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Sexual Predators in the Era of Trump

Long after the Trump presidency passes into the historical graveyard, it will be recalled for the scandals involving sexual abuse that occurred during his tenure.  These scandals bespeak the sexual pathology that long characterized the president himself.

A series of revelations about men who take advantage of underage girls has placed the issue of sexual predators at the center of public debate.  These include the financier Jeffrey Epstein and the entertainer R Kelly as well as the male sex tourists traveling overseas to have sex with trafficked young girls.

Lifetime is airing a six-part documentary series, Surviving R. Kelly, that tells the gruesome story of how the entertainer sexually abused African-American girls and women for decades.  Willa Paskin, reviewing the series for Slate, notes: “We chose to ignore his deeds, downplay them, or remain willfully ignorant of them so we could go on enjoying his music. …  We made a deal with the devil on the cheap — let us keep this song! — and had 16-year-old girls pay the exorbitant price.”

Kelly’s sexual exploitation of teenage girls were first revealed in the mid-90s by Jim DeRogatis, the Chicago Sun-Times pop-music critic.  He long covered Kelly musical career, but in 2002 he received two videos from an anonymous source that depicting the pop star engaging in sex with young girls. Working with his colleague Abdon Pallasch, over the years they interviewed innumerable people involved in the case, including dozens of young women Kelly allegedly sexually exploited.  DeRogatis’ articles and the two videos led to criminal charges against Kelly. He went to trial in 2008 and was found not guilty on all 14 charges.

One of the weirdest aspects of the Kelly story that DeRogatis reported on concerns the allegations that he has operated a series of sex cults, essentially imprisoning girls and young women to a form of sex slavery.  These facilities were located in Chicago and the Atlanta suburbs and, as reported, “dictating what they eat, how they dress, when they bathe, when they sleep, and how they engage in sexual encounters that he records.”  In a Duluth, GA, “guest house,” a 31-year-old “den mother” “trained” new young women as to “how Kelly liked to be pleasured sexually.” The reporter has also detailed how Kelly paid “hush money” to an underage girl to avoid further litigation.

Numerous women appear in Surviving R. Kelly and testify to the sexual abuse that Kelly inflicted on them.  However, the key experience that shapes the series involves the performer, Aaliyah, Kelly’s protégée and who he married when she was just 15 years old.  They first met during his child-pornography trial and Aaliyah died in a plane crash in August 2001 in the Bahamas. Her mother, Diane Houghton, has challenged the series’ account of her daughter’s relationship with Kelly.

A second prominent sex predator is the financier Jeffrey Epstein.  In 2005, he began to assemble a network of dozens – if not a hundred — underage girls for prostitution. The Miami Herald found about 80 women Epstein allegedly molested or sexually abused over a five-year period, including 36 underage victims.  Some of the girls were only 13 or 14 years old when they were molested.  More damaging revelations involve Trump’s Sec. of Labor, R. Alexander Acosta, who, as the U.S. attorney in Miami, brokered what the Herald calls the “deal of a lifetime” so that Epstein received a slap on the risk.

The latest twist in this twisted tale involves the lawyer and TV personality, Alan Dershowitz. Sarah Ransome has alleged in a New York federal court filing that Epstein and his alleged madam, Ghislaine Maxwell, “directed” her in 2006 to have sex with Dershowitz and others.  It’s a claim the attorney adamantly denies.

On September 4, 2015, David Strecker, a 66-year-old Florida resident, was arrested at a Costa Rican airport for violating the country’s law for promoting prostitution and received a five-year sentence. Strecker operated a blog, “Cuba Dave,” celebrating his sexual exploits with girls and young women in Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic and Cuba. He was the first person ever tried under the country’s new anti-prostitution law and received a 5-year prison sentence in Costa Rica.

Costa Rica is among the leading international destination favored by American sex tourists.  Others include the Philippines, Thailand, Cambodia, The Netherlands, Spain, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Cuba and Mexico. World Vision Australia estimates 250,000 tourists visit Asia each year for sexual activities with a minor and an estimated 25 percent of sex tourists originate from the U.S.  Men are considered to be the primary sex tourist around the globe with most sex tourism customers coming from middle to upper class backgrounds.

In 2003, the U.S. adopted the PROTECT — Prosecutorial Remedies and Other Tools to end the Exploitation of Children Today — Act.  An Urban Institute study finds that from 2003 to 2012, only 33 individuals were prosecuted under the act.  The study notes, “by prioritizing this crime and enforcing the PROTECT Act, more US citizens and legal US residents traveling overseas for the purposes of sex tourism can be identified and brought to justice.”

Since Harvey Weinstein was outed in October 2017, about 80 women have publicly revealed how they were sexually abused. Many of those accused of such immoral, if not illegal, behavior are among the social elite, including judges, politicians, business execs and entertainers.

Among these men, both white and African-American, are judges Alex Kozinski (CA federal judge) and Ray Moore (R-AL); politicians Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) and Reps. Ruben Kihuen (D-NV), Blake Farenthold (R-TX), Pat Meehan (R-PA), Trent Franks (R-AZ) and John Conyers (D-MI); and entertainers Kevin Spacey (actor), Russell Simmons (co-founder, Def Jam Recordings), Garrison Keillor (host, “A Prairie Home Companion”), Charlie Rose (host, PBS and CBS), Matt Lauer (host, NBC “Today”) and Mario Batali (TV star and chef).

Sadly, in the era of Trump, further revelations about prominent men who are sexual abusers and predators are likely.

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David Rosen is the author of Sex, Sin & Subversion:  The Transformation of 1950s New York’s Forbidden into America’s New Normal (Skyhorse, 2015).  He can be reached at drosennyc@verizon.net; check out www.DavidRosenWrites.com.

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