There's a certain satisfaction watching a rich man get indicted on serious criminal charges that he seemed to think his money could prevent. That feeling is very much in play in the case of Jeffrey Epstein, the multimillionaire who is now facing another round of severe charges for sex offenses after receiving a very favorable plea deal during his last run-in with the law for similar allegations.
However, there is always the danger that those feelings get inflamed beyond what is justified – often by media outlets that benefit from sensationalizing stories to make them bigger than they really are.
It's possible that this is what's going on, in the Epstein case.
Jeffrey Epstein's Second Sex Offense Case: A Brief History
Jeffrey Epstein is an investment banker and a financier who manages other peoples' money. He was a limited partner at the huge bank Bear Stearns before leaving to start his own company.
From 2005 through 2008, Epstein was under federal investigation for soliciting prostitutes, including underage girls. Given the circumstances and evidence against Epstein, he was given a now-infamously cushy plea deal by Alexander Acosta, then the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, and who up until recently was the Department of Labor in the Trump Administration.
On July 6, 2019, Epstein was arrested. Once again, he was accused of paying for sexual acts from girls, many of whom were underage.
However, even though the alleged conduct had not changed much between 2005 and 2019, the coverage of it has been completely different.
From Soliciting Prostitution to Sex Trafficking
Both in 2005 and in 2019, the allegations against Epstein sound the same: He paid young women handsomely to give him numerous massages over a period of time, with each becoming increasingly sensual and often culminating in overt sexual acts. One of Epstein's employees once claimed that he received several of these massages every day. To keep up with this demand, Epstein allegedly recruited others to find new girls to bring in – sometimes paying the girls, themselves, to bring in their friends.
However, the descriptions that the media – and even prosecutors – have used to describe this course of conduct have morphed over the years.
Before, Epstein's conduct was repeatedly described as the “solicitation” of young girls – the illegal act of paying someone for a sexual act.
Now, though, Epstein's conduct has been routinely described as “sex trafficking” – a description far darker.
A concrete example of how these two terms are different actually comes from the case of another rich man getting accused of sex offenses – Robert Kraft. Kraft was accused of solicitation for allegedly paying for a sex act in a Florida massage parlor. Meanwhile, the owners of that massage parlor had been under investigation for sex trafficking for allegedly coercing people to work in the parlor and forcing them to provide sexual favors.
The shift in terminology between Epstein's two cases is not just a matter of semantics: It darkens his image from someone willing to pay for sex and turns it into someone who runs a criminal enterprise of underage prostitution.
The fact that the conduct has, apparently, not changed makes one wonder if the new turn of phrase is unfair.