I faced Larry Nassar in court. Epstein’s accusers should have had the same chance.

Rachael Denhollander, who was sexually abused by Larry Nassar, speaks to the press after Nassar’s sentencing hearing in Eaton County Circuit Court on February 5, 2018, in Charlotte, Michigan.  | Scott Olson/Getty Images

We got a measure of vindication, of closure, and of justice — all things that have now been denied to Epstein’s accusers.

It’s a story that survivors know only too well. Manipulation and careful grooming. The assault. Crushing shame, helplessness, and hopelessness. And then for those who dare to report, who dare to reach for justice, there is the follow-up chapter. The next betrayal.

Sometimes, that next betrayal is from an investigator who just can’t be bothered, or is simply corrupt.Sometimes the betrayal is from a jury so steeped in cultural rape myths they can’t imagine the most horrific moments of a survivor’s life weren’t consensual. Sometimes, it’s from a judge.

What we have seen unfold in the Jeffrey Epstein case is nearly every survivor’s story: a slice of the survivor experience, put under a microscope. Yes, the details here are heightened: A rich, powerful abuser who groomed and manipulated, surrounded by rich, powerful men, enabled by a system designed to keep those men rich and powerful. And one last act that ensured the survivors would never get their day in court.

 Stephanie Keith/Getty Images
A protest group called “Hot Mess” hold up signs of Jeffrey Epstein in front of the Federal courthouse on July 8, 2019 in New York City.

But the betrayals at the heart of the Epstein case are familiar to all survivors: the abuse itself; followed by lawyers who allegedly dug through survivors’ pasts, looking for ways to blame the victim; an attorney who cut a legally questionable deal that silenced the women who dared to raise their voice.

I was given a gift that few survivors are afforded. In January 2018, after a long and difficult process, I, along with more than a hundred “sister survivors,” was able to confront my abuser in court. I was given the gift of hearing former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar admit in court that he had abused us for his own sick pleasure, and I was given the gift of hearing the judge sentence him to a lifetime in prison. We were given the gift of a measure of vindication, of closure, and of justice — all things that have now been denied to Epstein’s accusers.

We should be angry — and we should act

We should be angry. Angry that these survivors — little girls that they were — were denied justice and silenced the first time they raised their voices over a decade ago. We examine the past and see that had one person done the right thing, justice would have come years ago. And now it never will. We should be angry that they have been denied their day in court again. After everything they have done to shine a light where darkness lay for so long, they will forever be denied the right to face their abuser in court. It’s wrong, and it should make us angry. It should make us weep.

It should also make us act. We have a chance for self-reflection: Was our interest in the Epstein case merely a chance to gawk at a monster, and watch the drama as his case wound its way through the system? Or are we truly horrified for his victims and determined to ensure something like this is not tolerated again? Do we care enough to do something? And what can we do if justice never comes?

First and foremost, we can stand with the survivors. Tell the story of the sacrifices they made to stop an evil man who’d been protected for so long. We can use the right words so the full force of what they are telling us can hit home. Stop saying “sex with minors” when it’s the rape of a child. Stop saying “solicited prostitutes,” when it is trafficked and exploited children.

The evidence against Epstein is still there. We’re missing some pieces, but we can learn from what we have. So let’s amplify the voices that have been trying to tell us what it is like for more than a decade. Let’s use this case to dispel cultural myths about rape and abuse. To show how power and money are wielded. To expose how traffickers work, and how those who help them operate.

Seeking to understand this case means that we must insist on answers about how he got away with it. We must demand a real investigation into the plea deal that silenced the survivors the first time. We need to wrestle with the hard questions, like what we need to do better to give survivors recourse if investigators or prosecutors are corrupt or simply don’t care.

We can realize that the men who gave a sex trafficker the deal of the century — the men who acted like the rape of children didn’t matter if it was done by someone with money — are disqualified themselves from positions of power and influence. We can tell the truth about the men who enabled a child trafficker, and demand they are never given power again.

Epstein is gone. But the investigation must continue.

We can push for the current investigation to continue. Epstein kept records. Documents and witnesses remain. Investigators need to do everything they can to find out who was involved and bring the full weight of the law against those individuals, whether they are abusers themselves, or enablers.

We can refuse to make this partisan. If records implicate someone in power as being an abuser or enabler alongside Epstein, it doesn’t matter if that person has an “R” or a “D” by their name. We should want the truth in our communities just as fiercely as we want it elsewhere; we should want it more. And we can refuse to use the suffering of young women and children as political fodder against one party or another, one candidate or another. Push for the truth in your community. Hold yourself accountable to see it.

Epstein is gone, and so is the chance for the survivors to face him in court. We must affirm that this loss is real. It wouldn’t have happened had many people done the right thing. But the survivors are still here. His victims have quite literally survived him. We can support them, learn from them, and speak the truth about them. What they have done matters, and is a gift for the rest of us. May we be wise enough to accept it.

 Carlos Osorio/AP
Denhollander, center, is hugged after giving her victim impact statement during Larry Nassar’s sentencing hearing Wednesday, January 24, 2018, in Lansing, Michigan.

Rachael Denhollander is a lawyer and author in Louisville, Kentucky. Her memoir, What Is a Girl Worth? releases in September. Find her on Twitter @r_denhollander.


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