New A+E Networks UK documentary Surviving Jeffrey Epstein tells the story of the systematic abuse of under-age girls by the disgraced billionaire New York financier from those who endured it – his victims.
At an RTS Zoom event in August, the online audience was given an exclusive preview of the compelling four-part documentary series, ahead of its broadcast on 25 August on true crime channel Crime+Investigation.
Surviving Jeffrey Epstein features the stories of eight women, who testify that they were sexually abused. Epstein, who was found dead in his cell at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York last year, had been accused of building a huge sex trafficking network of under-aged girls over two decades.
“We wanted to tell the story through the lens of the survivors,” said executive producer Robert Friedman, CEO of Bungalow Media + Entertainment, which made the series with co-directors Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg from New York’s Break Thru Films.
“Annie and I gave the women the space and security to, in their own words, tell us their story,” said Stern. “What is so shocking…is how [the groomers] masterminded how they recruited these women. They found out what their needs were and groomed them over time. They promised them things…Things were okay, until they weren’t.”
Epstein’s young victims frequently came from deprived backgrounds with difficult home lives. Some of the under-age girls groomed by Epstein then recruited their own friends and classmates.
“Many of these women had prior sexual abuse as children. They speak out and share their stories, some for the first time ever, because they do not want this to happen again,” said Stern.
“We looked to explore women’s stories that hadn’t been told before. It became clear that each voice speaks to a very specific approach by Epstein. It was important for us to understand what made these women psychologically susceptible,” said Sundberg.
"Epstein’s death denied his accusers the opportunity of facing their abuser in court"
“The thing that we found remarkable was that Epstein, [allegedly] with the help of [Ghislaine] Maxwell, really had the ability to sniff out the specific vulnerabilities of the women that they targeted.”
“People were very aware of the wealth and influence that Epstein used to cover up his predation. We decided to go into the story of this very sophisticated web of female recruiters, allegedly led by Ghislaine,” said Friedman.
The British socialite Maxwell, who had been Epstein’s girlfriend, “weaponised class and gender… [allegedly] to put victims at ease and then to deliver them to Epstein,” he added.
Her arrest in July – three days before the series was due to be delivered, offered the film-makers more scope. “[It] allowed us to go a little bit deeper,” said Friedman.
“Women can be evil too,” said Stern. “For whatever reason, which I don’t know that we’ll ever know, she came into his life and wanted to fulfil his needs. In some cases, as the women who [alleged they] were abused by Ghislaine as well would say, ‘She participated. She was front and centre.’”
Recalling her father, the British press baron Robert Maxwell, Friedman added: “Not to suggest by any means that she was abused or victimised, but clearly… she had a past that was complicated.”
Epstein’s death denied his accusers the opportunity of facing their abuser in court, but the arrest of Ghislaine Maxwell offers the survivors the hope of “some kind of closure”, said Friedman.
In the US where it was released in early August, revealed Sundberg, the series has raised more than awareness about the alleged crimes of Epstein and Maxwell: “It’s having a direct impact on women, who are reaching out for help, which is great.”
The joint RTS/ A+E Networks UK event, ‘Surviving Jeffrey Epstein’, was held on 20 August and hosted by Dan Korn, VP programming at A+E Networks UK.