The fact that any woman has the steely resolve to stay in a system for years waiting for justice, never fails to floor me. They are heroes
Ghislaine Maxwell is a child sex trafficker. It’s good to be able to say that. For decades it must have felt to the victims of Maxwell and Jeffrey Epstein that some people are just too rich, too well connected and too powerful to face justice.
Like all sexual violence, coercion and exploitation, sex was not the root of their depravity, it was power. The knowledge that their place in society’s hierarchy meant they got a thrill out of their impunity. It would appear from accounts in the courtroom during the last few weeks that they openly procured teenage girls and got away with it for many years because everyone who encountered their trafficking was either complicit or under the power of their payroll.
Even in the face of pretty tenacious Florida police officers and victims brave enough to come forward, Epstein was basically softsoaped by the US justice system. Often I watch as men fail up, but Epstein wasn’t just failing up; he was flaunting up.
I will celebrate justice being served, with the reckonings against Savile, Weinstein and now against Epstein and Maxwell, and that a message is being sent saying powerful people, regardless of their immense access to defence and money to silence, can be taken down. But make no mistake, Epstein and Maxwell’s ability to evade justice for so long was not simply because of their money and who they had in their contacts list.
Today in our country and all around the world, hundreds of women will come forward to law enforcement to say they have been raped and almost none of them will see their case inside a courtroom. Here in the UK, 1.5 per cent of cases lead to a prosecution in 2020. Even fewer of the almost 60,000 cases saw convictions.
The reason why Maxwell and Epstein perpetrated their abuse and got away with it is in no small part down to the fact that we simply don’t respect the voices and experiences of women and girls enough. We are still completely comfortable with watching victims be put on trial with their sexual history, substance misuse and actions called into question.
If you were to spend a day working with victims of rape and sexual exploitation here in England you would be stunned at how little we have learned from Rotherham and Rochdale cases of child sexual exploitation. If anything, the crumbling court system cut to the bone by the Conservative government has made things much worse.
Asking rape victims and children who were exploited to wait years for justice while their rapists or groomers live freely around the corner, within their families and in their workplaces, is wrong. They may well be married to your sister, be your boss or the father of your children. The fact that any woman has the steely resolve to stay in a system for years waiting for justice never fails to floor me. They are heroes.
The women who gave evidence in the case against Maxwell spoke for many more women in this case. Their work is, I fear, not done because Maxwell was not the only person involved. These women were trafficked to have sex with men who must now be held to account. Epstein took away the opportunity for these women to see him face justice when he took his life in prison. The men who abused these girls must not escape justice no matter who they are.
The reality people often miss when we talk about how much victims of rape and sexual exploitation suffer in a broken system is that it leaves rapists living all over our country, laughing at how they have got away with it and knowing they will again. I hope today that the men in this case are laughing a little less. But the real victory will come when getting away with rape and sexual abuse is no longer the norm.
Jess Phillips is the shadow minister for domestic violence and safeguarding and Labour MP for Birmingham Yardley