The film Ghislaine Maxwell: Filthy Rich, follows the trial of Jeffrey Epstein’s partner in crime who propelled his predatory behavior, recruited many of his victims, and actively participated in abusing and trafficking young women and girls.
This film illustrates many elements and dynamics often present in human trafficking situations, including power dynamics, corruption, and recruiting victims through fraud and coercion, among others. But one of the most important themes we see in the film is how critical it is to believe survivors and the need for victims’ advocacy.
Epstein’s sexual abuse started decades before his arrest in 2019. In the film, we learn that in the 1990s, two survivors reported the abuse they experienced at the hands of Maxwell and Epstein to law enforcement but nothing was done. In the early 2000s, Epstein’s crimes again caught the attention of law enforcement, but he was basically given a slap on the wrist and the abuse continued.
Time and again, survivors are ignored, not listened to and discredited by people and institutions that are meant to protect them, which is one of many reasons why survivors don’t come forward with their stories.
The documentary also clearly illustrates the toll that trial takes on survivors. When going to trial, survivors have to stand before a courtroom and recount every detail of some of the worst things that ever happened to them. They have to tell and retell the horrors, abuse and violence they endured, all while facing their abuser. Every detail of their experience is questioned; their competency, motive and story are attempted to be discredited.
To truly end human trafficking, we NEED to believe survivors from the beginning. We need to understand how human trafficking is perpetrated and we need to put an end to victim blaming and victim shaming.
If survivors were believed when they first came forward, Epstein and Maxwell’s abuse would have been stopped early on and many victims would have been spared.