Broken, the critically acclaimed podcast that delved into Jeffrey Epstein’s crimes in its inaugural season, returns today with a new batch of episodes; Seeking Justice hopes to shift the focus away from Epstein, highlighting survivors’ voices instead.
“This is not a Jeffrey Epstein story. This is a story about very strong, powerful women,” host and investigative reporter Tara Palmeri recently told me over the phone.
While each survivor has a different idea of what justice can and should look like, all are fearless in their willingness to share their experiences. Broken is privileged in its access to these stories, which has been gained through trust and a genuine passion for meaningful storytelling.
Check out my full conversation with Palmeri below, and be sure to give the first S2 episode, “The Enablers“, a listen ASAP:
So was it mainly the pandemic that thwarted the original release date?
Yes. It was supposed to come out in March. I think it took all of us time to figure out how to do podcasts without a studio, and how to handle this new world, so we decided to take some time to evaluate that, and then focus on the quality. We wanted to make sure that just because there’s a pandemic, it wasn’t going to affect the story we’re telling. Honestly, I think it was a good idea, because having more time to work on something always makes it better. We’d heard from sources that stuff was going to happen in the summer, and we didn’t want to put out a story that felt old because Ghislaine Maxwell was arrested.
Right, and how do you account for this constantly and crazily developing story when you’re producing the episodes? I know you’ve done special episodes to deal with breaking news, but how else does that factor in?
It’s a lot of reporting. As a journalist, I was always keeping tabs on developments to make sure our story was timely. And really, this story is timeless in a lot of ways as well, just because it’s a story about these really, really strong women and the society they’re fighting to make sure that justice is served, that people who have wealth and money and seem untouchable don’t get away with participating in serious crimes. That’s something that is timeless, and their journey to solve their own crimes and hold people accountable is something that will live on forever. There are certain details that change, and we want to make it feel as fresh as possible. As we were reporting, too, we saw changes in the stories of the survivors; sometimes they had successes that they didn’t have when we were on the road with them back in February, and we needed to make sure that their achievements and their abilities to advance their own cases were reflected in the show. It’s been good in that sense. I don’t feel like when you listen to it you’ll think, “Oh, this is the Epstein story from July 2019 when he was arrested.” It’ll feel like the story today, September 2020, and this is what it’s like for survivors and what they still need and want, because a year later, tragically, not that much has been done.
What does justice look like for these survivors, aside from holding people accountable? I know there are certainly things they will never be able to get back, but do you feel that it’s relatively across the board that people want justice in terms of putting criminals behind bars? Is there discrepancy there with regards to what people are hoping for?
Well, it’s really interesting, because we profiled three different survivors. (And that is what they want to be called and how they want to be seen, which I’ve really grown to understand through this reporting process.) Each one of them has different goals, and we follow them as they achieve them. For example, for Marijke Chartouni, it was really important for her to put the pieces together of her recruiter, to find this woman and to even just remember her last name, to make contact with her and have this moment to be like, “Okay, we were both young women, but why did you do this? Why did you bring me to him? Was there something about me? Did you acknowledge that it was wrong? Do you feel any sympathy?” For her, that was justice. She doesn’t want to see someone who was also a young woman to be put behind bars for bringing her to Jeffrey Epstein. That was the only person who was involved in her crime, but she needed to make contact, and she needed to have that sort of feeling to move forward, and she took agency. And this whole story is about women taking agency.
Now, Courtney Wild has a whole different story of justice. Hers involves the justice department, and is about making sure that the non-prosecution agreement (which protects people named and unnamed) is overturned, because she believes that there are people (co-conspirators) who have not paid justice, and the only reason they haven’t is because there was this non-prosecution agreement signed in Florida, and she and her lawyers believe it was done illegally because the victims were never notified; the entire deal was done in secret.
So her story of justice is to overturn this non-prosecution agreement, and we follow her in court, we follow her throughout her story, and we go with her on her mission. She’s a single mother, a waitress. She dropped out of high school, and for the past ten years when no one cared about Jeffrey Epstein, no one really cared about his story, he’d been living his life throwing cocktail parties in New York after serving his time in prison, she was fighting to make sure that this non-prosecution agreement was overturned. It has nothing to do with money (despite what people think about what these women really want), it’s about making sure that people who were involved in these crimes are held accountable, and that the justice department admits it was wrong to leave the survivors out of this process. I was in court with her one day, and for so long she really wanted someone (preferably from the Southern District of Florida) to say, “You know what? We’re sorry. We’re sorry we told you for many months that an investigation was ongoing, but we’d secretly signed a deal with Jeffrey Epstein.” That’s all she wanted. She was in prison while they were fighting for this, prison for drug use issues. (She served more time in prison than Jeffrey Epstein, by the way.) And she’d just desperately wanted something so simple that I didn’t think was that big a deal, to hear, “We’re sorry.” Even when the judge ruled that the government was wrong, she still never got an apology. So when we were in court with her in Florida, in Miami, there were really no reporters there because no one cared about this Crime Victims’ Rights Act, which I’ve grown to really learn about and understand why it’s so important, what it means to victims.
Finally, a prosecutor from the Southern District of Georgia who was representing the prosecutors from the Southern District of Florida who’d recused themselves said, “I’m sorry,” and she just broke into tears. And it was one of those really raw, beautifully authentic moments, and you just start to realize that this is bigger than money, this is bigger than shaming people. This is about people being treated as human beings, and about victims having rights, and having the law look at people with money and people without money in the same way. Looking at women and men the same way. Looking at white people and Black people the same way. This is about our justice system. It’s so much bigger than Jeffrey Epstein. It’s about our society.
And then for Virginia Roberts Giuffre (who I’m sure you know and have seen on TV, the Prince Andrew story), it’s just so much bigger than anything. She’s not going up against the justice department like Courtney because she wasn’t involved in that, but she’s taking on some serious institutions like the Royal Family, you know? Her list is long.
And I know from Courtney, from Virginia and from Marijke that it’s not just them being vengeful or vigilantes or anything like that. It’s really about making sure that this never happens again.
And if this story is swept under the rug, and we’re like, “Okay, we got Ghislaine, it’s good,” and so many other people get a pass, we’re sending a message that this is okay. If you’re rich enough, if you have connections and powerful lawyers, you can take advantage of underprivileged people. You can take advantage of women, and you’ll get away with it.
It’s interesting; you know and I know that these are incredibly powerful, strong women who’ve literally come from nothing and have done incredible things, and I’m in awe of them every day, but I know that deep down, for them to have that peace that they need to sleep at night, to feel like what happened to them mattered and meant something, there needs to be change. There needs to be a change in the system, there needs to be justice, there needs to be a reckoning and a feeling of, “You can’t do this and get away with it.” For them, this story isn’t just about Jeffrey Epstein. It’s bigger than that. It’s about making sure that their crimes meant something, and that’s really what the Crimes Victims’ Rights Act is all about, and why it was created; it was for people to feel they weren’t abused in vain, that there was something that mattered.
That’s the whole thing about this Epstein story. To me, the way it’s reported on is like wealth porn; “He had a jet, and he was friends with Bill Clinton, and he did this, and he did that…biggest house in the world, biggest house in New York,” and it’s all about how Jeffrey Epstein is this kind of Talented Mr. Ripley, James Bond figure who could get away with anything because he had power. It felt to me like wealth porn. And then it also felt a little porn-y in the way that people would talk about the victims and the crimes that were perpetrated against them. I was just like, “I don’t want any of that. I don’t care how rich Jeffrey Epstein is. To me, he’s scum.” And I don’t think the show is that much about Jeffrey Epstein; it’s really about the people who are still alive, who helped him commit these crimes, and who participated in these crimes.
This is an inspiring show about people who are taking agency in their own crimes. This is about women taking agency in their own crimes. This is the new #MeToo movement. This is like, hyper #MeToo movement. They are just beating the drum, they want to be listened to, and they are willing to put themselves out there. The amazing thing I find about the Epstein survivors is that all of these women will sit in front of the camera, look squarely at it, and speak from the heart. They’re willing to put themselves on the line. There are people who say, “Well, you shouldn’t have been there. You were child prostitutes.” There is no such thing as a child prostitute. A child cannot be a prostitute. And yet that was the crime that Jeffrey plead guilty to in Florida – procuring a child for prostitution. What kind of message does that send to these teenage girls? That they’re prostitutes, right? That’s the government telling them that they’re prostitutes. And yet, even those people who were involved in this deal have paid no price. Epstein’s enablers are literally everywhere; they’re living their lives, and you’ll hear when you listen to the show that a lot of them are still being celebrated, and you’ve never heard their names before. And they were involved in this. I think that’s going to be one of the most shocking things about the show. This was almost like a corporate operation in the sense of the number of women he had coming into his house, the number of people involved (directly or indirectly)…it’s massive. That’s why it would be easier to have the story just swept under the rug, right? But that’s not going to happen. It’s storytellers, it’s journalists, it’s women who are brave enough to tell their stories that will make sure we keep it out there and make sure justice is served. It’s not just Jeffrey Epstein who died in prison, it’s not just Ghislaine Maxwell who’ll be prosecuted. It’s the entire network.
Absolutely. And I think it’s so important that you’re doing this kind of work. Obviously there’s an emotional connection to the story for you; how do you manage that after the work day is done? Obviously it’s not the same as experiencing it, but is there a level of self-care you do in order not to get super down?
It’s really depressing and really hard. My producer and I, after a particularly hard day on the road with Virginia Roberts Giuffre, just experiencing what her life is like, we ended up at a restaurant having a few glasses of wine and just crying together. It can be really emotional, because it’s not an easy story to tell. At the end of the day, the thing that keeps pushing me forward is that it’s so important; if it causes me an ounce of pain, that’s nothing compared to what these women have experienced. So I just keep pushing forward, because I feel like this is one of the most important stories I’ve ever told. I really hope that it penetrates, and that people understand what it’s like to be a victim of sexual assault, and what it’s like to be a victim of someone so prominent, so wealthy, who feels so untouchable, and to feel like you’re worth nothing, and to think for many years that the crimes committed against you just don’t matter, because you’re just not rich or powerful enough. That, to me, is more important than anything. And I think we can all say we’ve felt that way at some point in our lives. I know I personally have. I know what it’s like to feel like I don’t matter as much as someone else, and that they can do things to you and it just doesn’t matter.
So yes, we had really hard days. We’ve cried a lot (everyone on the team) telling this story, whether they’ve experienced sexual assault or not. I really feel like everybody who’s doing this feels like they’re doing it as a public service, not just as a job. And that’s what’s so amazing about it. There were hard days, especially writing the script when we were in lockdown; I think we were pretty much done with our interviews at that point, and I was alone and really thinking about all of it and taking it in. But I think you’ll hear that there’s heart and feeling in it, and that it’s authentic. It reflects how I feel and how our team feels about this issue. I’m really, really lucky. We’ve even consulted with sexual assault trauma experts on how to interview the victims without actually triggering them to the point that they’re going to have emotional flashbacks. The fact-checking process was extremely difficult for our fact-checker, because you’re literally asking someone to fact-check their own crime that was committed against them. It was really, really difficult. And then there were all the legal issues as well; there are a lot of really powerful, litigious people involved. But again, all these hurdles just make it worth it. Nothing easy is worth it, right?
This story is the story of our time, how women and people without money or power are treated, and how they deserve to be put on a pedestal. Maybe they’re not household names, maybe they are, but their stories matter. And I think that’s what you’ll hear with this. We respect the survivors, we look up to them, and we appreciate that they’re still willing to tell their stories, and that they literally let us follow them in their journey. That takes a lot of trust. It took time to build that trust with these women. And you might say, “Oh my god, I’m so tired of Jeffrey Epstein’s stories, I’ve already heard them all…” but this is not a Jeffrey Epstein story. This is a story about very strong, powerful women, and, frankly, they’re not after Jeffrey; Jeffrey’s dead, they don’t give a shit about him anymore. What he did to them is horrible, and they hold onto that, but that’s not what they’re after. They’re after everybody who made Jeffrey Epstein Jeffrey Epstein.
Listen to Broken here.