After Jeffrey Epstein died by suicide in prison while awaiting trial on charges of committing sex crimes against young girls, his connections to the rich and famous – Donald Trump and Bill Clinton are among the people in his orbit – led immediately to conspiracy theories.
What “Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich,” director Lisa Bryant’s harrowing Netflix docuseries (now streaming), makes abundantly clear over four one-hour episodes is that Epstein’s accusers don’t really care about all that. They are too busy trying to put their lives back together to delve into what might have happened. They are concerned with what did, to them.
“Honestly, I felt so devastated that once again he had managed to escape any kind of accountability,” Annie Farmer, one of Epstein's accusers, says about his death.
“There is no justice in this,” Shawna Rivera, another accuser, says.
They would be given some measure of justice eventually, when a federal judge allowed them, after Epstein’s death, to speak out in open court, to air their accusations – something they would be denied, obviously, without a trial.
If that sounds like a sliver of a silver lining, it plays as more than that in “Filthy Rich” (based in part on a 2016 book). By that point any relief is welcome.
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What to expect in this difficult documentary series
The documentary series, while well made, is difficult to watch. It is a story of abuse, of course, and that alone makes it upsetting, particularly given the accusers' ages and the accusations involved.
But that’s not all. As the series goes on, frustration grows – frustration with how Epstein wielded his power and his influence to stay out of trouble, with the inconsistent and at times downright incompetent efforts to prosecute Epstein, with the deaf ears turned toward women who were crying out to be heard.
“Filthy Rich” begins with video of Epstein being questioned in a deposition. From the start, as accusations are leveled against him, you think, can this be true? News stories about his arrest in 2019 hinted at the accusations. (He had pleaded guilty to a state prostitution charge of soliciting prostitution involving a 14-year-old girl in 2008 in a widely criticized deal.)
'Filthy Rich' explains Epstein's rise to power
The first hour of the series lays out the details, with accuser after accuser telling similar stories of how Epstein preyed upon them. It’s horrifying.
Epstein, for his part, deflected questions during the deposition with the confidence of someone who hasn’t heard the word “no” in about 30 years – and when he did, according to one accuser, it didn’t stop him, or even slow him down.
Bryant goes back and forth in time, so we learn of Epstein’s early life, how he was a smart guy taking shortcuts and lying from the start. After teaching, he landed in finance – the big-time stuff, the deep end of the pool. When his bosses at Bear Stearns learned he had lied on his resume – he was dating the CEO’s daughter when the revelation came to light – the decision was made to keep him on, because he was good at what he did.
The executive who ultimately made the call to keep Epstein on wonders, should he have played God and thrown a promising young talent on the streets?
“I wish I had.”
Epstein’s wealth grew dramatically. He bought homes and apartments all over the world – and his own island. Little St. James Island, it’s called, but one of the accusers said it went by another name: Pedophile Island.
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The documentary centers on the accusers and their stories
The accusers allege that along the way, Epstein and his one-time girlfriend Ghislaine Maxwell began inviting teenage girls (possibly as young as 12), often from troubled homes (part of his method, law-enforcement officers and accusers say), to come to his mansion in Palm Beach, where he would pay $200 for a massage. From there, they allege, Epstein would engage in various sex acts, and sometimes raped them. (Maxwell is also implicated; she has denied any wrongdoing.)
Investigations were launched and stymied. The 2008 plea deal blindsided law-enforcement officials, and attorneys for accusers were not consulted. The deal was approved by Alex Acosta, who was then the U.S. Attorney General for Southern Florida. Acosta served as President Donald Trump's Secretary of Labor. After Epstein’s 2019 arrest, Acosta resigned when interest in the 2008 deal reignited.
Cutting through the muck of all this are the voices of the accusers.
Yes, their stories are horrifying, heartbreaking. But there is an evident catharsis in the telling of them – especially when they finally get their day in court. It wasn’t what they wanted, exactly, but it was something. And they needed something. If they couldn’t face Epstein, they could at least unburden themselves.
Virginia Giuffre, who has gone public with her accusations against Epstein and Prince Andrew, also shares her story in the docuseries. In early 2015, Giuffre accused Epstein and his employees of paying her, when she was 17, to sexually service Epstein, Andrew and others.
"I was sexually abused by Prince Andrew," she says in "Filthy Rich." "Someone had to put their hand up and say, like, 'He can't just get away with this.'"
Giuffre says the two met in London in 2001 at Maxwell's townhouse and says the royal knew she was 17 at the time.
“I wasn’t Prince Andrew’s prostitute because I was trafficked to him, and I was a kid,” Giuffre says. She says she wishes Andrew showed "some acknowledgement and some remorse."
In November 2019, the Duke of York announced he would step away from his public duties as a royal following the fallout from his past friendship with late sex offender. Andrew has denied having a sexual relationship with Giuffre.
Giuffre also would like former President Bill Clinton to admit to being on Epstein’s private island. Though Clinton has denied visiting Little St. James, Giuffre and a former Epstein employee say in the docuseries he has.
It’s obvious that many of the accusers have a long way to go in terms of healing. Many questions remain about others who may have been involved in what more than one person calls a molestation pyramid scheme.
But Bryant ends “Filthy Rich” on a much-needed note of some hope. Conspiracy theorists will continue to do their work. For the accusers, life goes on – finally.
Contributing: Leora Arnowitz, Maria Puente and Erin Jensen
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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Netflix's 'Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich' gives accusers a voice