It’s clear by now that billionaire Jeffrey Epstein used his immense wealth and status to power his predatory behavior. And now, following his arrest on charges of sex trafficking dozens of minors, another point has been made more sharply than ever: Epstein — just like R. Kelly and Harvey Weinstein and so many other powerful, alleged abusers — did not act alone.
“In creating and maintaining this network of minor victims in multiple states to sexually abuse and exploit, Jeffrey Epstein, the defendant, worked and conspired with others,” noted the indictment, which was unsealed on Monday, “including employees and associates who facilitated his conduct by, among other things, contacting victims and scheduling their sexual encounters with Epstein at the New York Residence and at the Palm Beach Residence.”
Epstein “directed employees and associates” to arrange the sexual encounters with his victims, the indictment continued, and they would even escort victims to the rooms where the alleged abuse would take place.
They were all doing their part within a vast and disturbing network of enablers and co-conspirators — strikingly similar to the tangled web of enablers surrounding Kelly, arrested Thursday on new federal sex charges.
In an indictment that called out the singer's "enterprise," which included Kelly and "individuals who served as managers, bodyguards, drivers, personal assistants and runners for Kelly, as well as members of Kelly's entourage…" who worked to promote the singer's music and brand as well as "to recruit women and girls to engage in illegal sexual activity with Kelly."
The network also mirrors the “complicity machine” of Weinstein, through which he “commanded enablers, silencers and spies, warning others who discovered his secrets to say nothing,” according to a New York Times investigation into those who were complicit. “Some aided his actions without realizing what he was doing. Many knew something or detected hints, though few understood the scale of his sexual misconduct. Almost everyone had incentives to look the other way or reasons to stay silent,” the story notes.
“Why are these predators being enabled? That’s the larger story,” Conchita Sarnoff, executive director of Alliance to Rescue Victims of Trafficking and an investigative journalist who has been writing about the Epstein case for a decade (her book, TrafficKing, focuses exclusively on the case), tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “When there’s a personal interest at stake and you lack a moral compass — whether you need to make money or need to ensure that your political campaigns are well-funded and that you are reelected — it allows you to justify your reason for enabling these predators. That’s the key… This is all about money.”
While no enablers have yet been officially named in regards to Epstein, some potentials, according to the Miami Herald, include British socialite and longtime Epstein crony Ghisliane Maxwell, who has been alleged to have worked as Epstein’s “madam,” and Jean-Luc Brunel, a business associate.
Lawyers representing Epstein’s victims, according to the Herald, “have often likened Epstein’s sex operation to an organized crime family, with Epstein and Maxwell at the top, and below them, others who worked as schedulers, recruiters, pilots and bookkeepers.”
So, what would motivate someone to be complicit in such heinous crimes?
“First of all, he’s a billionaire. Some people want to hang onto the coat strings,” forensic psychologist and expert witness Charles Heller, PhD, tells Yahoo Lifestyle.
Heller stresses that because he has not examined Epstein or anyone around him, he cannot discuss psychological profiles or comment on their innocence or guilt. But, he hypothesizes for Yahoo Lifestyle, “They’ve experienced the feelings of power and control that a very wealthy pedophile has. And he may connect them with revenue, contacts… or at least the hope of those rewards. It’s intoxicating for some people to be around celebrities, athletes…and extremely wealthy business people.”
In addition to those pulls, there are also personality factors at stake when it comes to the psyche of an enabler, including being “weak, needy and rationalizing… some may also be pedophiles themselves,” Heller says.
“There are many cultural structures that could influence one to be complicit, rather than a ringleader of a crime,” forensic psychologist and sex-offender expert Michelle Drouin tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “Most notably, actual or perceived hierarchies, based on variables such as power, wealth, social status, and gender, could have a strong influence on the pressure one feels to conform to group norms or obey individuals who are perceived to have authority.”
Drouin, a professor of psychology at Indiana University–Purdue University Fort Wayne (who has no firsthand knowledge of either Epstein or those around him), says it’s easy to look inside this tightly-knit world from the outside and wonder, “Don’t they have a conscience?” She posits several theoretical answers to why that might not matter, including that some of those involved who might “have a tolerance or proclivity for these types of crimes naturally gravitate towards the ringleader.”
As for those who don’t, Drouin explains, decades of psychological research have uncovered other reasons for complicity: obeying authority figures and fearing repercussions, with exacerbated feelings for those who signed non-disclosure agreements and don’t have “a good understanding of how the legal system might protect them”; desire to conform and fear of being “the one who goes against the group to be the whistleblower”; or, finally “pluralistic ignorance,” or the idea that maybe everyone else is staying silent for a reason.
“Alone or in combination,” Drouin says, “these psychological forces are strong.”
Further, Heller notes, “There’s a certain amount of denial,” among one’s enablers. “They may minimize, they may even think he’s innocent — it’s all driven by the desire to identify with and fantasize about having his wealth.” And the ringleader, understanding all of this, uses it as “psychological leverage.”
Bottom line: Such sexual offenders do not typically act alone, because that would make it too difficult to keep evading punishment. “It appears to be critical for predators to have their own ecosystem of conspirators and/or enablers, especially as the crimes and number of victims mount,” Drouen notes. “In 1984, George Orwell said ‘If you want to keep a secret, you must also hide it from yourself.’ When you have criminal activity on a large scale, there is no way for the ‘secret’ to be kept unless there is a network of individuals willing to protect it.”
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