Journalist Julie K. Brown Recounts Jeffrey Epstein Investigation, Discusses Representation Of Vulnerable Communities

Investigative journalist Julie Brown spoke about her experience investigating the Florida prison system and her role in the reopening of the Jeffrey Epstein case at the Foster-Foreman Conference of Distinguished Writers in Schwab Auditorium Wednesday evening

Brown currently works for the Miami Herald and entered the public eye after publishing her investigation of Epstein, which revealed a plea deal that allowed him to escape charges for sex trafficking. Brown’s research led to his recent arrest in 2019, but Epstein took his own life while in prison in August.

Early in her career while working for the Philadelphia Daily News, Brown said she found her niche covering vulnerable communities and said she came to love finding justice for those who were not as well represented as the wealthy residents of Philadelphia.

When she moved to Florida to work for the Herald, Brown said she was sure it would be a short gig she’d take on before moving back to continue pursuing journalism in Philadelphia. However, being in a new city didn’t change the stories she wanted to pursue.

Brown began covering people who were racially profiled as well as corruption in the Florida prison system after learning about a mentally ill inmate, Darren Rainey, and the cruel punishments by prison guards at the Dade Correctional Institution that ultimately led to his death.

Rainey’s story was the first in the investigative series “Cruel and Unusual”, which tells stories of patterns of abuse in the Florida prison system and elicited a federal investigation of Lowell Correctional Facility in Central Florida in 2018.

Brown’s stories changed Florida’s prison system and led to better health care and programs for mentally ill inmates to help get them back into the community.

“Someone once told me, ‘If you never do anything else again other than this prison story, you’ve really accomplished a lot in your life because you changed so many lives by bringing some sort of organization and reform to the Florida prison system,'” Brown said.

Brown’s interest in underrepresented and vulnerable communities led her to investigate what became her best-known story surrounding the Epstein sexual abuse case.

While working on a series of stories about a woman’s prison in Florida, Brown spoke to many inmates about sex trafficking and stumbled upon the name Jeffery Epstein in many of her searches.

“I thought it was remarkable that this man who was wealthy and politically connected…had somehow managed to get away with trafficking dozens, if not hundreds, of underage girls,” Brown said.

When Alexander Acosta, the attorney who approved a plea deal for Epstein in 2008, was nominated as Labor Secretary by President Donald Trump in 2017, Brown began to question how the victims felt now that the man who had “let Epstein get away with molesting them” was working for an agency that oversees human trafficking and child labor laws.

“I watched [Acosta’s] confirmation hearings. I thought maybe some of the people in Congress and Senate would start asking questions because it was well-known that he had signed off on [Epstein’s] deal,” Brown said. “But it was as if the case had slipped from history.”

Brown started to investigate the girls who were victims of Epstein’s sex trafficking, and what she thought would be one article turned into the biggest project of her career. Brown found that many Epstein’s victims had fallen into drug addiction, had become sex workers, were in prison, or had died from drug overdoses.

While many reporters had covered this story, Brown knew there was a bigger story to tell about the prosecutors that allowed Epstein to get away with sex trafficking.

Brown said her search for justice has followed her and inspires the stories she tells. She not only found an even larger problem surrounding Epstein and the prison system but also saw how victims were betrayed by those who were supposed to protect them.

“Prosecutors kept the whole deal away from the victims,” Brown said. “They didn’t give the victims any say in it…and off [Epstein] went to his cushy jail term.

I found through my investigation that they intentionally kept it from them. It was done by design because they were worried if the victims found out that [prosecutors] were going to cut a plea bargain, they would show up in court.”

Not only did prosecutors convict Epstein on charges of prostitution instead of sex trafficking, but Brown said they also ignored evidence found during the police investigation.

Physical evidence such as a girl’s report card, appointments scheduled for the victims to meet with Epstein, and phone numbers in the trash were ignored.

“The story and narrative that the FBI and U.S. Attorneys Office were saying didn’t follow what I found in my investigation, and that was really part of the story,” Brown said.

The role of wealth and political power in the justice system was highlighted through Brown’s investigation as well as the stigma surrounding prostitution and how they caused people to simply look the other way.

Brown said that law enforcement looks at prostitution as a “victimless crime” instead of finding ways to help vulnerable girls and women who feel like they cannot speak out in fear of being arrested. More specifically, Brown focused on underage girls who are manipulated into circumstances that lead them to prostitution.

Prosecutors arrested Epstein on July 6, 2019, following the publication of Brown’s stories. Brown said that this was the “best reward” she could have received after her series was published.

“One of the outcomes of this story is I think that this has given a lot of people who have been fighting sex trafficking for a long time…a bit of momentum to get additional programming, stand in front of Congress, and try and make people understand that this is a huge problem around the world,” Brown said.

At this point in her career, Brown said she keeps going to make sure cases like Epstein’s never happen again. She wants to hold criminals accountable and does this by challenging systems that favor the wealthy and powerful.

As investigative journalism and the prison crime beat becomes more prevalent in the media, Brown emphasized the importance of up-and-coming journalists continuing to fight for vulnerable communities that need a voice.

“That’s part of what being a journalist is. You have to find a way to get the information and find a way to hold these people accountable,” Brown said. “There isn’t anything more rewarding than holding them accountable, because then, you hope anyway, they won’t be able to do it again.”

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About the Author

Cassady Potts

Cassady is a junior English and journalism major and Onward State's Student Life Editor. She is from York, Pennsylvania and loves iced coffee, books, and women's volleyball. You can find her on campus by looking for the girl who always wears stripes. Feel free to send any questions, comments, or memes via email ([email protected]) and follow her @cassady_potts on Twitter.

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