The story of decades of abuse of young girls by Jeffrey Epstein is one that is not unfamiliar. The Netflix documentary “Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich” solidifies Epstein as yet another rich man who used his power to sexually abuse others.
In the last few minutes, it is revealed that Alan Dershowitz has been accused by Virginia Roberts (a survivor) of raping her multiple times. This last-minute revelation was only done in this way to shock. In a documentary in which survivors of abuse are bravely speaking out; presenting an accused rapist as a morally corrupt, but reliable source and then flippantly revealing his involvement lowers the ethical integrity.
Despite the thorough information presented, the bigger question of how Jeffrey Epstein was allowed to carry out this abuse is not answered. The pattern emerging from uncovering a string of serial abusers in recent years is that there is a clear system of power that has been exploited; a system that includes the media and the legal system. Epstein abused this system, but only recently, on July 7th 2020, Deutsche bank was fined $150 million for overlooking his transactions, including payments to victims. The documentary circles around the idea that this sexual abuse was a result of a corrupt system, but does not address it directly.
The documentary presents the case of Maria Farmer who reported the sexual abuse she suffered from Epstein and his girlfriend/pimp Ghislaine Maxwell to the FBI in 1996. The fact that the FBI ignored her case is presented as strange, but no further investigation into this cover-up is presented.
Much of the focus of the documentary is on Epstein himself; exploring questions like: How did he make money? How rich was he really? How did he manipulate people? What this does is instead of exposing him, it mystifies and sensationalises a rapist. This focus on his intimate life and psychology would not have been documented in such depth had Epstein looked like the ‘typical pedophile’ and was not once considered the most eligible bachelor in New York.
Although explored, no new information about his personal life is shown; presenting him as an elusive enigma. In reality, he was a serial rapist who got away with it for many years because of his power but was ultimately caught.
A focus on the personal lives of the survivors would have added depth to the documentary. The documentary does interview survivors who had not previously spoken publicly; emphasising the gross scale of sexual and emotional abuse. However, many of their stories feel incomplete without a detailed exploration of how this abuse affected them long-term.
It is important to note the difficulty that is making a documentary on this active case. Production started nine months before Epstein was arrested and was intended to be an exposé. Perhaps if this was released a year and a half ago it would have been ground-breaking. However, the purpose of this lengthy production now feels unclear; no new significant information is presented and justice seems unreachable.
Overall, by the end of the documentary we are left feeling as though there was much that was left unsaid.
Photograph: Bill Oxford via Unsplash