#NoFilter: Media Coverage of the Epstein Case

In the #NoFilter series, private sector engagement interns Ashley Solle and Nicole Phocas discuss youth, social media, and society in the context of the recent Jeffrey Epstein indictment.

There are literally millions of images and videos depicting child sexual abuse on the internet right now, and findings of child sexual abuse material (CSAM) are growing exponentially. Between 2015-2018, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children's (NCMEC) CyberTipline noted a 4 fold increase in CSAM reports, from 4.4 million to 18.2 million. In the last few years, we have heard countless stories about wealthy, well-connected men abusing their power to exploit children. These men include household names like R Kelly, Bill Cosby, Jerry Sandusky, Kevin Spacey, Jared Fogle, Harvey Weinstein, Jimmy Savile, Woody Allen, Larry Nassar, and countless religious leaders. The recent MeToo Movement has exposed the systemic sexual harassment and abuse of women and children which has been going on for centuries. In past blog posts, we have gone into depth on the sexualization of youth in our culture. And then we have Jeffrey Epstein, the billionaire businessman who sexually exploited, trafficked, and raped children for decades without consequences. He has been given a pass by the media, who have portrayed a diluted version of the events that played out. Even now, after his apparent suicide, the media are focusing more on promoting conspiracy theories than on getting justice for the children he abused. 

Mainstream media outlets such as Rolling Stone, Boston Globe, and Forbes, to name a few, use a variation of the phrase “nude photos of underage girls” in reference to child sexual abuse material found in Epstein’s Manhattan mansion. The words “nude photos” and “children” should not exist in the same sentence. Nude photos of children are not art and they are not okay. They should be portrayed as what they are: illegal child abuse imagery. One article from the New York Post, which we honestly thought came from the Onion when we first opened it, even used the phrase “kiddie porn.” Need we say more?

Beyond more extreme phrases like “kiddie porn”, even the most reputable news sources still have a long way to go in terms of highlighting the severity of the sexual exploitation of children. A commonly used term is child pornography; however, we prefer the term child sexual abuse material (CSAM) because it both demonstrates the severity of the problem and ensures that child abuse is not equated with the legal pornography industry. Refer to our terminology guidelines for more information on phrasing. 

From the New York Times to New York Magazine, the media regularly use the term “sex with underage women” in reference to the Epstein case and many cases like his. These are not underage women, they are children, and for someone Epstein’s age, this is not sex. It is either rape or trafficking. On that same note, why is it that we call adult women “girls” when we are trying to silence them, but call young girls “women” when it is convenient to the patriarchal narrative surrounding sex? These are children. This is abuse. 

The media has a duty to bring light to injustices. By not emphasizing what happened to the child, but rather diminishing it to a neutral, problematic, or clinical phrase, they are silencing the victim’s story and diminishing the severity of the abuse. The media is expected to sensationalize and dramatize events and crimes, but when they have the opportunity to talk about a case that is already dramatic, dark, and horrifying without any exaggeration, they don’t. Call it like it is: rape, children, exploitation, international child sex trafficking ring, child sexual abuse material. This story does not end here. Do your job and tell it right.