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Epstein is dead but misogyny is attracting a whole new generation

The Epstein files remind us of a time when toxic attitudes to women were so rife in powerful circles that a man like him could blend right in. Has that culture really gone away?

After all the fevered speculation, the Epstein files have been deemed a damp squib. The release of a further tranche of documents relating to a legal action by Jeffrey Epstein’s accuser Virginia Giuffre against Ghislaine Maxwell has not yet produced another expensively coiffed scalp like a bunny out of David Copperfield’s magic hat. “Anyone hoping for, or expecting, a list of celebrity paedophiles will have been sorely disappointed,” said Sky News.

Most of the names mentioned were already in the public domain and the vast majority are not implicated in anything. Nonetheless, a few powerful men will be squirming anew this weekend. Epstein is dead, but his legacy still haunts those who spent time in his company – a sordid, sex-offending ghost of parties past.

And what company he kept. Two former US presidents. A prince (by birthright, if not by character). Wall Street financiers. Hedge fund managers. Model agents. Copperfield, the magician, who – in common with most of those named in the documents, is not accused of anything – was at a dinner in Epstein’s home. Stephen Hawking’s name appears – misspelt – in an email from Epstein to Maxwell telling her to offer money to friends of Giuffre to help disprove an allegation that the theoretical physicist participated in an “under-age orgy”.

We do learn that Prince Andrew allegedly grabbed a 20-year-old’s breast within minutes of being introduced to her (he couldn’t be reached for comment, but the palace previously denied the allegations), and that Donald Trump was a pal of Epstein’s (Trump says they had a “falling out” years ago and he is “not a fan”). Bill Clinton’s name appears 73 times, though again he is not implicated in anything (Clinton issued a statement in 2019 saying that he knew nothing about Epstein’s “terrible crimes”).


Of course, merely being in Epstein’s orbit was not a crime. Most of those linked to him say they were not aware of his abusive behaviour. Epstein’s former attorney and friend Alan Dershowitz said: “None of us knew about his private life that he kept so secret ... You could judge them for having shown bad judgment, but you can’t conclude that any accusations against them are true without hearing the evidence.”

One then-high school student said Epstein tried to persuade her to emancipate herself from her parents and come and live with him

It is entirely correct that you can’t draw any conclusions based simply on what someone said in a deposition. But the claim that no one noticed anything off about his behaviour is in itself revealing – it is a chilling insight into the lurid, misogynist culture that openly swirled around Epstein and his powerful friends.

This behaviour, in case you need reminding, involved running a sex-trafficking operation, flying girls in on his private plane and paying them to find other girls who could be coerced into delivering what he nauseatingly called “massages”. Some brought to him were as young as 11. Many came from difficult family circumstances. One then-high school student said Epstein tried to persuade her to emancipate herself from her parents and come and live with him.

If none of his pals saw anything amiss, that can only be because they were blind – or because the entire toxic culture that facilitated him didn’t so much hide in plain sight as swan around in a velvet smoking jacket and Y-fronts wondering where the hot totty was.

In fact, some did ask questions. An Epstein accuser, Johanna Sjoberg, told prosecutors that Copperfield wondered whether she “was aware that girls were getting paid to find other girls”. It’s hard to believe others were oblivious. According to the New York Times, Epstein talked openly about using “his New Mexico ranch as a base where women would be inseminated with his sperm and would give birth to his babies”. Not-a-fan Trump referred to Epstein in 2002 as a “terrific guy... It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side.”

It may not be breaking news that Epstein moved in circles where toxic attitudes to women were rife – after all, he associated with Bill Clinton, who had an 18-month affair with his 22-year-old intern Monica Lewinsky when he was president, and whose aides referred to accusations of sexual misconduct against him as “bimbo eruptions” – but it is a cautionary reminder of how recently those views were unremarkable.

Epstein’s heyday coincided with other powerful men such as Harvey Weinstein, Larry Nassar and R. Kelly voraciously abusing women and girls. But it would be a terrible mistake to think their deeds and the culture they engendered are relics of a vanished history.

Epstein may be dead – he took his own life in a Manhattan cell in 2019 – but many of the individuals who turned a blind eye to him are not

The 2020s, after all, have given us Russell Brand and Andrew Tate, who have dealt with the allegations of sexual misconduct against them by arguing that it’s all an invention of the mainstream media, to the apparent satisfaction of their millions of admirers.

These years have given us a self-proclaimed p***y-grabbing Trump limbering up for another run at the US presidency with a good chance of winning. They’ve given us Prince Andrew back in the bosom of his family at Sandringham for Christmas. King Charles does plan to keep him “at arm’s length”, reports suggest, which begs the question of what Andrew would have to do to find himself exiled beyond hugging distance. The royal family is said to regard the revelations in the Epstein files as “old news”.

The rest of us should not take the same view. Epstein may be dead – he took his own life in a Manhattan cell in 2019 – but many of the individuals who turned a blind eye to him are not. And the toxic culture he embodied – a culture that saw girls and women as sexual playthings and predatory behaviour as an amusing quirk of powerful men – is attracting a whole new generation of proponents.