There was little Jeffrey Epstein wouldn’t do to satisfy his lust for young women and girls. It included spending millions of dollars masterminding a worldwide sex-trafficking operation. Countless innocent lives were destroyed. A year ago Epstein was arrested and a month later he died in custody. Investigators though refused to let this scandal go to the grave with him. Instead they shifted their attention to his high-profile friends. One of them is the Queen’s son, Prince Andrew, who continues to dodge requests from the FBI for an interview. But late this week there was a significant breakthrough in the case with the arrest of socialite Ghislaine Maxwell. She’s accused of being Epstein’s right-hand woman and has been charged with multiple child sex offences. As Tara Brown reports, for the first time in a long time, the victims in this wicked saga are feeling relief rather than terror.
Last year, Sacha Baron Cohen used various disguises to pull off the most startling political humor of the Trump era on the Showtime series “Who Is America?”; and on Comedy Central’s “Nathan for You,” Nathan Fielder turned elaborate real-world stunts into unexpectedly emotional and intricate narratives. These artists expanded the ambition of the prank show while still clinging to its queasy-making juvenile roots.
The latest sneaky star of this new wave, the comedian Jena Friedman, introduces a gonzo feminist perspective in her Adult Swim show, “Soft Focus With Jena Friedman” that doesn’t just crack jokes about misogynist violence. It offers the giddy pleasure of payback.
Last year, Friedman, in character as an unflappable news reporter, did a biting segment on campus rape in which she persuaded three college frat brothers to drag around life-size female dolls called Cannot Consent Carrie. And in a bracing episode last month she built a more elaborate mousetrap involving sexual harassment in online gaming. The bit’s conceit was, If men knew what being victims of sexual harassment and abuse felt like, would that change anything?
Morally questionable humiliation has always been a part of the prank show, and the newer versions often make explicit a meanness that was always a part of “Candid Camera” and “Punk’d.” No one parodied this more brilliantly than Dave Chappelle when he imagined a show called “Zapped” in which, adults prank their kids by, for instance, having a doctor soberly tell them their parents are dead. Stop crying, toddlers, you’ve been zapped!
Prank comedy has been dominated by men tapping into their inner Jerky Boy, and Fielder and Cohen have been criticized for making women the butt of their jokes. Friedman not only flips this script, she also represents a departure for Adult Swim. In a 2016 investigation about gender disparity at the channel, Splitsider’s Megh Wright reported that it had never run a series solely created by a women. Responding to a thread on Reddit on the resulting controversy, Mike Lazzo, an executive at Adult Swim, wrote, “Women don’t tend to like conflict, comedy often comes from conflict, so that’s probably why we (or others) have so few female projects.”
Friedman makes a mockery of this sentiment. She has always gravitated toward conflict, whether arguing politics on Twitter or turning deadly serious subjects like Ebola and rape into stand-up fodder. Like Fielder, she maintains a flat equanimity, but also employs a slippery charm to ingratiate herself with subjects and her audience, sometimes glancing at the camera, Ferris Bueller-style, as if to say, “See what I just did?’
After Rachael’s story came out in September 2016, police started getting more complaints about Larry.
Within two weeks, another 16 women and girls had come forward.
By November, Larry was charged with sexually abusing a child under the age of 13.
Even then, many wondered: How could the parents of these girls have been in the room while Larry abused their child – and not know it was happening?
For their part, the parents are asking themselves the same question.
They’ve seen all the comments online: how the parents are to blame; how they must have been so obsessed with their kids’ gymnastics careers that they just looked the other way.
And the moment Rachael Denhollander spoke out publicly about her abuse, their lives changed, too. Suzanne Thomashow remembers showing her daughter, Jessica, the IndyStar article. Suzanne remembers Jessica reading it and then saying, “Mom, that’s what he did to me.”
Suzanne says, “That was when we figured it out. That was when she figured out that she’d been assaulted.”
For Larry Nassar, the beginning of the end comes in the summer of 2016, thanks to three things:
- a tough police detective,
- a dedicated team of journalists in Indiana, and
- a homeschooling mom from Kentucky.
That mom is Rachael Denhollander. She’s also a lawyer and a devout Christian.
If you’ve seen coverage of the Larry Nassar case, Rachael’s face is probably a familiar one.
Back in the summer of 2016, an article on Facebook caught her eye.
“I don’t think I’ll ever forget seeing the article come through,” she says.
It was this big investigation in The Indianapolis Star about how USA Gymnastics had been covering up complaints of sexual abuse against coaches — coaches who were able to move from gym to gym, abusing kids.
Rachael had been waiting for that moment for 16 years.
Because Rachael had also been abused — not by a coach, but by Dr. Larry Nassar, back in 2000 when she was a high school gymnast.