Why is it that Epstein is a criminal but anyone who enters into a marriage with a minor, unable to legally consent, is not? Jeffery Epstein’s case raises serious concerns about what the United States needs to do to protect children from sexual abuse at the hands of adults.

Child sex offender and financier Jeffery Epstein was charged this morning for having sexual relations and trafficking underage girls. He used his victims to recruit others and partook in the sexual abuse of dozens of underage girls himself. Recently, a picture of Epstein and Trump surfaced which included Trump’s then underaged daughter, Ivanka. Allegations that Trump sexually assaulted a minor who goes by “Jane Doe,” recruited by “Tiffany Doe,” at Epstein’s New York City apartment have resurfaced in the news as well. 

If Trump was involved in or knew anything about Epstein’s activities and did not report him, he has not only committed a serious offense, he has done something that is morally reprehensible. Jeffery Epstein’s case raises serious concerns about what the United States needs to do to protect children from sexual abuse at the hands of adults.

Epstein was initially charged in 2008 with soliciting underage girls for prostitution and served thirteen months of “work release,” meaning he got sixteen hours a day outside of prison, six days a week. Epstein pled to a single charge of prostitution of a minor and did not face the consequences for the rest of his alleged crimes — all thirty six of them. This hardly seems like a punishment befitting his crimes and was far too lenient for someone who had sex with and prostituted children.  

Before legislation regarding consent was put into law in the United States, it was not uncommon for much older men to marry younger girls, usually in their mid to late teens. In the United States, forms of child marriage are legal in all fifty states. Between 2000 and 2015, approximately 207,459 children (under the age of 18) were married, eighty seven percent of who were girls between the ages sixteen and seventeen. Children as young as twelve were given marriage licenses when the age of consent in most states was between the ages of sixteen and eighteen. Surprisingly, most of those who married minors were between the ages of eighteen and twenty six, though there were still a significant number of older adults who married minors in their forties and fifties. The number of child marriages is declining year over year, but it is still a significant enough occurrence today. These minors who get married always need parental consent and sometimes a judge’s signature. There are still twenty three states that have no defined minimum age limit for how young a child can be to get married.   

While pedophilia and the age of consent are regarded differently depending on culture, it is not legal in the United States for people who are adults to have sexual relations with children unless the two are married.  However, the fact that any young girl can enter this kind of relationship without full knowledge of the consequences, trusting the people who are supposed to take care of them before they know how to take care of themselves, should be illegal.  

Protecting Children

Clearly, once a girl becomes a teenager the distinction between child and adult becomes a bit blurred for some people. Elvis Presley, at age twenty four, engaged in a relationship with Priscilla Wagner when she was only fourteen and married her once she turned eighteen. Her parents were encouraging towards their relationship.

 These types of relationship with large-age-gaps are not uncommon for celebrities, male or female, though more often than not it is an older man with a much younger woman who is over the age of eighteen. While there are many in the United States who consider relationships with large age gaps problematic, these relationships are not against the law. The laws that protect children engaged in relationships with adults are there because of the persistence and evolution of a societal norm that acknowledges the vulnerability of young teens.

Whether the perpetrators are religious leaders, family friends, community leaders, social workers, pediatricians, doctors, physical therapists, teachers, parents, pimps, financiers, Presidents, or others, there should never be an exception for total time served based on wealth or community status. No one is above the law or the duty of society to protect children. 

The fact of the matter is more needs to be done to protect children, even from the people who care for them. Epstein’s actions are horrendous and criminal, whether the sex he had with these young girls was consensual or not. The fact that he obtained consent only by paying these young girls is without a doubt abusive. Furthermore, Jeffrey Epstein should have been incarcerated for his earlier crimes and never allowed to be near children again. Using his money to pay for sex with young girls and hire lawyers to keep him out of jail for his appalling actions, Epstein has been able to continue committing these atrocities. 

Although Epstein pleaded not guilty, let’s hope that this man will now receive the punishment that befits his crimes and spend the rest of his life in prison. Let’s hope further legislation goes into place that protects children, whether they are married or not until they attain the legal age of consent. 

Margaret Valenti is the Editor of Generation Z Voice at The Pavlovic Today. 

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