The Reckoning

By Sheryl McAlister

Ghislaine Maxwell was finally found guilty of sex trafficking.

“The road to justice has been far too long,” Damian Williams, U.S. attorney for New York’s Southern District, told the New York Times in an article posted yesterday. “But, today, justice has been done. I want to commend the bravery of the girls — now grown women — who stepped out of the shadows and into the courtroom.”

The Times went on to quote a prosecutor in the case: “(This case) is about the children that she targeted, the steps that she took to serve those children up to be abused. It’s about her own participation in that abuse.”

Maxwell is where she belongs — behind bars, hopefully, for the rest of her life. Her accomplice Jeffrey Epstein is dead. And the rest of us have a responsibility 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.

In an earlier post titled: A Monster is Dead: An Epidemic Continues, I wrote about a time when I should have done something:

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 19 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.

Copyright Sheryl McAlister. 2021.

New York Times quotes from: Epstein Accusers Say Ghislaine Maxwell’s Conviction Provides a Measure of Justice. December 29, 2021.

See something? Say Something.  National Human Trafficking Hotline: Help@Humantraffickinghotline.org or call 1.888.373.7888

The Violence at Home Signal for Help. Canadian Women’s Foundation. https://canadianwomen.org or call 415.248.4800

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One Comment

  1. Read 1989 NYT piece, MONSTER OF ALL HE SURVEYED. Hammond and Epstein and Maxwell all teach us what to look for if we want to help. Will we ever learn?

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

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