Alex Acosta’s Prosecution Of Sex Trafficking

REUTERS/Marc Serota

Conchita Sarnoff Executive Director, Alliance to Rescue Victims of Trafficking
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This week, R. Alex Acosta will attend his nomination hearing for the position of secretary of labor. “What does Mr. Acosta have to do with teenage prostitution?” you may ask. Plenty.

Having worked with victims of human trafficking for more than a decade, I take offense to the expression, “teenage prostitute.”  The word “prostitute” carries with it the implication — albeit wrongly — that the child in reference–boy or girl–exercised some degree of choice and control in the “sale” of sexual favors.  That is usually ever the case. The word itself, “teen prostitute,” is a misnomer. The term is damaging and misleading.

On Wikipedia, the source of all “official” information these days, “prostitute” is defined as: “A person, in particular a woman, who engages in sexual activity for payment.” Synonyms are: call girl and whore.  As for the business of prostitution, Wikipedia defines it as: “The business or practice of engaging in sexual activity in exchange for payment or some other benefit.”   In the meantime, “child” is defined as: “A young human being below the age of puberty or below the legal age of majority.”  This definition includes a boy or girl or adult who is: “Immature or irresponsible person.”

Given these classifications, one could take a broad view that most American teenagers act like juveniles and at times irresponsibly. Perhaps even immature given the bombardment of messages on mainstream and social media that enforce a “stay young—-have it all” attitude pervasive in our “what’s in it for me” cultural landscape.  In addition to a bombardment of  ‘wrong’ messaging, there is a lack of discipline prevalent in the average American household, school, and community that add to the juvenile assertiveness of most American teens.  Child rearing and discipline seem at odds and are no longer mostly the norm.  The proof is in the manner in which our youth react to events, personal situations and challenges in today’s demanding acquisitive world.  Illicit drugs are on the rise amongst our teen population and part of the reason is perhaps to help them cope with and escape their reality.  On any given day, violence, drug abuse– which stunts emotional growth on the onset— and “teen sex” appear as the dominant themes in social and mainstream media stories.

By definition a “teen prostitute” would disqualify a teenager from exposing child like behavior.  The implication is that a “teen prostitute” has made a rational and educated decision, acknowledged his or her sexuality, taken on the full responsibility and weight of the decision, and trusted that his or her sexual activities were the only acceptable means of employment in order to earn a living. Could a teenager, specifically one sexually abused at age 13, 14 or 15 have the capacity to make such a life altering decision?

This brings me to Mr. Acosta’s nomination and the case of Virginia Louse Giuffre nee Roberts.’  Roberts has for many years (2005-2017) been branded a ‘teenage prostitute’ by the media even before she sued her alleged procurer, Ghislaine Noel Maxwell, in 2015.   David Boies, Vice President Al Gore’s legal representative in the 2000 Bush vs. Gore presidential elections, and his powerful team are representing Virginia Louise Giuffre, pro bono.

In the case of Virginia Louise Giuffre, her personal history demonstrates she was never a ‘teen prostitute’ in spite of the multiple times she sold sexual favors to Jeffrey E. Epstein, the Wall Street billionaire pedophile convicted, in 2007, and his political and business associates.  Epstein was charged with two counts of “solicitation of prostitution with a minor,” in Palm Beach, Florida although he was originally charged on multiple charges related to pedophilia.  After a two- year federal investigation, the United States Attorneys Office (USAO) and lead Florida prosecutor, R. Alex Acosta, prosecuted Epstein.  Court files and depositions attest the victim was raped and sexually abused by a family friend, Ron Eppinger, when she was twelve.

After Virginia was raped she ran away from home and spent most of her teen years escaping from trauma and sexual abuse. For a short stint she lived with her father, Sky Walker Roberts, in West Palm Beach while he worked as a maintenance manager at Mar-a-Lago Club, President Trump’s Palm Beach resort.

At age 15 she met and “fell in love” with Jeffrey Epstein.  At age 52, perhaps Epstein understood how to manipulate and gain the trust of a 15 year-old who had been sexually abused.  Enter Ghislaine Maxwell.

According to several depositions, Maxwell met Virginia while she was working as a bathroom attendant earning $9.00 an hour at Mar A Lago.  The rest of the sordid story turned into one of the most notorious human trafficking cases in U.S. legal history. “TrafficKing” was the first book to report the case.

Unlike most victims, Virginia managed to make a U turn in her life.  The young woman is happily married, has three children and a career or perhaps a “calling” to help other victims survive the trauma of sexual abuse and trafficking.  Thanks to Virginia’s attorneys and perhaps because of her trauma she created a foundation “Victims Refuse Silence,” that help young girls and boys overcome sex trafficking.

In reference to Virginia’s identification as a “teen prostitute,” one of Virginia’s New York attorneys said, “As you know, this does not accurately describe Virginia’s experience, either before she met Epstein or after.  In fact, it’s not clear that any teenage girl has the maturity to make an informed choice about prostitution, but in any event, Virginia did not.  As a “runaway” (read that to mean a girl kicked out of her home) trying to survive, she had no meaningful choice in the way in which she did so.  No matter how you may want to re-define the word “prostitute,” she doesn’t fit the definition, at least not insofar as it carries moral opprobrium with it (as all media who use the term know it does).

In the ongoing case of Virginia Louise Roberts Giuffre vs. Ghislaine Maxwell, scheduled for trial in New York on May 15, 2017, I take exception to The New York Post’s comment about Virginia.  She is not a “teenage prostitute.’  They applied this term to discredit her and vindicate the powerful dream team of attorneys hired by Jeffrey Epstein to defend him from dozens of teenage victims.

In spite of the influence peddling at the highest levels of government and the lax Non Prosecution Agreement, Mr. Acosta and his team should remain clear of any false misrepresentations. While at USAO, Acosta and his team accomplished three important goals — registration, restitution and jail time — when prosecuting the real criminal in this case, Jeffrey E. Epstein.  Although the penalties were not sufficiently lengthy given his alleged crimes or even federal in nature, the minimum mandatory guidelines under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA)—Epstein’s case remained a State case—Mr. Acosta succeeded in penalizing Epstein and gave many victims the opportunity of civil restitution and therefore, emotional healing, two important elements in any prosecution.  Presently, two related civil cases continue.