The Epstein Effect: When power trumps justice

While Jesus was here on earth, he offered prayers and pleadings, with a loud cry and tears, to the one who could rescue him from death.” Hebrews 5:7 (NLT)

Truth: I avoid the news these days. My desire for justice often leaves me with gut problems; stomach aches over the inaction of men, women, silence of Christianity, and burden to stand with the voiceless. From immigration, to local corruption, and human trafficking I wonder where to start? My body experiences these disruptions, like Jesus – big, wordless, raw emotions. I cry. I pray. I run. I write. The rage, hurt, and hope erupt on paper as explosions of poetic force, meant to be interpreted, written in the language of trauma.

Late in the evening I was sitting on the couch, having slept through the end of a movie Luis and I were pretending to watch. My head nodded, startled by the change in brightness of advertisements on the screen. I realized the local news was reporting the latest.

Jeffery Epstein’s face filled the screen: sullen, blank, staring, and wrinkled. Are his eyes blue? Gray? I tried to look into those eyes and see what the young women testifying had encountered. I am void and numb. The horrors he inflicted in broad daylight, with the help of influential, connected allies, and loads of other complicit accomplices is familiar.

And, Epstein is an accused sex trafficker that died of apparent suicide. He never faced a jury.

“Daniela…. Daniela…..DANIELA!…” I know this feeling: floating, the fog rolling in, noise distant. While I examine Epstein’s face, the arrogant tilt of his head tells me to shut my mouth. My throat is tight. I hear my chest thump. His eyes are staring through me, inviting, devouring.

I shift my body to face Luis. He says, “There will be a day. A day when all will be made right.”

“Where does it end?” I ask.

I hope God hears my question and our conversation. I know lament, anger, despair – all of it God invites. And yet, I can’t turn to directly face God and ask the questions lurking behind every non-conviction – every girl, boy, woman, and man harmed. I guess I can grieve. I guess I can rage. But, power trumps justice.

Epstein’s death is a blow.

Sheltered in the leather shops, grocery stores, schools, restaurants and bowling alleys, amongst the line ups of uncles, and average guys, is the lucrative business of selling bodies. Most of the men and women participating directly in exploiting bodies walk free, living lives in daylight. Epstein’s death leaves an empty space at the table of justice – his victims in an abyss of hopelessness. And the rest of us?  We were cheering for justice; the ones who can never come forward as trafficking, rape, and domestic violence survivors. Those who will never be believed by a justice system were cheering for the brave souls who someone believed.

These brave ones who confront power are hope to all of us.

I remember the grueling task of testifying, knowing someone with power believed me. I also remember the wonder at how that same perpetrator could produce character witnesses, easing his sentencing. He was offered a plea deal to lesser charges. Finally, I remember the stomach knots, sickness and silence.

Epstein’s escape from justice reveals the system’s lack of ability to hold justice. I ask myself, what is justice?Is there justice for me? Others? Anyone?

Truth:  Not everyone gets free. Not everyone survives.

Also, Truth:

Epstein, his cronies, and my perpetrators are held to justice in each breath I take, each time I hug my children, each client I love regardless of anything, and each credit I finish towards my Master’s degree. I am not waiting on the system to lend its credibility to my story; however, I ask that system to live into the values it espouses. I fight for those who call on Jesus’ name to stand for justice, whether it’s popular or not. In faith and endurance, together, I declare God’s promises are for me. For my children. For my neighbor. For you.

“For God is not unjust. He will not forget how hard you have worked for him and how you have shown your love to him by caring for other believers, as you still do. Our great desire is that you will keep on loving others as long as life lasts, in order to make certain that what you hope for will come true.” Hebrews 6:10-11

Jesus beckons me close, whispers his liberation, and justice are coming. So, I cry more. Catch my breath, offer care to my children, and the clients at work – because there will be a day, a day when all will be made right.


Mother of four and wife of one awesome Mexican, Danielle Castillejo is a 2nd year student at The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology, studying to get her MA in Counseling and Psychology. She works and volunteers part time in an organization in Seattle that advocates for the agency and freedom of commercial sex workers. A survivor of abuse herself she continues to fight for sanity and love every day.