Wealth, sex work and sexual abuse

The U.S. Secretary of Labor resigned last week, July 12. Maybe you didn’t notice? Just another turnover in the revolving door of scandal that’s the Trump administration.

The wrongdoing that sent Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta out the door might not, at first glance, seem to be related to labor or work or workers.

When Acosta was U.S. Attorney for southern Florida over a decade ago, he brokered a deal for multibillionaire Jeffrey Epstein to escape some federal charges. Epstein’s crime? Recruiting hundreds of underage girls into sex trafficking at his luxe Miami mansion.

Epstein was controversially sentenced, on the lesser state charge of “soliciting women,” to 13 months in a Florida minimum-security jail — which he was allowed to leave six days a week to run his business handling investments for other super-billionaires. 

On July 8, Epstein was arrested and indicted on sex trafficking counts by federal prosecutors in New York’s Southern District. Negative publicity about Acosta’s original deal with Epstein ignited, and Acosta resigned, with a push from Trump — who still praised him as a “great, great secretary.”

News stories about Epstein’s wealth emphasize its “mysterious origins,” and say he is a man “of nearly infinite means.” His current defense lawyers argue he “never used violence or coerced” the underage girls. (Associated Press, July 14)

But there’s really no mystery where those millions and billions came from. The phrase “without coercion” actually exposes the violent truth of the connection between labor and wealth and the exploitation of women and other workers by capitalist bosses.

Epstein’s very wealth gave him the power of coercion.

Most of us would surely guess that the young girls Epstein coerced for his use were trying to survive on the edge of difficult economic conditions. In Epstein’s capitalist logic, the girls were getting a fair bargain for some short-term work.

But there is no fair bargain, or level playing field, between a man who can offer his private jet as bail bond security, and a young girl trying to make a living through sex work to feed, clothe and house herself.

Epstein’s actions, and the protection given him by Acosta as a U.S. Attorney, show the old hand-in-glove of capitalist power sheltered by state power in order to exploit workers to the maximum. Epstein’s trading on the vulnerability of young girls laboring as sex workers is despicable — and Acosta is equally complicit.

In the 2020 fiscal budget Acosta issued in April, he proposed an 80 percent reduction in funding for the International Labor Affairs Bureau. The ILAB is a subagency of the Department of Labor that investigates and prosecutes human trafficking, including sex trafficking. Experts were clear the proposed reduction would effectively end many federal efforts to curb trafficking. (tinyurl.com/yyg3f2f5)

The ILAB is a U.S. state agency. Its mission statement may say one of its goals is “to promote a fair global playing field for workers.” But that means the ILAB will promote “workers’ rights” only to facilitate U.S. capitalist profit making.

We know that the exploitation of women and others in sex work reaps untracked hundreds of billions in profits for capitalists worldwide. Meanwhile, the supposed government “protection” against sex trafficking has meant that sex workers of age have actually been prosecuted and jailed for supposedly trafficking — themselves.

At the same time, Acosta’s proposal to end ILAB efforts against exploitation of women and other gender-vulnerable people in sex work flashes a green light to capitalist big-business networks to go after more sex-trafficking profits. That’s a green light to the shadowy businesses that delivered young girls to the back doors of Jeffrey Epstein’s mansions.

The 2018 historic strike by McDonald’s workers against sexual abuse emphasized how bosses can make sexual demands as a required part of the “job description” for any kind of work. The #MeToo movement surged in the millions to resist this kind of exploitation. (Workers World, Sept. 17, 2018)

Now the Epstein-Acosta link shows how profit making from sexual coercion and abuse is hidden, protected and facilitated at the highest levels of U.S. government.

The vast majority of those being exploited are women, gender-nonconforming and gender-fluid people, LGBTQ2S+ people and people of color. Sexual exploitation is an added, special oppression they face as workers.

Working-class solidarity means fighting to protect these oppressed workers from both capitalist profiteering and capitalist state power.

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