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Harvard Law Professor Blames Victim in Child Trafficking Case

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Co-authored by Kerry Richards, J.D. candidate at Harvard Law School

Alan Dershowitz--famed defense attorney and former professor at Harvard Law School--has been accused of being one of the individuals who were provided with an underage "sex slave" by Jeffrey Epstein, Dershowitz's friend and client. Dershowitz has not been charged with a crime and is not a party to the lawsuit in which the accusing affidavit was filed. Though neither Dershowitz's liberty nor his property are at stake, he has responded with public and aggressive victim-blaming.

In 2008, Epstein pled guilty to soliciting sex from a minor; he served only 13 months in prison, an amount of time shorter than that during which he enslaved his victims. Filed in a civil suit against federal prosecutors for violating victim's rights law in Epstein's case, the plaintiff who accused Dershowitz (identified as Jane Doe #3 in court documents) gave testimony that she was trafficked from age 15. She describes being forced to have sex with her captor's politically powerful friends, including Dershowitz, for years.

Dershowitz denies abusing the child trafficking victim; yet instead of acknowledging the gravity of the crime and showing compassion--even while denying involvement--Dershowitz's response has been shockingly vicious and sexist. In a recent interview, Dershowitz said his accuser was "a prostitute," and questioned her fitness as a mother. He went on to admit he had no qualms about calling a 15-year-old girl a prostitute, claiming "[s]he was not victimized ... she made her own decisions in life." Those are decisions that the law says no 15-year-old is old enough to make. One day after that interview, 38 Harvard Law School professors joined the many well-connected people who have tried to protect Dershowitz and Epstein, releasing an open letter lauding Dershowitz's "courage."

Where is the focus on the plaintiff's courage? On her horrifying experience, and on the experiences of the millions of other minors bought and sold for sex each year? When rape victims do come forward, where is the focus on ensuring we don't re-victimize them in the media?

Brutalized by Epstein, betrayed by federal prosecutors who refused to pursue justice, Jane Doe #3 was then publicly shamed by Dershowitz. Shaming rape and human trafficking victims compounds injustice, violating those who report and discouraging others from doing so. It is cruel to call a human trafficking victim a prostitute or to suggest that statutory rape is a victimless crime. The law has made tremendous strides in protecting trafficked minors, but this type of public comment trivializing crimes against them undermines that progress. We fail Jane Doe #3 and countless like her when we accept the trivialization of sex trafficking by victimizers and by the media at large.