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Miami Herald Photojournalist Emily Michot On Documenting Epstein's Victims

Courtesy of Emily Michot
Emily Michot, photojournalist with the Miami Herald, documented Jeffrey Epstein's victims in portraits and video.

Labor Secretary Alex Acosta resigned last week in connection to the role he played in Jeffery Epstein’s lax plea deal in 2008. Epstein was facing allgations then of running a sex trafficking ring that included at least 40 underage girls.

Epstein is now facing new federal charges in New York as new details emerge and more alleged victims come forward.

Miami Herald reporters Julie Brown and Emily Michot unraveled Epstein’s history of sexual abuse in a Miami Herald series called “Perversion of Justice” published last year. That series is credited for the latest investigations into Epstein and the networks around him. 

Michot, a photojournalist, documented Epstein’s victims in photos and videos for the Herald series. She talked to WLRN’s Nadege Green on The South Florida Roundup Friday about telling the story through images.

Below is an excerpt of their conversation.

WLRN: Emily the Jeffrey Epstein story is now a national one, but take me back to when you and Miami Herald reporter Julie Brown started working on this story together

MICHOT: I've worked on several projects with our I-team [Investigative Team]  here and I just finished working on Fight Club with Carol Marbin Miller and Audra Burch. You know, [it was] kind of a difficult project about the juvenile justice system in Miami.

It was difficult to report on and I just remember thinking how I could do use something a little fun now and then Julie stopped by my desk and she said, 'I need your help on something' and I knew I wasn't going to be getting anything light coming my way.

What did Julie tell you about this story that she would need your mastery around images to help tell?

She gave me a little history about Jeffrey Epstein and I, honestly, I had not heard about this story before so I didn't know about it—that this man had had abused so many young teenage girls.

Julie had contacted some of the girls from before. She had worked very hard to uncover their their names and to talk to them and to get them comfortable enough where she could say, 'Emily and I would like to come sit with you and talk with you and to get you on camera.' 

When you read Julie's article,  it gives us the written narrative of what happens through words and  she definitely amplifies the voices of Epstein's victims. Your work showed us who these women are. Talk to me about taking these photos. 

Looking back, I think we interviewed most of them at their homes. Michelle Licata was the first victim that we went to visit out, in Nashville .

And tell us a little bit about Michelle.

She said she was working at Publix and one of her friends had come in and said, 'Hey do you want to make  some extra money?,' and she wanted to actually make some extra money so she could buy her brothers and sisters Christmas presents. And so she ended up going and she ended up being victimized by him.

Credit Emily Michot / Miami Herald
Miami Herald
Michelle Licata, is one of the over 100 middle school and high school-aged girls that Palm Beach billionaire, Jeffrey Epstein, is accused of sexually assaulting. Licata, now an adult living near Nashville, recalls her experience with Epstein at his Palm Beach mansion while she was a sophomore at Royal Palm Beach High School.

Talking about photographing her.

She was obviously at first really nervous and Julie just was so calm with her and just took the time to work through that. You know, it wasn't something that you just jump right into.

You also took a portrait of Courtney Wild that for me really stood out. She was 14 years old when she was recruited to perform sexual acts on Epstein and his friends. The portrait of her, her arms are crossed. She's wearing a colorful shirt with stripes on it. And the thing that sticks out to me is the way the light hits her and her chin is up. She looks very powerful in that photo.

Credit Emily Michot / Miami Herald
Miami Herald
Courtney Wild, 30, was a victim of serial sexual offender Jeffrey Epstein beginning at the age of 14. Epstein paid Wild, and many other underage girls, to give him massages, often having them undress and perform sexual acts. Epstein also used the girls as recruiters, paying them to bring him other underage girls.

I just remember her saying  she was not going to give up.  And she actually had ended up in jail herself for drug charges. She spent more time in prison than Epstein ever did. And she was just a really strong girl, you know, young woman now.  This was a girl who pretty much was homeless at that age around 14 , her mom had a lot of problems and she ended up on her own.

He [Epstein] started off by abusing her. And then, when she got too old -meaning 16 - he used her to then recruit other girls.

I think she's she must just be feeling just so relieved right now that that man is behind bars

And that she likely played a role in that happening by speaking up.

She did. Her bravery and speaking to us.

Pieces of this story have been out there but you all really did the legwork to give voice to the women who were victimized. 

It's really incredible. I don't think it's really settled in that he's behind bars and that this investigation did have such an impact.