Americans tend to focus on the most outrageous crimes because they give cover to more everyday misconduct. Nearly a year after the death of Jeffrey Epstein, the financier and serial sexual abuser of young girls, the country is still captivated by his story and crimes.
That fascination stems in part from the outrageously heinous nature of his crimes (the age of his victims, the flagrancy of the assaults, his powerful collaborators, and his lack of fear of being held to account); in part from the coverage around his crimes (the Netflix documentary released in May, for example); and in part due to the the ongoing nature of the horrible saga: Ghislaine Maxwell, who is alleged to have procured girls for Epstein and his associates, was arrested just a few weeks ago.
But there’s something else, too, a well-meaning focus that actually ends up hurting the fight against sexual assault. Americans have an obsession with the worst kind of sexual abusers because it allows us to ignore the more common sexual assaults that happen every day. If rapists and abusers are monsters, rare and separated from our everyday lives, we can feel safer from the truth: Abuse is common and mundane.
When we focus on men like Epstein and the extraordinary horrors he perpetrated, we lose focus on the everyday rapes and molestations that don’t get media coverage and may never see a courtroom. And while it’s important that Maxwell and any other of Epstein’s friends who hurt girls should face justice, we can’t forget that the epidemic of sexual assault is often on our doorstep.
“He’s no Harvey Weinstein” became the go-to response whenever a man was outed for his bad behavior.
Too often, it’s sensationalist stories that get the attention everyday victims so desperately need. Recently, for example, a conspiracy theory about retail giant Wayfair trafficking children online dominated social media with people all around the country tweeting and posting that expensive cabinets were in fact code for children being bought and sold on Wayfair’s website. But we don’t need conspiracies or codes to find hurt children — over 90% of minors who are molested are assaulted by someone they know, not strangers. The abusers are in their homes, not secret trafficking rings.
Americans also tend to focus on the most outrageous crimes because it gives cover to those whose misconduct is less clear cut. That’s why Harvey Weinstein captured the imagination of so many — because of his crimes, yes, but also because it provided a standard by which all other abusers were judged. “He’s no Harvey Weinstein” became the go-to response whenever a man was outed for his bad behavior.
Yes, there are monsters among us; people who hurt children, and men who hurt dozens of women and girls. The worst offenders should be held to account, of course but so should the people who will never make the news.
I hope that Maxwell sees her day in court, and if found guilty that she goes to jail. But the best news of all would be that her and Epstein’s downfall helped shine a light on a problem that goes way beyond a billionaire’s many mansions and right into our own homes.