A Monster is Dead: An Epidemic Continues
By Sheryl McAlister
When the news of Jeffrey Epstein’s death appeared in this morning’s New York Times news feed, I was at first elated. The kind of instant gratification you might experience if your team just hit the winning shot with no time remaining on the clock.
Unlike that feeling, however, the elation quickly passed and found its way to extreme sadness for the trail of destruction and violence he left behind. And to anger at him for taking the coward’s way out, never having to pay for – in this life anyway – the unspeakable horrors he is accused of inflicting on so many young girls for so long.
Epstein was charged with sex trafficking young girls, and apparently people knew it for decades. I’m sick of these people. I’m also relieved he can no longer try to run away from the damage he’s done.
Human trafficking is a $150 billion industry worldwide, according to the International Labor Organization. Capitalism doesn’t always collide with integrity or doing the right thing.
I try to learn from the stories of those individuals who have survived against all odds. I read the news reports and watch the documentaries even though I’d rather look away. We have to pay attention to what we see and question if we see something that seems, well, not as it should be. I want to learn what to look for, how kids were recruited, where and how they were taken. So maybe, just maybe, I can help someone.
There was a girl…. And to this day, I wonder.
We were on Highway 21 on the way to St. Helena Island, SC, and stopped by a roadside vegetable business to pick up some good local produce for the weekend. We had stopped there many times before. The produce and flowers were in the front part of a much larger building. The man who ran the place was creepy. His creepiness was in stark contrast to the healthy, colorful summer offerings. But I didn’t give it much thought as I shopped for tomatoes, watermelon and other goodies.
This particular time, I wandered into the side room of the building – mostly because I was curious. I had seen the room before, but had never walked over there because it wasn’t clear if the folks running the place also lived there. Doors lined the left side of the large vacant room and had always been closed. Always. Except this day. One door was open. Inside the dark room was a girl sitting on a small bed. She was staring. At me? At the empty room? I gave a self-conscious wave, smiled and said hi. I was a little embarrassed that I had interrupted her.
She didn’t move. She didn’t speak. She didn’t smile. She didn’t turn the light on. She didn’t close the door. She didn’t come out into the bright, sunny Saturday. She just sat there. She looked to be about 12 or 13 years old. Definitely a young teenager. She wore shorts and a t-shirt on her small frame. Her light brown hair was about shoulder length. She sat on the side of the bed with her shoulders slumped.
That was 17 years ago. The memory of her haunts me still.
What did I see? Who was she? Why was she sitting alone in that dark room? Was it my business? I think it should have been. At a minimum, what hurt could it have caused to call police to check it out?
We went back the next day because the watermelon we purchased was rotten. The creepy man said he didn’t care. So we left. The next summer, there was no sign of the business or the man who ran it. They never came back.
What did I see? Was the rotten produce an omen? What I do know is that I didn’t do anything to help the girl I saw. And every single time another one of these monsters is arrested or another girl is taken or found, I think of her. So I pay attention now. I listen to those survivors who have something to teach us.
For all his money and influence, at least Epstein won’t hurt anyone else, even though his victims were denied their day in court. I, for one, am glad he’s dead.
Copyright 2019. Sheryl McAlister
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