An Epstein trial would have raised uncomfortable questions about power, money, sex, and the limits of consent
The news of Jeffrey Epstein’s suicide on Saturday in his Manhattan jail cell immediately drew wild speculations over the weekend concerning the conspiratorial schemes which could have made it possible.
US Attorney General William Barr said he was “appalled and frankly angry to learn of the failure to adequately secure this prisoner,” and has launched a full investigation. Barr himself highlighted the questions that everyone else has. How could Epstein, who had only weeks early attempted suicide, not have been on suicide watch? Who arranged for his cellmate to be removed? Why were the guards not making their thirty-minute rounds to check on their high-profile resident?
An initial autopsy report confirmed that the cause of death was suicide by hanging, but the best conspiracy theories had already anticipated that the most plausible scenario was that Epstein had been given a choice between hanging himself and a more painful death, and faced with a bad choice, chose the quick snap of neck.
It seems equally likely, however, that the truth is not the stuff of Hollywood screenwriters. As Aaron Lockhart writes, disagreeing with Will Chamberlain’s “forced suicide” scenario, inmates accused of pedophilia are 183 times as likely to commit suicide as the general population. Surely it is simpler to believe that a day after humiliating news was released in a 2,000-page report, Epstein was thrown into despair. Similarly, Lockhart sensibly observes that the detention facility that held Epstein was “operating at less than 70 per cent staffing, and both officers on duty were working overtime. Under those conditions, it is not a question of if lapses will occur, but when.” If our most basic questions about Epstein’s death easily answered, shouldn’t we give the benefit of the doubt to the facts?
I don’t have any interest in deciding an investigation before it has occured, nor do I have that much interest in the conspiracy theories. What I do find interesting, however, about the back-and-forth between such pro- and anti-conspiracy discussions is how fixated they remain on the question of Epstein’s consent to suicide. Did he or did he not will his own death?
Consent is also at the heart of his crimes. Or rather that he developed a network of girls and young women whose consent was cultivated, formed, pushed, and often violated — through very powerful movers of the will, namely power, ambition, money. Where sexual morality is rooted in nothing but consent, sexual mores will be decided by nothing but power. And that is exactly how Jeffrey Epstein lived, and died.
Whatever really happened, and whatever these investigations reveal, it seems unlikely that the multitudes will ever believe that Epstein “fully consented” to his suicide. People somehow intuitively want the death penalty for someone like him, and yet they don’t believe he would ever get it under our justice system. They don’t want it to simply be suicide. They want it to be justice.
And there is something compelling, and yes just, in a Hollywood screenwriter way, about Epstein being forced to “consent” to his own suicide under mafia-style duress. Whatever William Barr’s investigation shows, people will still find the claim that he committed suicide of his own free will to be about as credible as the claim — which doubtless would have been part of Epstein’s defense — that 14-year-old girls wanted to attend sex orgies with rich men on airplanes and yachts on their way to Caribbean islands. One can almost imagine the court scene in which Epstein insisted that the girls had “fully consented.”
It’s more than pitiful that we will not get to see Epstein defend himself in a court of law. Justice has been thwarted on many earthly levels. No one wanted him brought to justice more than those women who wanted to tell their story. But many of Epstein’s powerful associates, who flew on his plane and visited his island, do not want stories told, and that also makes sense to people.
Yet Epstein’s sins and crimes do not only threaten to implicate those who actually associated with him in his sex trafficking and corruption. In a sexually-libertarian world which trades so often on “consent” as a simple arbiter in the free choice of the will, an Epstein trial would have raised an interesting and uncomfortable set of questions about power, money, sex, and the limits of consent.
The civil trials will doubtless empty the half-billion or so left in the coffers of Jeffrey Epstein’s “Eyes Wide Shut” life. But money is a poor substitute for the virtues of justice and charity. Surely Mr Epstein, bereft of those virtues, and his money, knows that now. I pray he knows God’s mercy.