Money, fame, power: how celebrities get away with sex abuse

In death—whether you believe it was suicide or not—Jeffrey Epstein has escaped punishment. The kind involving a lengthy prison sentence, public and legal acknowledgement of his crimes and some sort of reckoning for his victims, anyway (believe the conspiracy theories and maybe you believe he received a more fundamental punishment). 

There goes the excitement that accumulated after his arrest, along with the hope that a wealthy, well-connected man who had allegedly raped children and kept teenage sex slaves for years might face some comeuppance. In some ways, it didn’t feel that surprising. 

The traction that this case received went beyond Epstein; his arrest came as a sign that other famous, wealthy and well-connected men whose behaviour has been whispered about for years, might finally face some kind of punishment, too, along with the realisation that they can’t get away with it after all. Let’s face it: it was necessary. After all, Donald Trump has publicly bragged about assaulting women and he’s the President of the United States. 

2017 was the year that said Time’s Up on all those who had used their power, position and privilege to commit crimes that went unaccounted for decades. Harvey Weinstein was publicly disgraced after he was accused by numerous women of assault and is facing a trial in September, while Bill Cosby saw a parade of women come forward to accuse him of drugging and assaulting them over decades and is now in prison.

In most of the cases, there had been rumours about their behaviour for years. Hannibal Buress’ comedy routine about Cosby went viral in 2014 and is said to have restarted the allegations against him. GQ published a story simply titled Harvey Weinstein: Everyone Knew. There was a sense of anticipation while we waited for the next high profile man to be taken down, like Les Moonves, the former chairman and CEO of CBS who was forced to resign in 2018 after allegations of assault, harassment and abuse from women.

But then, despite the momentum, the accusations and in some cases, the legal trials, something else happened. Or rather, nothing happened. Epstein’s case might have felt like the latest in a series of men facing justice, but his death feels like an example of a different series of events: men getting away with it.

Take Louis C.K., who in 2017, admitted that the accusations from five women that he masturbated in front of them was true. 'I said to myself that what I did was okay because I never showed a woman my dick without asking first, which is also true,' was in fact, his direct statement. As with the others, there had been rumours (and even public accusations) for years; his downfall felt like the end of his career. But then nine months later, he made a return to the comedy set and while there were plenty that spoke out against him, other big names welcomed his return. 

Then there’s the director Bryan Singer, of X-Men fame, whose name has long been connected with allegations of predatory behaviour and abuse of underage boys, which is said to have been an open secret in Hollywood. Singer was sued in 1997 after minors in his film Apt Pupil were told to strip naked, without parental permission. The suits were dropped due to insufficient evidence, though and Singer’s career continued. It wasn’t until 2017 that it felt like time was finally up, when he was fired from Bohemian Rhapsody, then faced a lawsuit filed by Cesar Sanchez-Guzman, who accused him of rape. The Atlantic ran an investigation into the allegations and found a number of alleged victims who accused the director of raping them when they were underage. In June, Singer settled the rape case out of court, while maintaining his innocence. 

Kevin Spacey, meanwhile, chose to use his first public appearance after different men made a number of allegations of sexual assault against him, to recite poetry. This comes after the charges of assault against him were dropped when his accuser declined to testify.

But does any of this come as any surprise? Weinstein is said to have been paying off his accusers for years and even killed a New York Times story on the allegations. Now, he’s out on bail after posting $1 million bail money, while a few months after being fired, Les Moonves set up a new company.

Then there are those that stand accused of assault that never received any reckoning. High profile actors continue to work on Woody Allen films, despite a dodgy personal history and allegations of rape from his adopted daughter (he also has ties to Epstein). While over 100 people (including celebrities like Woody Allen, Tilda Swinton and Martin Scorcese) signed a petition on behalf of Roman Polanski, who raped a 13-year-old girl in the 1970s, then promptly fled the country, after he was finally arrested.

Speaking of problematic directors, Tarantino has admitted knowing about Weinstein and has defended Polanski, denying the rape and accusing the 13-year-old victim of ‘wanting it’. He was also forced to apologise for his own actions, after spitting on Uma Thurman, choking her and pushing her to perform a stunt that resulted in her getting seriously injured during the filming of Kill Bill. Yet Once Upon a Time in Hollywood has broken UK box office records.

And let’s not forget Academy Award winner Casey Affleck; Grammy award-winning Chris Brown; Oscar-winning Mel Gibson; Golden Globe winner Charlie Sheen; presidents past to president current; Hollywood royalty to actual royalty. The list goes on (and on). 

Some of the most powerful men in the world have been named as abusers. What connects them is power and money, because at the heart of it, it’s not what you do, but what you make and the power you hold that matters. That speaks louder than the individual victims. Or as Trump put it, 'When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.' He would know.