Ghislaine Maxwell’s conviction for recruiting young girls to serve Jeffrey Epstein’s sexual desires set a marker: Enablers are not safe from criminal prosecution. In that sense, her conviction was an important first-of-its-kind moment in the #MeToo era. But real progress still demands a reckoning with an uncomfortable truth. In the world of wealth and privilege, most enablers are beyond the reach of criminal law.
Like Mr. Epstein, other wealthy and powerful men who have been convicted of sexual misconduct charges in recent years also relied on others who, at best, looked the other way and, at worst, actively enabled the abuse, almost all without consequence.
The cases of Mr. Epstein, Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein and R. Kelly are examples of this cultural complicity. In each instance, the abuse was considered an open secret because many people knew or suspected what was happening but failed to intervene. Ms. Maxwell’s conviction demonstrates that prosecutors can, in extreme cases, hold those who enable abusers criminally liable.
But we should not be blind to the myriad ways of enabling that do not rise to the level of a crime. They are the ordinary acts of ordinary people that, however intentioned, combine to protect abusers — particularly men with status, wealth and privilege.
In the case of Mr. Cosby, for instance, David Carr, then a media columnist for The Times, included himself on a list of those in the media who were in the know but didn’t pursue it. “I was one of those who looked away,” he wrote. He recalled interviewing Mr. Cosby in 2011 for an airline magazine “and never found the space or the time to ask him why so many women had accused him of drugging and then assaulting them.” Mr. Carr was hardly an aberration. “No one wanted to disturb the Natural Order of Things,” he explained.
Of course, a failure or an unwillingness to disrupt the status quo is not a crime. That is as it should be. But it is also why the problem of cultural complicity will not be solved by criminal law alone.
Many people enabled the R&B artist R. Kelly’s longtime abuse of girls and women. The reporter and music critic Jim DeRogatis, who has reported about the abuse, has said innumerable people knew about or witnessed Mr. Kelly’s behavior. Yet only a few have been charged with crimes related to his abuse.
The story is much the same for Mr. Weinstein. As The Times reported, the movie producer “relied on powerful relationships across industries to provide him with cover as accusations of sexual misconduct piled up for decades.”
Mr. Epstein also benefited from this sort of complicity. His crimes came to the attention of law enforcement in 2005. As reported by Julie K. Brown of The Miami Herald, the police chief who supervised the investigation in Palm Beach, Fla., recalled that “this was not a ‘he said, she said,’ situation. This was 50-something ‘shes’ and one ‘he’ — and the ‘shes’ all basically told the same story.”
Ms. Brown wrote that police investigators determined that Mr. Epstein had assembled and exploited a “large, cultlike network of underage girls” — mostly 13 to 16 years old, many from disadvantaged families — and coerced them into repeated sex acts.
Instead of pursuing federal charges, however, the U.S. attorney at the time agreed to a jaw-dropping deal that two experienced former prosecutors described as “shockingly lenient.” Mr. Epstein agreed to plead guilty in state court and serve 18 months in county jail. His victims were not told of the deal before it was reached. He was permitted to leave jail six days a week to go to the office, where he continued to run his hedge fund. This jail sentence, such as it was, ended five months early, when he was released in 2009.
A fund created by Mr. Epstein’s estate to compensate his sexual assault victims has paid some $121 million to more than 135 people. The fund declined to say how many of the eligible claims were for the period since his 2009 release.
One reason prosecutions like Ms. Maxwell’s are so unusual and so difficult is that the law forbids only the most extreme enabling behaviors. Although criminal statutes vary, absent a specific legal duty to act, people are generally not held responsible for omissions that cause harm. But when a person’s purposeful assistance is integral to another’s abuse, the outcome may be different, as it was for Ms. Maxwell. Under such narrow circumstances, criminal prosecution can play a part in dismantling a culture that protects abusers.
By the accusers’ accounts, Ms. Maxwell didn’t just passively enable Mr. Epstein’s abuse; she facilitated it. This depiction was the essence of the government’s case.
Ms. Maxwell should be held accountable for the incalculable suffering she brought upon vulnerable girls. But her conviction should not obscure the reality that Mr. Epstein’s enablers were many: employees who allegedly helped him capitalize on the desperation of marginalized girls and women, the influential friends who knew or should have known of his ongoing scheme, the Florida prosecutors who provided the sweetheart deal, the power brokers who by association legitimized his misconduct.
This litany of protectors generally operated within the bounds of the law; Ms. Maxwell did not. The promise of prosecution is that, like her, the most blameworthy enablers of abuse can be held to account. For those who survived Mr. Epstein’s predations, this conviction is a long overdue measure of justice.
The rest of us should not be left with an undue sense of complacency. Impunity for abusers is given collectively, and it lies mostly beyond the law. Even more difficult than prosecuting the worst enablers is confronting the complicity we share.
The #MeToo movement has shed light on the interlocking relationships that protect sexual predators. By speaking up, victims have sought to hold even the most powerful men to account. In the same vein, we can all do our part. If people intervene when they see or suspect abuse, this culture of complicity surrounding predators will begin to unravel. And that will amount to meaningful progress.
The film executive hired private investigators, including ex-Mossad agents, to track actresses and journalists.
The same operative, using a different false identity and implying that she had an allegation against Weinstein, met twice with a journalist to find out which women were talking to the press
.. In other cases, journalists directed by Weinstein or the private investigators interviewed women and reported back the details.
The explicit goal of the investigations, laid out in one contract with Black Cube, signed in July, was to stop the publication of the abuse allegations against Weinstein that eventually emerged in the New York Times and The New Yorker.
.. He also enlisted former employees from his film enterprises to join in the effort, collecting names and placing calls that, according to some sources who received them, felt intimidating.
.. In some cases, the investigative effort was run through Weinstein’s lawyers, including David Boies
.. Boies personally signed the contract directing Black Cube to attempt to uncover information that would stop the publication of a Times story about Weinstein’s abuses, while his firm was also representing the Times, including in a libel case.
.. Boies said that his firm’s involvement with the investigators was a mistake. “We should not have been contracting with and paying investigators that we did not select and direct,” he told me. “At the time, it seemed a reasonable accommodation for a client, but it was not thought through, and that was my mistake. It was a mistake at the time.”
.. because such relationships are often run through law firms, the investigations are theoretically protected by attorney-client privilege, which could prevent them from being disclosed in court. The documents and sources reveal the tools and tactics available to powerful individuals to suppress negative stories and, in some cases, forestall criminal investigations.
.. In a statement, Weinstein’s spokesperson, Sallie Hofmeister, said, “It is a fiction to suggest that any individuals were targeted or suppressed at any time.”
.. Ben Wallace, a reporter at New York who was pursuing a story on Weinstein, said that the same woman met with him twice last fall.
.. Over the course of the two meetings, Wallace grew increasingly suspicious of her motives. Anna seemed to be pushing him for information
.. During their second meeting, Anna requested that they sit close together, leading Wallace to suspect that she might be recording the exchange. When she recounted her experiences with Weinstein, Wallace said, “it seemed like soap-opera acting.”
.. Last fall, Weinstein began mentioning Black Cube by name in conversations with his associates and attorneys. The agency had made a name for itself digging up information for companies in Israel, Europe, and the U.S
.. they originally believed that the assignment focussed on his business rivals
.. Boies’s law firm, Boies Schiller Flexner, wired to Black Cube the first hundred thousand dollars, toward what would ultimately be a six-hundred-thousand-dollar invoice.
.. the project’s “primary objectives” are to “provide intelligence which will help the Client’s efforts to completely stop the publication of a new negative article in a leading NY newspaper” and to “obtain additional content of a book which currently being written and includes harmful negative information on and about the Client,”
.. “a dedicated team of expert intelligence officers .. including a project manager, intelligence analysts, linguists, and “Avatar Operators” specifically hired to create fake identities on social media, as well as “operations experts with extensive experience in social engineering.”
.. After Ambra Battilana Gutierrez, an Italian model, accused Weinstein of sexually assaulting her, in 2015, she reached a settlement with Weinstein that required her to surrender all her personal devices to Kroll, so that they could be wiped of evidence of a conversation in which Weinstein admitted to groping her.
.. Los Angeles-based psops, and its lead private investigator, Jack Palladino, as well as another one of its investigators, Sara Ness, produced detailed profiles of various individuals in the saga, sometimes of a personal nature, which included information that could be used to undermine their credibility.
.. Ness sent to Weinstein last December ran for more than a hundred pages and featured McGowan’s address and other personal information, along with sections labelled “Lies/Exaggerations/Contradictions,” “Hypocrisy,” and “Potential Negative Character Wits,” an apparent abbreviation of “witnesses.” One subhead read “Past Lovers.” The section included details of acrimonious breakups, mentioning Avellan, and discussed Facebook posts expressing negative sentiments about McGowan.
.. Other firms were also involved in assembling such profiles, including ones that focussed on factors that, in theory, might make women likely to speak out against sexual abuse.
.. “Our research did not yield any promising avenues for the personal impeachment of Moss.”
.. psops also profiled Wallace’s ex-wife, noting that she “might prove relevant to considerations of our response strategy when Wallace’s article on our client is finally published.”
.. For years, Weinstein had used private security agencies to investigate reporters. In the early aughts, as the journalist David Carr, who died in 2015, worked on a report on Weinstein for New York, Weinstein assigned Kroll to dig up unflattering information about him
.. In one document, Weinstein’s investigators wrote that Carr had learned of McGowan’s allegation in the course of his reporting. Carr “wrote a number of critical/unflattering articles about HW over the years,” the document says, “none of which touched on the topic of women (due to fear of HW’s retaliation, according to HW).”
.. From the beginning, he said, he advised Weinstein “that the story could not be stopped by threats or influence and that the only way the story could be stopped was by convincing the Times that there was no rape.”
.. “If evidence could be uncovered to convince the Times the charges should not be published, I did not believe, and do not believe, that that would be averse to the Times’ interest.”
.. He conceded, however, that any efforts to profile and undermine reporters, at the Times and elsewhere, were problematic. “In general, I don’t think it’s appropriate to try to pressure reporters,” he said. “If that did happen here, it would not have been appropriate.”
.. Of his representation of Weinstein in general, he said, “I don’t believe former lawyers should criticize former clients.” But he expressed regrets. “Although he vigorously denies using physical force, Mr. Weinstein has himself recognized that his contact with women was indefensible and incredibly hurtful,” Boies told me. “In retrospect, I knew enough in 2015 that I believe I should have been on notice of a problem, and done something about it. I don’t know what, if anything, happened after 2015, but to the extent it did, I think I have some responsibility.
.. In the middle of the meeting, Weinstein asked Lubell if they could have a private conversation in his office. Lubell told me that a lawyer working with Weinstein was already there, along with Doyle Chambers. Weinstein asked if Lubell and Doyle Chambers could write a “fun book on the old times, the heyday, of Miramax.” “Pam,” she recalled him saying, “write down all the employees that you know, and can you get in touch with them?”
.. she knew that Weinstein “was a bully and a cheater,” she “never thought he was a predator.”
Nearly 80 years later, that aroma of perversion and maladroit du seigneur clings to Hollywood. Now we are inundated with grotesque tales of Harvey Weinstein pulling out his penis to show to appalled and frightened young women, enlisting the pimping help of agents and assistants to have actresses delivered to his hotel rooms, where he pestered the women to watch him shower or give him a massage or engage in intimate acts.
“The ill will towards him for getting away with it all for so long has unleashed something so primitive,” a prominent male Hollywood producer told me. “If people could rip him apart, they would
.. a man trusted by the Obamas to have their daughter intern at his company.
.. Often the actresses scrambled, trying to figure out how to get out of the room without having their futures shredded by the vindictive satyr, who also threatened to destroy actresses who balked at wearing dresses designed by his wife Georgina Chapman’s fashion label on the red carpet... Min recalled attending the $400,000 speech Barack Obama made as an ex-president to an A&E Networks advertising upfront at the Pierre hotel in New York in April.
.. “There probably needs to be some introspection about how certain people who engage in horrendous mistreatment of women can co-opt the media,” she mused. “The fundamental predatory nature of Hollywood is young, attractive people — largely females — putting themselves in front of men to be judged and appraised and chosen.
.. In Hollywood, unlike at other Fortune 500 companies, the one-on-one meetings take place in hotel suites and bars. It’s an exploitative and oddly personal process.”
.. Harvey had proven time and again he could get you the Oscar that could make your career. It’s the difference between being in the reboot of ‘Saved by the Bell’ or getting 15 million for your next role.”
Hollywood is a culture that runs on fear. And it is not like other professions, one top entertainment executive said, because “no one comes with a résumé. It’s about what you look like and who sent you.”
.. There was resentment against Weinstein in Hollywood, not only for the stories bubbling around about women, but the way he humiliated men who worked with him. He even berated a 15-year-old girl at a screening because her parents supported a political candidate he opposed.
.. Like Trump, that other self-professed predator, there were complaints that in business deals he stiffed people on bills (advertising and public relations payments), and he had a reputation for lying, cheating, taking advantage, acting like a thug. Many in the film community felt he besmirched the Oscars by turning it into a marketing race rather than a contest of quality.