It seems like in the last few years, it’s come to light that more celebrities are involved in illicit and horrendous crimes such as trafficking, child pornography, and sexual assault. Whether this is due to an influx in such acts or an increase in accountability is up for debate. Nonetheless, each of the following cases serves as an example of how integrated sex crimes are in the world of the rich and famous. This is not to say that only the “elite” participate in such crimes, but, as you will see, power and influence often play a major role in exploitation and abuse.
Daughter of a prominent British media personality, Ghislaine Maxwell found herself in a life of luxury and excitement. Maxwell was befriended by well-known financier Jeffery Epstein in the early 90s. As the two became close, from around 1994-2004, Maxwell worked with Epstein to coerce, groom, abuse, and traffic young women and girls. Maxwell played a specific part in the operation by befriending and grooming the young girls before they were abused. The two were known to run in the same circles as many pop culture and political icons such as Bill Clinton, Prince Andrew, and more.
In July of 2019, Epstein was arrested for child sex trafficking. He died by suicide in prison in August of that year before he could stand trial. Until his death, he adamantly denied all of the charges.
After Epstein’s death, Maxwell was thrown into the spotlight. She was arrested and found guilty of “conspiracy to entice minors to travel to engage in illegal sex acts, conspiracy to transport minors to participate in illegal sex acts, transporting a minor to participate in illegal sex acts, sex trafficking conspiracy, and sex trafficking of a minor” in December of 2021 (US Justice Dept).
On June 28th, 2022, she was sentenced to 240 months (20 years) in prison.
U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said: “Today’s sentence holds Ghislaine Maxwell accountable for perpetrating heinous crimes against children. This sentence sends a strong message that no one is above the law and it is never too late for justice. We again express our gratitude to Epstein and Maxwell’s victims for their courage in coming forward, in testifying at trial, and in sharing their stories as part of today’s sentencing.”
Why this matters
The Epstein/Maxwell scandal pulls back the curtain on the secret world of politics and pop culture. In a world where you can seemingly buy anything, this case shows that you cannot buy your way out of these situations. As Maxwell serves her sentence, we should be reminded that those in positions of power and influence are not above the law or above human decency.
Since his career started in the 90s, R&B musician, Robert Kelly (R. Kelly) has been fighting – and paying for – sexual assault charges. It was well known in his network that he “preferred young women” and would ask others to scout out those who “looked young” (BBC). One of his first, and most hidden, victims was the young singer, Aaliyah, whom he married when she was 15 and he was 27. This short-lived marriage was only made public during recent trials. Using his fame and position of power, Kelly seduced and abused girls, young women, and young men over the course of his career. However, each time charges were brought against him, they were settled outside of court. Those who accused him were forced into silence.
When a shattering article came out in 2017, R Kelly was scrutinized and victims began to come forward, breaking non-disclosure agreements to speak up against his abuse. In July of 2019, Kelly was charged with child sex trafficking and other related charges in Brooklyn and Illinois.
On September 27th, 2021, Kelly was found guilty on all 9 counts (8 counts of sex trafficking, 1 count of racketeering). Finally, on June 29th, 2022, he was sentenced to 30 years in prison.
A BBC article lays out a timeline of R Kelly’s crimes that have been recently brought to light. Time and time again, Kelly used his fame and fortune to settle and dismiss charges brought against him. Even in this court case, Kelly’s defense blamed childhood abuse for his behaviors. However, during sentencing, US District Judge Ann Donnelly said, “It may explain, at least in part, what led to your behavior. It most surely is not an excuse.” (CNN)
Why this matters
As musicians and socialites are tried and convicted, it gives a voice to those who were abused. R Kelly’s case shows the potential for unhealed trauma to lead to the continued cycle of abuse and exploitation. It is heartbreaking for any child to endure what he had to, but as Judge Donnelly stated, past trauma is not an excuse to abuse others. This is why true healing is crucial to break this cycle and instead lead a healthy, thriving life.
Jerry Harris shot to fame as a prominent figure in Netflix’s docuseries, Cheer. His upbeat spirit and “mat talk” caught the attention of viewers and many celebrities. However, his time in the limelight quickly turned sour as allegations were brought against him.
In September 2020, just months after the series was released, Harris was arrested for the production of child pornography after he solicited videos and images from two 14-year-old brothers. Later, he was charged with soliciting sex from minors at multiple cheer competitions around the country. Harris was originally charged with seven felony counts, however, after reaching a plea agreement, only 2 charges were brought against him – to which he pleaded guilty. He was found guilty and, on July 6th, 2022, sentenced to 12 years in prison and 8 years of supervised release. U.S. District Judge Manish Shah said the sentencing was an “expression of the seriousness of your crimes, tempered with some hope that all is not lost for you or for your victims, and that in the future some healing can occur” (NPR).
During his hearing, Harris apologized to his victims. “I pray that your suffering comes to an end and that these proceedings provide you with needed closure. I am ashamed as I know that I took advantage of your youth and weakness. I was wrong and selfish. I caused you harm and I do not blame anyone,” he said in a statement.
Why this matters
Before “Cheer”, Jerry Harris was not widely known. However, as explained in season 2 of Cheer – which detailed much of Harris’ case – he was in a position of power and influence within his competitive cheer community. Taking advantage of boys who looked up to him, Harris manipulated and abused many who were known to be underage. However, as Judge Shah explained, his sentencing shows the seriousness of the crimes, while also giving the hope and opportunity for reconciliation and healing in the future.
Within a few days of each other, Maxwell, Kelly, and Harris were sentenced. These cases, among others, have been in the spotlight for years. While it has been rumored that both Maxwell and Kelly will appeal the decisions made, the widespread attention that has been given to these cases will last. It is a testament to the increase in awareness and care taken for human trafficking and the victims of such horrific acts. Not every case will get as much attention as these. However, we are hopeful that perpetrators will continue to be held accountable and survivors will find true freedom.
Why should we highlight these 3 cases? AIM’s work in Cambodia and Belize is hardly affected by decisions made in the US court system. However, one act of justice anywhere is an encouragement to those who fight trafficking everywhere. It’s no secret that this work is hard. Even being aware that there is a problem can take a toll on our minds. But, we can take heart that there IS justice, whether in this life or the next. More than this, there is healing that is possible for all who turn to Jesus. Salvation is never beyond reach. At AIM, we have seen abusers, pimps, and traffickers come to know Christ and transform their lives. This is where we find hope and this is how we know that trafficking will end.