Jeffrey Epstein: a name ripped from recent headlines that evokes shock, anger, and above all raises the questions of how human trafficking and sexual abuse can remain either uninvestigated or even undetected while ensnaring hundreds of victims.
Although he died in prison in August 2019 while awaiting trial on charges of sex trafficking and conspiracy to engage in sex trafficking, Epstein was a wealthy man. He rose to prominence as a financier through associations with his elite social circle. He became a resident of the U.S. Virgin Islands, having purchased Little St. James and then Great St. James islands, where he built a lavish compound and a complex web of corporate, LLC and foundation entities that helped hide his unsavory and criminal activities.
Due to the efforts of U.S. Virgin Islands Attorney General Denise N. George, CHILD USA’s Marci Hamilton, and three Epstein survivors who wish to remain anonymous, some of his wealth established the Epstein Victim’s Compensation Fund. It is for this work that George and these three brave women are receiving The Barbara Blaine Trailblazer Award.
When George took office as Attorney General in May 2019, there had been many news reports and rumors about Epstein. “Given the seriousness of these reports, I knew my office needed to investigate,” she says. “We needed facts and evidence, not innuendo, and I felt strongly that the people of the Virgin Islands and the victims deserved the truth.”
What her team discovered was even worse than imagined. A well-developed criminal enterprise had been at work, and many of those involved seemed determined to continue to operate. “Learning of this information was sickening and horrifying,” George recalls. “My first thoughts were about the victims and ensuring they knew I was going to do everything in my power as Attorney General to uphold the laws of the Virgin Islands, and not stop until all who were involved in this criminal enterprise were held accountable.”
George has taken a leading role in the fight to bring Jeffrey Epstein’s systemic abuse to justice. Noting her responsibility as Attorney General to uphold the laws of the U.S. Virgin Islands and protect its residents guides all of her work, she applied those same principles against Epstein’s estate. “With this case,” she says, “the victims are also the driving force. We must all do what we can to create environments where all people are safe from harm and violence, as well as the shame and stigma that accompanies sexual violence.”
Epstein’s victims played a vital role in establishing the Victim’s Compensation Fund, which uses the preserved assets from the Epstein estate to compensate survivors. “Through our investigation, I thought I had a good grasp on what had occurred, George says. “However, meeting with those brave, impressive women and hearing their chilling stories were key to fully understanding the violence – physical and mental – they endured. It also exposed the reach and impact of this criminal enterprise.”
Preserving compensation for the survivors was one of George’s biggest concerns from the beginning. It became apparent in the early stages that the Fund being created by the Estate would not be in the best interests of the victims, she says, and required outside, independent oversight. George’s office placed liens on accounts related to the Epstein Estate to ensure the Estate did not dissipate its assets and that money was available for claimants.
Additionally, she insisted on an advocate for victims who could provide expertise in child abuse and sexual assault, and also help make sure that the Fund’s administrator understood and protected the victims’ interests. “The victims and their advocates introduced me to Marci Hamilton and CHILD USA,” she says. “I knew immediately that she was an invaluable resource in being able to provide independent expertise to ensure the Fund operated in a way that was informed by, and respectful of, Epstein’s survivors.
“No amount of money can undo the trauma these women and young girls went through, but what we can do is publicly acknowledge their unthinkable experience and help them in their journey forward,” George says. “It is my hope that this fund will help the survivors recover in some small way and will strip those involved with Epstein from the profits of his enterprise. At the end of the day, I understand that the Fund paid $125 million to roughly 150 survivors.”
One of George’s top priorities in working with CHILD USA is also informing law enforcement and the public, arming them with the knowledge, tools, and mandate to detect and respond to trafficking. Few legislators, law enforcement officers or public observers realize the depth of the damage being done to victims or the effects such trauma creates in terms of ruined lives. The goal is to forestall the next perpetrator by raising informed awareness so that sexual abuse is recognized and reported. While Epstein’s wealth and connections allowed him to victimize more than 100 women and girls over decades, he is not alone. Working to safeguard and protect others from sex trafficking and sexual abuse is a large undertaking, only possible through partnerships such as those with CHILD USA.
“I will never forget their experiences and courage,” George says of her fellow honorees. “They, and the women and children of the Virgin Islands who also face violence and abuse, too often without help or support, are very much in my mind. It is my commitment to them that guides my ongoing work in the Epstein matter. The programs we are putting in place – such as training for law enforcement and public awareness efforts – are designed to reach two closely connected goals: that there are no bystanders and no more victims of human trafficking.”