• Sona Chaturvedi

Silenced


Photo credit: Marcos Mesa Sam Wordley/Shutterstock. When the wealthy commit crimes, we rarely hear from the victims.

It’s a modern-day Shakespearean story.

A deeply well-connected billionaire, Jeffery Epstein, and his millionaire girlfriend, Ghislaine Maxwell, intertwined in an incredulous tale of sex, money, corruption and scandal. We are all horrified by it but not at all shocked, because we know different rules apply when it comes to “them.” There are no shortage of crime-and-corruption stories when the wealthy are involved, and we are all jaded by it now. But we shouldn’t be. Thanks to the rise of the #MeToo movement, progress has been made in bringing “them” to justice. And Epstein was eventually exposed due to the dogged efforts of Julie Brown from the Miami Herald, who relentlessly pursued the story. Epstein's ties with the current occupant of the White House and countless other high-profile politicians, lawyers and celebrities, made it nearly impossible to hold him accountable. Until now. Yes, Epstein paid the ultimate price, and we will speculate for years whether he actually committed suicide. And what is to become of Ghislaine Maxwell, his heiress girlfriend currently in custody? In all this, there is a very important piece of the puzzle glaringly missing from our conversation. The victims. Netflix did a tell-all documentary about the ever-evolving story, interviewed the victims who spoke quite eloquently and emotionally about their experiences, their lives then and now. But that is not on what we focus our attention. Once again, because of money and the unequal distribution of power and wealth, we still allow them to change the conversation, to speculate about them and what happened/happens to them. Once again, silencing the victims. When will there will be justice for the victims? When will their voices really be heard? When will they no longer be SILENCED? “We don’t like admitting how deeply misogynistic our culture is,” said Soraya Chemaly, director of the Women’s Media Center speech project. “It’s very clear. You and I can say everybody gets away with [rape and sexual assault abuse], and it sounds like we’re exaggerating. But, in fact, it’s just a description of the fact.”

In a country ruled almost exclusively by men, there’s power simply in being male. That’s patriarchy. Men, particularly white men, hold the reins. They get the benefit of the doubt. But wealth, and the unequal distribution of it, leads to this narrative happening over and over. This scandal will go away, and everyone will move on, but those victims’ stories will never really be fully heard unless we change the narrative. It can no longer be about the wealthy, and it needs to focus on what’s really at the heart of this. In this culture of misogyny and unequal distribution of wealth, we allow victims to be silenced. The wealthy get away with so much, there is not enough space to go over it all, but the worst part is we normalize it. We give them cooking shows, reality shows, talk shows, make movies about them, allow them to take the narrative and poke fun at themselves, and then we call them a good sport for doing so. After all, what is wrong with redemption? Nothing, except that’s not what we’re celebrating. It’s a fundamental untruth, and it’s normalizing the criminal behavior of people because they are wealthy. Because they are famous. Their public appearances amplify how brazenly we allow the wealthy to get away with anything. And it’s all well and good to report on, it’s just not news. At least not the news on which we should be focusing our efforts. What are the names of any of their victims? What happened to them? What will happen once the limelight fades? Another wealthy individual will get away with murder. THEY will probably get their own reality show, and we’ll watch it in horror as we tend to do. All the while, the victims will be reduced to a soundbite at the end of a news segment with a teary-eyed reporter, and the bigger story at the end of the day will become some trivial nonsense like Sharpie-gate. Until the next time it happens and wash, rinse, repeat…

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