After Jeffrey Epstein’s arrest, it was not a matter of “if,” but “when” Alexander Acosta would step down.
Acosta, the Miami-raised U.S. secretary of Labor did resign on Friday — two days after he tried to make a logical case for the lenient deal he gave sexual predator Jeffrey Epstein; six days after Epstein’s arrest in New Jersey; six months after the Miami Herald Editorial Board first called for Acosta to resign. And 11 years after Acosta did so little to ensure Epstein — alleged to have sexually molested or raped dozens of young girls, some barely in their teens, at his mansion in Palm Beach County — landed in prison for a long time.
Acosta broke faith with the young victims of whom Epstein took advantage. Acosta thought so little of them that he didn’t bother to inform them that Epstein was going to jail for a ridiculously short period of time. Just this past February, a federal judge in Florida ruled Acosta’s egregious misstep illegal. Now that he has resigned as labor secretary, how will Acosta be held accountable for that shameful lapse?
Acosta also failed the broader public, letting the jet-setter whom he forced to register as a sexual offender be released after mere months in jail, free to continue his crimes if he desired, if not in Florida, then anywhere else in the world. Acosta did not deserve to be a public servant.
The Epstein case hit a raw nerve with the public. Justice not only was delayed and denied. It was trampled upon.
Of course, Epstein got a light tap on the wrist. Of course, his victims were kept in the dark. Of course, his money and his connections insulated him. Epstein’s case is singular because of the number of girls he sexually abused and trafficked, the gaudy depravity of his crimes and his high-voltage associations in politics, finance and the law.
However, it’s also the same old story: the story of a powerful man and his powerless victims. The story of enablers who provided assistance and excuses. The story of men who were believed and women who were dismissed or intimidated into silence.
Epstein was arrested on July 6 on charges of sex trafficking with minors in Florida and New York. He has been a registered sex offender since 2008, when he was convicted of soliciting a 14-year-old girl for prostitution.
A pal of Bill Clinton and Donald Trump, Epstein could have faced federal charges in that 2008 case and 45 years behind bars. Instead, Acosta, then the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida, agreed to a sweetheart plea deal. It was a third-rate consolation prize for victims and for the Palm Beach police and prosecutors who had worked the case.
Last November, the Miami Herald published Julie K. Brown’s three-part series, “Perversion of Justice,” identifying 80 girls and young women whom Epstein had allegedly molested from 2001 to 2006.
There is some evidence that Americans finally are becoming more serious about their response to sexual abuse. It can be found in the lengthening list of high-profile sex abusers who have lost the immunity they once enjoyed, in #MeToo and in the revulsion that greeted a New Jersey judge’s lenient sentence recently for a young rapist from “a good family.”
But, of course, this is a country in which several women have credibly accused the president — the president! — of sexual violence, and the media have become blasé about it.
According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, 63 percent of sexual assaults go unreported. Survivors remain silent because they dread being blamed, shamed and doubted — even though the NSVRC says the prevalence of false reporting is no greater in cases of sexual abuse than for other crimes.
Most of those survivors never have the full attention of law enforcement. If they aren’t young white women with high-profile abusers, the odds of television crews showing up are low. Celebrity lawyers don’t leap to take their cases. Maybe the DNA evidence disappears into the backlog of unprocessed rape kits that exists in many states, leaving rapists free to continue their crimes.
Rape suspects are innocent until proven guilty, and many are found guilty and receive tough sentences, but not enough. When one in four girls is sexually abused before her 18th birthday, according to the NSVRC, and when one in five women is raped during her lifetime, crimes of sexual violence and exploitation cannot be minimized or excused, no matter how rich or powerful the perpetrators — or how poor and nondescript the victims.