Jeffrey Epstein may have died in his jail cell under what many consider to be mysterious circumstances on August 10 of last year, but the hunt for justice on behalf of the dozens of underage girls he allegedly abused since at least 2002 is as strong as ever.
‘Surviving Jeffrey Epstein’, the latest docuseries to take on the convicted high-profile billionaire financier sex offender, tells a story through the lens of eight survivors, across four episodes.
The first two episodes of the Lifetime series will air on OSN at 11pm on September 8 while the final two episodes are set to drop on September 15. The docuseries will also be available through OSN streaming.
While Epstein’s case has been covered exhaustively in previous films, ’Surviving’ features never-before-seen footage around the latest development in the trafficking scandal — the arrest of British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell, Epstein’s alleged longtime co-conspirator.
So, while the docuseries covers much of the same ground as the Netflix documentary ‘Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich’ — and, to some extent ‘Who Killed Jeffrey Epstein?’ — it also takes the story one step forward.
Ghislaine Maxwell arrested
Filmmakers shot as close to the release date as possible, so that they could include Maxwell’s arrest by the FBI on July 2, 2020. Maxwell was charged with enticement of minors, sex trafficking of children and perjury, and a federal judge denied her bail, deeming her too high of a flight risk.
Ghislaine, who pleaded not guilty to six federal charges, is currently in a Brooklyn detention centre waiting for her trial, set to take place on July 12, 2021 and expected to last for two weeks.
‘Surviving’ offers deeper insights into the elusive Maxwell, the most infamous figure in Epstein’s ongoing criminal case, aside from Epstein himself.
In the docuseries, Christopher Mason, a journalist and Maxwell’s former friend, speaks to Maxwell’s upbringing and state of mind — as well as some shocking moments he witnessed first-hand.
In one major reveal, Mason recounts a time when Maxwell allegedly tried to recruit a teenaged Paris Hilton for Epstein.
According to Mason, when Maxwell saw Hilton at a party, she said: “She would be perfect for Jeffrey.”
Barbara Ziv, a forensic psychiatrist featured in the docuseries, refers to Epstein and Maxwell’s relationship as, potentially, a “mutually parasitic” one. Epstein and Maxwell had known each other for decades.
Speaking out for the first time
Documentarists Anne Sundberg and Ricki Stern, who are longtime collaborators, teamed up to co-direct ‘Surviving’. To their advantage, they are based in New York, where Epstein owned his infamous 28,000 square foot, $77 million (Dh282.79 million) Manhattan town house.
The two women — who are behind the 2018 documentary ‘Reversing Roe’ on Netflix, which explores and analyses abortion laws in America — wanted to heavily focus on the survivors of Epstein’s assault.
“Annie and I gave the women the space and security to, in their own words, tell us their story,” says Stern. “What is so shocking… is how [the groomers] masterminded how they recruited these women. They found out what their needs were and groomed them over time. They promised them things…Things were okay, until they weren’t.”
While some survivors — such as Virginia Roberts Guiffre, advocate for sex trafficking victims — have spoken up in previous documentaries and interviews, new victims also came forward for the first time.
“Many of these women had prior sexual abuse as children. They speak out and share their stories, some for the first time ever, because they do not want this to happen again,” says Stern.
“We looked to explore women’s stories that hadn’t been told before,” says Sundberg.
“It became clear that each voice speaks to a very specific approach by Epstein. It was important for us to understand what made these women psychologically susceptible.
“The thing that we found remarkable was that Epstein, [allegedly] with the help of [Ghislaine] Maxwell, really had the ability to sniff out the specific vulnerabilities of the women that they targeted.”
‘Surviving’ takes its time, in the opening two episodes, to break down the twisted pyramid scheme of sexual abuse. Young girls, sometimes fleeing abuse, suffering from low self-esteem or in financial need, would allegedly be offered $200 to “massage” Epstein, only to be told to strip down and perform sexual acts.
In order to receive further funds, the girls are allegedly asked to recruit more girls for Epstein.
Courtney Wild, who was a 14-year-old girl with braces when Epstein found her, is now in her early 30s.
“I remember walking down the staircase after being given the $200,” she recalls in the docuseries. “I’m so upset and disgusted and I’m feeling like I’ll never come back here ever again. And then, after a week went by, I just downplayed the situation … Maybe it wasn’t so bad and I could go back because I do need more money.”
Executive producer Robert Friedman, who won an Emmy Award for his work on NBC’s ‘GIVE’ (2016), points to the well-known fact that Epstein’s social status afforded him a long-running buffer from any real consequence.
“People were very aware of the wealth and influence that Epstein used to cover up his predation. We decided to go into the story of this very sophisticated web of female recruiters, allegedly led by Ghislaine,” says Friedman.
He adds that Maxwell, 58, who had been known as Epstein’s girlfriend at the time, “weaponised class and gender… [allegedly] to put victims at ease and then to deliver them to Epstein.”
He also recalls her father, late British media proprietor and suspected spy and fraudster Robert Maxwell, who died in 1991.
“Not to suggest by any means that [Ghislaine] was abused or victimised, but clearly… she had a past that was complicated,” says Friedman.
Maxwell’s highly publicised arrest came a mere three days before the series’ creators were expected to deliver ‘Surviving’.
“Women can be evil, too. For whatever reason, which I don’t know that we’ll ever know, she came into his life and wanted to fulfil his needs,” says Stern.
“In some cases, as the women who [alleged they] were abused by Ghislaine, as well, would say, ‘She participated. She was front and centre.’”
The penultimate episode of the series, ‘No Way Out’, hears survivors recount their stories from Epstein’s private island, where flight logs feature famous visitors, from Prince Andrew to Bill Clinton and Donald Trump.
The final episode, ‘Avenged’, looks at how victims of Epstein’s abuses continue to seek justice despite Epstein’s death, and how Maxwell’s arrest this year could offer some closure.
Spike in calls to assault hotline
‘Surviving’ premiered on Lifetime in America on August 9 and concluded on August 10, exactly one year after 66-year-old Epstein killed himself in a New York City prison cell.
Lifetime is the same network that aired the investigative docuseries ‘Surviving R Kelly’, and ‘Surviving R Kelly Part II: The Reckoning’, to wide acclaim.
According to the National Sexual Assault Hotline in America, which is operated by the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), they experienced a spike in calls when the documentary first aired.
“The Sunday and Monday that ‘Surviving Jeffrey Epstein’ aired, RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Hotline experienced a 34 per cent increase in usage,” said Scott Berkowitz, president of RAINN. “We thank Lifetime Television for their partnership and are moved by the powerful impact that our work with the media continues to have in inspiring survivors to seek out the healing they deserve.”
Don’t miss it!
The first two episodes of ‘Surviving Jeffrey Epstein’ will air on OSN at 11pm on September 8 while the final two episodes are set to drop on September 15.