It would be easy to dismiss as irrelevant to us in South Africa the news that British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell was convicted in New York this week for recruiting and grooming young girls to be sexually abused by the late American financier Jeffrey Epstein.
One of Epstein’s and Maxwell’s victims, Sarah Ransome, grew up in Johannesburg, but there does seem a literal and figurative ocean of distance between us and what happened in an American courtroom. But is there?
The trafficking of young girls and women is all too real in South Africa as both local girls and those from outside our country are being held against their will as sex slaves in towns and cities countrywide.
Because Epstein’s crimes happened on a billionaire paradise island and trafficked girls often cross our borders hidden in cramped compartments on trucks, that doesn’t mean that one is any less horrifying than the other.
It’s perhaps the awful reality that, in South Africa, with our appalling record of violence against women and children, we seem immune to caring. Two other factors in the Epstein/Maxwell case are also present in our country.
Money is one: many young girls gravitate towards well-heeled “sugar daddies” who are often old enough to be their fathers. Because of our rampant poverty, this exploitation of young women seems to be even more repugnant.
Then there is the probability than many more young girls are being “groomed” in just the same way as Maxwell used to operate: a seemingly caring adult offering consolation and escape from a dysfunctional family life.
The Maxwell and Epstein horror story should serve to remind us that these abusers live right among us. All of us need to be vigilant and to listen for those voices who may be crying out for our help.
Abuse is abuse, no matter where it occurs.
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