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This is The Big Deal About Victim Rights

At our most vulnerable and dependent on another, there are some things we may universally expect in the way of support: to not be embarrassed or exposed either for needing support or because of the situation, that the person assisting is interacting with you and not ignoring you, to be educated about whatever the steps and possible outcomes are, and if the circumstance is particularly risky, being protected is a priority. Whether we can think about a time we needed to find a sales associate in a store, the time in school we had no idea what the math teacher was talking about, a doctor’s appointment or an experience of trauma, we all have some expectations of our level of treatment.

But we don’t have to close our eyes to think of these scenarios. The Jeffrey Epstein and Harvey Weinstein cases are real and remind us why human beings require legal safeguards—particularly those that are victims of violence.

Recap: Weinstein

In 2015, a survivor came forward with her experience of being groped during a business meeting by Harvey Weinstein. After an apology from Weinstein and a two-week investigation by New York sex-crimes prosecutors, the Manhattan district attorney declined prosecution against him. However, before the #MeToo movement, at least 100 women said the former producer sexually harassed or assaulted them. These reports weren’t just backlogged to months or a few years but instead went back decades.

In 2017, an investigation published in The New York Times revealed the accounts of several women who claimed abuse or harassment occurring from as early as the 1990s. Five days later, more women came forward regarding his sexual misconduct.

In 2018, the decision to decline prosecution was put under review. It was discovered that the Manhattan prosecutor received campaign donations from Weinstein’s lawyers.

Women continued to bravely tell their stories of Weinstein’s gross abuse of power and sexual violations.  These valiant disclosures were finally taken seriously and prosecutors brought a case to trial in March 2020. During the trial, Weinstein’s defense team used many familiar victim-blaming tropes, but the jury saw through them and returned a guilty verdict on first degree criminal sexual act and third-degree rape. Weinstein was acquitted of two more serious charges of predatory sexual assault. Weinstein was sentenced to 23 years in prison.

Recap: Epstein

Jeffrey Epstein was a math teacher turned well-connected financial mogul who has been accused of sexually abusing and trafficking perhaps hundreds of girls and women. Epstein’s case began with a 2005 phone call reporting his sexual assault of a 14-year-old girl. Quickly, other victims came forward to speak out about their own experiences of sexual abuse as minors. This launched a two-year federal and state investigation where as many as 30 reports were revealed including information that Epstein’s staff had been assisting in the recruitment of bringing young girls to his home.

Layering on top of the accounts about Epstein’s dealings with minors, and without notifying victims, federal prosecutors handling the case initiated an NPA or Non-Prosecutorial Agreement. An NPA is an agreement by the prosecutor to not file charges if the defendant (Epstein) satisfies whatever the conditions of the agreement are, e.g. restitution, community services, services for rehabilitation. NPAs require the defendant to complete certain conditions for the charges to not be filed and provide an admission of guilt. One of Epstein’s requirements were to plead guilty to Florida state charges of soliciting a prostitute and obtaining a person under the age of 18 for prostitution, which allowed him to avoid federal prosecution entirely.

However, after the plea, unnamed victims came forward and filed an appeal to revoke that plea because they had never been notified—a violation of their rights under the federal Crime Victim Rights Act. It was through the appellate process that more information was uncovered about the original investigation and the way allegations were handled. Jeffrey Epstein was arrested and pleaded not guilty to sex trafficking charges involving dozens of girls as young as 14.  He did, however, plead guilty to state charges of soliciting a minor for prostitution, register as a sex offender and serve 13 months in jail while being allowed to work in his office six days per week. Found dead in his Manhattan jail cell shortly after, charges were dismissed with his conspirators possibly facing charges in the future.

Ignoring rights means disempowering survivors

The Epstein and Weinstein cases urge the need for the advocacy of survivors in legal spaces. Highlighted in both, are decades taken for victims to get a semblance of litigation, the right to confer—ignored, and identities of those reporting revealed without permission. Time, where their rights were violated when they needed help. The Crime Victim Rights Act serves as a shield for survivors of crimes acknowledging the need for legally bound protection to: receive proper notification, talk with legal counsel, maintain the right to dignity and privacy, feel protected from a perpetrator, full and timely restitution, be free from unreasonable delay, and be informed of any plea bargain or deferred prosecution. On public display, laid bare for everyone to see, were the blatant ways in which survivors are silenced and the benefit to those speaking out to not only have the laws upheld but also to have advocates and personal legal representation to ensure these expectations.

These cases shine a light on behaviors that allowed predators to continue to harm victims such as securing secret agreements and unfair influence between defendants and non-conferring attorneys and releasing names of victims who found their power in speaking but somehow whose dignities weren’t taken seriously. And what we realize is that it isn’t as simple as observing the law in our often-complicated legal system. Ignoring rights means disempowering survivors. It means invalidating experiences that are in fact horrifically real. As solutions, we look to initiatives powered by trauma informed practices and people. Advocates and lawyers that are not only experts in their respective fields but gifted in empathy and listening. Aware of a movement that is driven by survivorship and choice where their role is supporting navigation and providing space to give voice.

The Survivor Law Clinic at Michigan Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence is a safe space that works hard to be a part of this kind of change. Walking alongside survivors in whatever journey they imagine for themselves while keeping them safe and elevating their rights. Survivors should be educated in ways that are specific to their legal processes and physically accompanied if they choose. Processing crises, responses, and day-to-day living is time that should be available to them. The expectation of treatment should not be linked to perceived difficulties of the situation or solution. There is no room for stigma in the legal system. There is no room and no need for revictimization.


For more information and support, connect with the Survivor Law Clinic at (517) 347-7000 ext. 10 or



Brittni Kellom, Survivor Law Clinic Trauma Advocate and Trauma Practitioner  at the Michigan Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence. If you or someone you know is a survivor of sexual violence, our trained advocates are available to talk 24 hours a day toll-free at 1-855-VOICES-4 (1-855-864-2374).


Other Ways to Reach Our Hotline:

Chat is a way for survivors to receive services via the MCEDSV website. This is web-based, survivors are encouraged to clear their web browser after each contact.

Text: 866-238-1454 is for individuals who prefer the convenience of texting. The text line offers the same confidential and anonymous service as the chat and hotline, with the added convenience of you sending messages discreetly via your mobile device. Survivors are encouraged to delete messages after each text session has ended. *Standard text messaging rates apply