CESE Online Global Summit: Virginia Giuffre and Teresa Helm recall Jeffrey Epstein abuse, say laws must change
While Jeffrey Epstein has dominated headlines in the aftermath of his arrest in July 2019 on federal charges for the sex trafficking of minors in Florida and New York and after his death in his jail cell one month later, his victims rarely get a platform to share their stories. The National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE) held its annual Coalition to End Sexual Exploitation (CESE) summit virtually this year.
In one of its earliest sessions, the summit gave a platform to two of Epstein's victims, Virginia Giuffre and Teresa Helm, to discuss the horrors of their early lives and about being trafficked by Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell and how they liberated themselves. Giuffre and Helm also discussed the organization that they started, Victims Refuse Silence, and their mandate of educating the public about sex trafficking, assisting in rescuing victims off the streets or from their abusers and giving victims a platform to share their stories in a safe place.
Giuffre spoke about how she was abused by a close family member when she was very young and how she ran away because she did not "want to be abused anymore". She spoke about how the cycle of abuse continued and got entrapped in an escort agency, trafficking her out as a "virgin". She later met Maxwell who offered her a "dream job" when Giuffre was working at Mar-a-Lago in the spa and asked her to come for an interview. The interview was the first time Giuffre got abused and she was promised to be educated to become a real massage therapist. Giuffre stressed that laws need to be changed significantly to help victims of trafficking.
Helm also pointed out that she was a victim of childhood sexual abuse which had affected her with a sense of loss of self and self-worth. When Helm was attending massage therapy school after moving from Ohio to California to "pursue a dream of helping and healing", she was approached by a girl who wanted to set her up with an "amazing opportunity to be a traveling massage therapist to really wealthy people".
Helm then met alleged Epstein recruiter Sarah Kellen who seemed relatable and calm at the time. Kellen and Maxwell worked to groom the girls who were recruited to Epstein's sex trade. Helm says that Kellen was "right there" and knew what to say to put her at ease and "excite" her about the opportunity before she met Maxwell. Helm says the grooming was something predators do "exceptionally well" and that there are no flags waving to clue victims in on the dangers ahead.
Both Giuffre and Helm believe that "we're not talking about sex trafficking enough" and that the only time it is heard on the news is in connection with Prince Andrew, or other celebrities, but not in connection to "small people's stories". They also said parents must ask their children questions about if they are okay and they must also note small signs that can appear when somebody has been abused.
Giuffre spoke about how Epstein used to take her to clothing stores to buy "thongs" when she was around 16 to 19 years old. She said the people there should have asked, "why is this old dude buying thongs? That guy's old enough to be your dad." She also mentioned the time when she miscarried and was taken to a hospital in New York with forged documents, adding that doctors need to be more informed in spotting trafficking victims and that corrupt doctors need to be outed.
The two added that the statute of limitations on pursuing sexual assault cases only helps the predators. They said that victims must not be given a specific timeframe to speak out. They also added that the victims need to be given the chance to speak during the courtroom hearings. They said that society needs to change the language of how victims are talked about and how they are treated.
If you or someone you know may be a victim of trafficking, call the national human trafficking hotline at 888-373-7888 or text “HELP” to 233-733.