex trafficking of a minor and conspiracy to committing sex trafficking.* The charges in the US didn’t stand alone, with the Virgin Islands stating that Epstein was running a sex trafficking operation out of his private islands with victims as young as 11.** Before his trial could begin Epstein committed suicide in August 2019.*
The case didn’t start with Epstein himself, in July 2020 a longtime friend and associate of Epstein, Ghislaine Maxwell was arrested and is facing multiple charges from “‘transporting a minor for the purposes of criminal sexual activity’, to ‘conspiring to entice minors to travel to engage in illegal sex acts,’ and perjury related statements she made before the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York in 2016.”*** The official indictment states that Maxwell “assisted, facilitated, and contributed to Jeffrey Epstein’s abuse of minor girls… helping Epstein to recruit, groom, and ultimately abuse victims known… to be under the age of 18.”**** On March 29, 2021, a new indictment was filed against Maxwell including charges of sex trafficking and sex trafficking conspiracy.*****
The Epstein case brought the epidemic of human trafficking, particularly sex trafficking, into the public’s view. Although it highlights commonality with other trafficking cases, Epstein’s wealth and ties to powerful people are what makes his case an unusual one.****** The way Epstein targeted his victims is very similar to the way other human traffickers do, the victims are vulnerable, isolated from family and/or poor.
Courtney Wild, who met Epstein when she was 14, said to Miami Herald, “Jeffrey preyed on girls who were in a bad way, girls who were basically homeless. He went after girls who he thought no one would listen to and he was right,”.******
This type of targeting is a common factor within all types of human trafficking, as well as other’s knowing about the abuse and trafficking. Individuals who are discriminated against or marginalized are at a higher risk of being trafficked.***** Recruitment for trafficking doesn’t happen behind closed doors but more often in public.****** Epstein’s case sheds light on the lack of a substantial effort to end human trafficking within the United States.
Many factors enable human trafficking to persist such as lack of basic rights for certain industries, a minimum wage, and the criminalization of sex work. Mini advocacy groups call for the decriminalization of sex work and for sex workers’ records to be expunged. This enables individuals to get a job outside of the sex industry which reduces the risk of them being trafficked or being vulnerable to trafficking.****** Trump’s administrations’ stance on immigration leads to undocumented immigrants being less willing to report trafficking as well as increasing the number of individuals vulnerable to trafficking due to their immigration status. With protections and aid for survivors of sex trafficking removed, it decreases individuals’ willingness to come forward and report sex trafficking and other trafficking crimes.*****
Many organizations are working to end human trafficking all around the globe. Here are some who are helping survivors of human trafficking and trying to change legislation around human trafficking:
The Global Alliance Against Trafficking in Women (global)
Stop the Trafficking (global)