The story of Jeffrey Epstein is one of the most significant true crime stories of our time. It’s deeply disturbing, but furthermore, it’s evidence of what wealth will allow you to get away with in America. The story is fascinating, in a sick, hard to process sort of way. I read the book, Filthy Rich, by James Patterson last fall in a single day. When I heard there was a documentary series produced by Patterson about Epstein, the show immediately went on my Netflix list.
Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich starts with a disclaimer, a disclaimer that immediately made me nervous. I’ve watched a lot of true crime documentaries, and none of them, no matter how disturbing, began in such a fashion.
Normally, I don’t watch things that have to do with sexual assault. I am a survivor myself, and I prefer to avoid the whole thing in my entertainment choices. My boyfriend knows to fast-forward through rape scenes. I don’t mind reading about it, but I don’t like to physically see it. I tend to avoid documentaries centered around the subject. The Jeffrey Epstein story, however, is different.
The majority of the series is women’s voices, a necessity for telling a story like this. I don’t want to hear from men here. I want to hear from the survivors. There is some input from the officers who investigated Epstein and some people he knew, including some major voices. Alan Dershowitz and Senator Tim Kaine both make appearances in the docuseries. For the most part, however, the women who survived Epstein are the ones telling the story.
A Story to Tell
What they reveal is nothing short of harrowing. In case you are unfamiliar with Epstein’s basic modus operandi, he, with the help of Ghislaine Maxwell, would invite underage girls to his house under the guise of wanting them to massage him. He would sexually assault them, and pay them. They had no choice but to keep coming back, either out of financial need, fear, or both.
He manipulated some of his victims into becoming recruiters for him. He paid these women to bring him other underage girls for him to abuse. Through this system, he created what one of the interviewees calls a “sexual pyramid scheme”.
The women interviewed speak of the fear and powerlessness they felt. Many of the survivors tell stories of troubled childhoods followed by sexual assaults of varying degrees in exchange for money and favors.
Another of the survivors, Michelle Licata said in a deeply emotional moment recounting her story “Before Epstein, I was something else” through tears. It was a moment that hit hard. Any survivor knows this feeling. The feeling that you once were someone else.
Epstein scouted vulnerable girls — either financially disadvantaged, from broken homes, or young women who already had histories of sexual abuse or all of the above. These young women were terrified to speak out against such a wealthy and powerful man, and his wealthy and powerful friends.
This documentary comes from the perspective of these vulnerable girls and gives the viewers a whole new point of view on how truly awful Epstein and Maxwell were, including survivor’s reactions to Epstein’s untimely death.
The documentary also covers some of Epstein and Maxwell’s lives leading up to their legacies of abuse. Former business associates discuss how Epstein made his money. Spoiler alert: it was sketchy.
Associates and acquaintances also talk about what he was like. Interviewees talked about the “magnitude of his controlling effect” and how Epstein always was “the master of his domain”. They go on to explain theories on how he was able to get away with such egregious offenses for so long.
Why I Sat Through This
I watched the Epstein documentary, despite my personal discomfort, because it’s important for the survivors to tell their story. It’s empowering to see these women speak up against such a powerful man, even though he is now dead. The powerful system that allowed Epstein to exist still persists, and talking about the issue and raising awareness is essential to making sure this doesn’t happen to any more of us.
The documentary itself is well made, and the pacing keeps the story moving. Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich didn’t reveal any shocking new information for those of us who have been following the case, but does give a new perspective. Overall, the documentary series is worth watching, if you can stomach it. It tells a story that needs telling, so as a society we can hold people like Epstein accountable, and make sure our girls don’t fall victim to monsters like him in the future.
That being said, I poured myself a stiff drink around the end of the second episode. Also, I’m going to spend the rest of my day cuddling with my dog and watching Harry Potter, because wow that was upsetting.