When a Sexual Predator’s Crimes Rely on an Entourage

By Mary Schmich
Chicago Tribune
July 12, 2019

R. Kelly, right, appears with then-manager Derrel McDavid in 2008 during Kelly's child-pornography trial in Chicago. Friday's indictment alleges that Kelly paid McDavid and another man to help him cover up his sexual transgressions. (Michael Tercha / Chicago Tribune)

It often takes a village to help a sexual predator stalk his victim.

Bill Cosby had a village. Larry Nassar had a village. So did the abusive clergy of the Catholic Church. All these predators relied for years on a community of people who actively enabled their predations or who conveniently looked away.

If the charges are to be believed, R. Kelly and Jeffrey Epstein had their villages too.

We often talk and think of sexual predators as lone wolves but the rich and famous, I’m guessing, never are. Look at what we’ve seen in the past week alone.

The singer R. Kelly was indicted twice — in Chicago and New York — on federal charges related to his alleged abuse of girls and women. The indictments aren’t the first he has faced, but this time they go further than one man.

In New York, Kelly was charged as the leader of a criminal enterprise that recruited women and girls to “engage in illegal sexual activity.” According to the indictment, the enterprise included “managers, bodyguards, drivers, personal assistants and runners.”

In Chicago, two of his former employees have been charged in connection with his alleged crimes.

And then there’s Jeffrey Epstein’s village.

Epstein, best known as a billionaire — a claim that may be exaggerated — stands accused of running what has been called a sexual pyramid scheme. Girls were allegedly recruited for his sexual gratification and for the gratification of other men. Some girls were groomed to recruit other girls. All around were adults, some of them fully grown women, who enabled the illegal acts, authorities alleged.

Last fall, the Miami Herald reporter Julie K. Brown wrote a damning story that foreshadowed Monday’s fresh indictment against Epstein on sex trafficking and sex trafficking conspiracy. Among the chilling passages in that story was this one about girls who were allegedly brought to see Epstein:

“Most of the girls said they arrived by car or taxi, and entered the side door, where they were led into a kitchen by a female staff assistant … A chef might prepare them a meal or offer them cereal. The girls — most from local schools — would then ascend a staircase off the kitchen, up to a large master bedroom and bath.”

A staff assistant. A chef. It takes a village.

For sexual predators, the existence of the village — or call it the entourage — helps to normalize what shouldn’t be tolerated.

“They actively participate in the gaslighting and that is part of the grooming,” said Kaethe Morris Hoffer, executive director of the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation, when I called her Friday to talk about the role other people play in letting a predator carry on.

In the case of rich, powerful predators, she said, the presence of others creates an attitude: “‘Nothing to see here. This is all normal. This is how sophisticated, cosmopolitan people behave.”

The sophisticated and wealthy, of course, aren’t the only predators out there.

In a statement about the new R. Kelly charges, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx sounded an important reminder:

“And let us be clear: this is not just about surviving R. Kelly. For most victims, it’s about surviving a less famous abuser, a trusted adult, or a total stranger.”

The less famous abusers often have a village too, those who willfully or fearfully or ignorantly let the abuse go on.

“It’s relatively common for people who experience child sexual abuse to engage in some level of reporting or cries for help that frequently don’t get listened to,” Morris Hoffer said.

One reason the cries aren’t heeded, she said, is that in a community — a school, a church, a family — it can be hard to believe that an otherwise “nice” man might behave so heinously.

“People are using the word ‘monster’ to describe Epstein,” she said, “and it makes sense, right? The scope, the volume … seem to be extreme.”

But she warns against the “monster myth.”

“I worry that people thinking that only monsters engage in this kind of abuse is part of the problem,” she said. “The overwhelming majority of men who engage in sexual abuse spend most of their time not behaving as monsters. People don’t want to believe that people they care about, or love, who demonstrate a lot of good qualities, are also capable of really evil acts. That’s one of the recurring lessons of history — that people are capable of enormous love, compassion and generosity and profound cruelty — sometimes by action, sometimes by inaction.”

Which brings us back to the village. Your village. My village.

The wealthy realms of R. Kelly and Jeffrey Epstein may seem foreign to most of us, but we need to look at what’s going on right around us. Listen for the cries for help.

It takes a village to stop a sexual predator.









Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.