For more than a decade, it’s been no secret that multimillionaire hedge-fund manager Jeffrey Epstein trafficked, molested, and raped dozens of underage girls. And yet, until his arrest last week, it seemed as if he might escape with little more than a slap on the wrist because he’s rich and well-connected.
In 2007, federal prosecutors prepared a 53-page indictment that could have put Epstein in prison for life for the sex trafficking of minors. Instead, Epstein served only thirteen months for solicitation—during which he was allowed to leave and work from his office for 12 hours a day, six days a week—thanks to a sweetheart plea deal brokered by Alex Acosta, then a federal prosecutor in Florida and now Trump’s secretary of labor.
Acosta is now under fire for helping the wealthy pedophile escape federal prosecution. Amid growing calls for Acosta to resign, and at President Donald Trump’s urging, he defended his handling of the case in a press conference on Wednesday, arguing that “we live in a very different world” for sex-abuse victims than we did a decade ago and that a lenient plea deal resulting in any jail time at all was the best he could have hoped for at the time. The implication is that perpetrators are actually held to account now, regardless of their money or power; that the Me Too movement has forced the nation to reckon, finally, with how many men are allowed to get away with sexual harassment, abuse, and rape in a system indifferent to the lives of victims.
So, then, when is America going to reckon with the alleged serial sexual abuser in the White House? Donald Trump has not only been accused of rape and sexual misconduct by more than 20 women over the past several decades, but he regularly uses his power to threaten survivors who come forward and to protect and promote men who abuse women.
Many are hoping the Epstein trial will also implicate some of his powerful friends, including Trump. The world’s most privileged pedophile was known to hang out with the likes of Bill Clinton, Woody Allen, Prince Andrew, celebrity lawyer Alan Dershowitz, and, yes, the president, sometimes giving them rides on his infamous private child-sex-abuse plane, nicknamed the “Lolita Express.” Trump, who now claims he's "not a fan," in 2002 called Epstein a “terrific guy” who "likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side."
And Trump's connections to Epstein's sex trafficking may go beyond merely superficial. In 2016, “Jane Doe” filed a lawsuit against Trump alleging a “savage sexual attack” in 1994, when she was 13 years old, in which he tied her to a bed at Epstein’s house, raped her, and struck her in the face. The account was corroborated by a witness who claimed to have seen the child perform sexual acts on both Trump and Epstein.
Just as he has a patten of sexual predation, Trump also seems to have a pattern of threatening victims who come forward. Jane Doe alleged in the lawsuit that Trump told her she shouldn’t ever say anything if she didn’t want to “disappear like Maria,” a 12-year-old girl who had also been abused along with her. Jane Doe dropped the lawsuit in November 2016, days before Trump’s election, after her attorney, Lisa Bloom, cited “numerous threats” against her client. (Trump denied the allegations, and Bloom declined to comment for this story.)
Even if the Epstein proceedings fail to produce evidence against Trump, there is enough already in the public record—including words recorded out of his own mouth—to substantiate a shockingly prolific history of sexual misconduct. The first rape allegation against him was by his ex-wife Ivana, who in a deposition in the early 1990s described a violent assault by her husband in 1989 in which he pulled out fistfuls of her hair and jammed himself inside her. She clarified while he was running for president in 2015—and while under a gag order that prevents her from discussing her marriage with Trump without his approval—that the alleged rape was not in a “criminal sense.” What she, likely coached by Trump’s team, seemed to be implying is that a man has a right to sex with his wife, regardless of his level of violence or her protestations (all 50 states have laws against non-consensual sex, or rape, within a marriage).
Even though Michael Cohen, Trump's former personal lawyer and fixer, claimed that "you cannot rape your spouse,” he was so invested in squashing the story that he dramatically threatened a Daily Beast reporter who was writing about the incident that same year. “I will make sure that you and I meet one day while we’re in the courthouse. And I will take you for every penny you still don’t have. And I will come after your Daily Beast and everybody else that you possibly know,” Cohen said. “So I’m warning you, tread very fucking lightly, because what I’m going to do to you is going to be fucking disgusting. You understand me?”
The allegations have piled up against Trump for almost 40 years now. Businesswoman Jessica Leeds told The New York Times that in the 1980s, he grabbed her breasts and reached up her skirt on an airplane without her consent. “He was like an octopus,” she said. “His hands were everywhere.”
In total, and not counting the young Jane Doe who rescinded her lawsuit, more than 20 women have accused Trump of sexual misconduct so far, and many of them have produced witnesses and corroborators. Five have produced at least two witnesses. He denies all of the allegations, but his own recorded statements suggest he does regularly engage in this pattern of behavior.
Trump infamously boasted to Access Hollywood host Billy Bush in 2005 that he can grope women whenever he wants because he’s famous. “When you’re a star, they let you do it,” he said. “You can do anything. Grab ’em by the pussy.”
Perhaps the slow drip of information and accusations against Trump has had a numbing effect on public opinion, and the sexual misconduct has been further buried by the national security crises that seem to be occurring on a weekly basis. The New York Times didn’t even consider it front-page news last month when prominent writer E. Jean Carroll became the third person to accuse the sitting president of rape. (Trump responded that he couldn’t have raped her because she’s not his “type.”) But when the puzzle pieces are assembled, the full picture of Trump’s alleged sexual misconduct and the fact that he’s gotten away with it for so long are actually quite shocking at a time when the country is supposed to be reckoning with its own rape culture.
It’s not just the idea of a possible rapist sitting in the Oval Office that’s disturbing—it’s the ripple effect of a presidency that silences and devalues women and girls while elevating the men who harm them. Trump paid two porn stars for their silence after having affairs with them. His administration has come under international scrutiny for weakening protections for victims of sex trafficking. He endorsed Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore in 2017, after multiple allegations that Moore had sexually abused teen girls. He stood by his Supreme Court pick, Brett Kavanaugh, after Dr. Christine Blasey Ford delivered an emotional testimony alleging that Kavanaugh tried to rape her in high school. He is reportedly not even considering firing Acosta for making a sweetheart deal with Epstein’s lawyers.
There are too many red flags to ignore. Trump has proven himself to be a danger to women in his personal orbit, and his leadership is a danger to women and girls across the world. Now that his powerful friend is being held accountable for heinous sex crimes, the allegations against the president warrant much further scrutiny.
Laura Bassett is a freelance journalist writing about politics, gender, and culture.
Originally Appeared on GQ