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Epstein’s arrest shines light on scourge of child sex trafficking

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The nation’s outrage over Jeffrey Epstein’s terrible crimes have reached a fever pitch — leading to the resignation of Secretary of Labor Alex Acosta, trending hashtags and story after story of crimes perpetrated against children by Epstein.

This outrage is righteous.

As a local anti-human trafficking advocate and a mother of a daughter, I celebrate the arrest of Epstein and the resignation of Acosta.

Epstein’s crimes, listed in his 14-page indictment, are nothing short of nauseating. He is accused of sexually abusing girls as young as 14 and paying them to recruit other child victims, from Palm Beach, Florida, all the way to his Manhattan residence in New York.

Epstein had already been convicted of similar charges in 2008, and that is when Acosta cut him a secretive deal of unbridled leniency. Epstein was required to register as a sex offender and spent 13 months in county jail, with him being allowed to go to his office six days a week to work and then return to jail in the evening.

And while Acosta’s sorry miscarriage of justice smacks of corruption, and Epstein’s revolting perversions were done with impunity, we as a country are left wondering how this could happen.

The truth is, this happens to children every day in North Carolina. Commercial sexual exploitation of children is not a new rising tide.

It begins with a child who is incredibly vulnerable, possibly a child in foster care or from an unstable home or has already endured some form of sexual abuse or who is mired in poverty and homelessness.

Then there is a trafficker or a sex-buyer — in Epstein’s case, he is both — to exploit that vulnerability for financial gain or sexual gratification.

At some point, we expect someone to intervene, of course. We expect an adult to save the child from this abuse. We expect justice to prevail.

The disappointing truth is that sex buyers and traffickers in North Carolina often operate much like Epstein, with deep-seated entitlement and impunity.

They are rarely caught. They are rarely punished.

Our society is cultured around admiring power and having disdain for the vulnerable. Epstein, a rich, affluent, white man, was able to operate in a bubble of security knowing that he could pay enough money to intimidate his victims, recruit more victims and possibly buy a nice little deal that kept him in a cushy office when his crimes were finally recognized.

Our society has also become unusually comfortable with blaming victims for abuse perpetrated against them.

Even at his arrest, people were calling these victims “underage women,” sanitizing the language of abuse to make it more palatable. The truth is, there is no such thing as “underage women,” they were children incapable of making a decision to sell commercial sex. The truth is, Epstein paid money to rape children, and that is what commercial sexual exploitation of children is.

Another horrible example of victim-blaming was when Acosta, in his misguided defense of cutting Epstein a deal, said during a press conference this week that it was the victim’s fault for his inability to discharge justice appropriately.

In North Carolina, children live in the same society that allowed Epstein to roam freely and Acosta to point fingers at those who are victims.

People in this state are exploited behind closed doors and others turn a blind eye or don’t understand enough about sexual exploitation to know that there is abuse happening.

I ask that everyone learn about child sexual abuse and commercial sexual exploitation of children. I ask that this outrage be translated into courtrooms across the state and punishment to perpetrators of child sexual abuse and sexual exploitation be uncompromising, no matter the wealth and prestige of the perpetrator. I also ask that, in light of Epstein’s arrest, our community come together and look at sex buyers as perpetrators of abuse, as well.

Melinda Sampson is the community outreach coordinator at N.C. Stop Human Trafficking. She can be reached by email at melinda@ncstophumantrafficking.org.

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