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Jeffrey Epstein's accusers will never know similar emotional relief to victimized US gymnasts

Jeffrey Epstein's apparent suicide robbed his accusers of a chance to see him held accountable — a chance abused U.S. gymnasts took full advantage of.

FILE- In this July 30, 2008 file photo, Jeffrey Epstein appears in court in West Palm Beach, Fla. Epstein has died by suicide while awaiting trial on sex-trafficking charges, says person briefed on the matter, Saturday, Aug. 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Palm Beach
FILE- In this July 30, 2008 file photo, Jeffrey Epstein appears in court in West Palm Beach, Fla. Epstein has died by suicide while awaiting trial on sex-trafficking charges, says person briefed on the matter, Saturday, Aug. 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Palm Beach Post, Uma Sanghvi, File)
Uma Sanghvi, Palm Beach Post

SALT LAKE CITY — On Sunday, Simone Biles won her sixth consecutive all-around title at the U.S. Gymnastics Championship. She did so in style, unleashing two never-before-done-in-competition moves. Her thrilling performance was a welcome reprieve for a sport trying to reclaim the American imagination after spending several years at the center of an American nightmare.

In January 2018, with admitted child sexual abuser Larry Nassar — the former USA Gymnastics doctor who pled guilty to 10 counts of sexual assault for abusing young girls he was supposed to treat — scheduled to be sentenced, Judge Rosemarie Acquilina allowed 156 of his victims to testify against him. The BBC noted the rarity of the situation at the time.

“Over seven days,” the BBC wrote, “they took to the stand one by one to do what few survivors of sexual abuse ever get the chance to do — directly confront their attacker.”

Biles’ dominance this weekend was overshadowed by another story of abuse, though one that will have a very different ending. Jeffrey Epstein, the financier facing sex trafficking charges, apparently hanged himself Saturday in his Lower Manhattan jail cell, leaving behind a group of accusers who will never know the same catharsis as Nassar’s victims.

“They’re in shock, first of all,” Julie K. Brown, the Miami Herald reporter who broke the story of Epstein’s secret plea deal from a decade earlier and has spent two years investigating him, told "CBS This Morning" on Saturday. “They’ve been trying to find justice on this case for a very long time.”

And they’ll face a much tougher route now. According to CBS, prosecutors will dismiss criminal charges against Epstein but “will likely continue to investigate any co-conspirators.” His accusers can pursue civil cases against his estate, per NPR, but former federal prosecutor Kerry Lawrence said that’s no sure thing.

"He wasn't deposed, and now he's not available to defend himself," he told NPR. "Any restitution that they might have sought for victims or forfeiture of assets in connection with the prosecution all effectively disappear."

Brown told "CBS This Morning" that his victims feel like Epstein, even though his death means he can no longer hurt anyone, beat the system by taking his own life.

“They think it’s another example of how our criminal justice system is not only broken,” she said,” but it seems to favor wealthy people who seem to somehow always be able to get away with things.”

Several made this known in The New York Times.

“We’ve worked so hard to get here,” said Virginia Giuffre, who accused Epstein of sexual assault, “and he stole that from us, too.”

“We have to live with the scars of his actions for the rest of our lives,” added Jennifer Araoz, who accused Epstein of raping her when she was 15, “while he will never face the consequences of the crimes he committed, the pain and trauma he caused so many people.”

Epstein’s death sparked an onslaught of conspiracy theories, including one promoted on Twitter by President Trump. But as The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board pointed out, “You don’t have to believe in conspiracy to question the competence of the Federal Bureau of Prisons and Epstein’s prosecutor, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey Berman.” It quoted Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse, who wrote a letter to the Justice Department demanding it investigate who allowed Epstein’s suicide and ensure they’re held accountable, since he was a known suicide risk and his “dark secrets couldn’t be allowed to die with him.”

“This kind of fiasco,” the WSJ Editorial Board continued, “is why so many Americans mistrust government.”

In January 2018, Biles announced via Twitter that she’d also been abused by Nassar. In a recent interview posted by KSHB Kansas City, she lambasted USA Gymnastics for failing to protect her and other gymnasts while also discussing the lasting trauma. The interview resulted from Biles tweeting a Washington Post story earlier this month that detailed a Senate panel’s findings of pervasive negligence allowing Nassar’s abuse to proliferate.

“They couldn’t do one damn job,” she said. “You had one job. You literally had one job and you couldn’t protect us.”

Now, negligence is again at the forefront of a powerful man accused of systemic abuse of women; even with the abuse in the past, this negligence could end up preventing the same closure — however late and small — the gymnasts were offered.

“And what can’t happen now, which might have happened,” one of the "CBS This Morning" anchors observed, “is a kind of Dr. Nassar moment with USA Gymnastics, where the victims can confront their victimizer.”