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How did Jeffrey Epstein run his sex trafficking network?

Almost a year after Jeffrey Epstein’s death and one of the main questions of the many that continue to surround him is will we ever get proper answers? It’s not surprising in a case about a man that seemingly was never honest about his past (or arguably, present) and that has named some of the world’s most powerful men. Even his death comes with conspiracy theories. One of the more practical questions, though, is how did he do it? How did he manage to conduct a sex trafficking network of potentially hundreds of minors? Here’s what we know.

Epstein had carefully engineered means of procuring the underage girls he would go on to traffic, using everything from his friends to the vulnerable girls themselves in order to obtain new victims. 

His network of powerful contacts worked in his favour, not only providing a smokescreen via wealth and power, but providing him with a means. His relationship with Victoria’s Secret founder Les Wexner enabled him to access girls through modelling agencies via the front of ‘scouting’, luring girls to his mansion under the guise of casting. Model Elisabetta Tai told the NY Post that her booker called Epstein “one of the most important people in modelling.” It was Epstein, he said, that could get her a coveted Victoria’s Secret gig.

French modelling agent Jean-Luc Brunel, who was behind the agency that worked with Victoria’s Secret, is alleged to have taken an active role in this, knowingly supplying Epstein with victims, as well as partaking in the trafficking ring. Virginia Guiffre named Brunel in 2015 court filings, alleging Brunel had an arrangement with the US Government that allowed him to procure passports and travel documents for underage girls. They would then be handed out to his contacts.

A sexual pyramid scheme

Then there’s Epstein’s close friend, Ghislaine Maxwell, who stands accused of being his ‘madam’. Maria Farmer has said she saw Maxwell bring “many, many, many, many, many,” young women and girls into Epstein’s house, cruising Central Park to find them. Other survivors, like Guiffre, have said that she approached them under the guise of obtaining work—often as a masseuse. She would engineer a friendship in order to gain their trust, before sending them to Epstein to be raped. 

Perhaps more disturbing is not the way Epstein was facilitated by the rich and powerful, but they way he created a sexual pyramid scheme that encouraged his victims to become recruiters and which was key to his entire trafficking network.

Like many sexual predators, Epstein often specifically chose the vulnerable: young girls who needed money, who had been abused before. Haley Robson was one of these. Raped at 15, she was saving money to leave home when she first met Epstein at 16. As she told People, a classmate told her she could earn $200 dollars giving him a massage at his home in New York. Afterwards, Epstein encouraged her to bring other girls to him, offering her money in return for doing so. In the end, she estimates she brought him around 24 girls. 

Courtney Wild told the Miami Herald Epstein went after girls that were 'basically homeless,' who “no one would listen to.” Her mother was on drugs at the time Wild met Epstein, aged 14. She said she recruited around 70-80 teenagers by the time she was 16, all told they could earn $200 to $300 giving him a massage. 

Marijke Chartouni was also brought to him by a friend.

The victims would be groomed, they would have presents bought for them, their education paid for. Sometimes, the abuse continued for years.

His multiple properties and the plane on which he transported girls facilitated Epstein’s abuse. The plane, known as the ‘Lolita Express’, was kitted out with a bed and girls would be raped while on board. But it was his private island in the Caribbean, Little St James that Epstein is said to have run the trafficking ring from, according to Fox News. Dubbed ‘paedophile island’ or ‘orgy island’, he is said to have kept a team of traffickers there who were responsible for bringing girls as young as 12. Sometimes, they weren’t allowed to leave. Epstein survivor Sara Ransome described trying to escape the island. Her passport was taken off her and when she tried to swim for safety, she was caught by Epstein.

Maxwell was also allegedly there to help operations run smoothly. Speaking to BBC Panorama, Ransome called her the 'nuts and bolts' of the operation. She has been accused of intimidating the girls in order to get them to comply, of travelling to the island to ensure the girls would do what they were supposed to do.

Epstein tipped so well, his behaviour was overlooked.

As to how Epstein was able to run such a network, that included taking girls in and out of the United States, without anyone knowing, the answer appears to be they did know. Girls have described being welcomed into the home by Epstein's assistant (another alleged recruiter, described as an aide to Maxwell who would keep a list of girls and arrange appointments); Epstein’s chef would prepare food for them.

Locals on St Thomas, close to Epstein’s island, described seeing him bring young girls there for years. Employees who worked on the airstrip there said the same. One said Epstein tipped so well, his behaviour was overlooked.

It seems obvious, but ultimately, money was central to the sex trafficking ring. It was money that allowed Epstein into his high society circles, through which he met Maxwell and Wexner; money was used to groom victims and get them to recruit more girls; and it was money that kept many people quiet. At least his victims are no longer being silenced.

Surviving Jeffrey Epstein - official trailer

By Amy Lavelle