Via America’s LawyerMike Papantonio sits down with author and attorney Carissa Phelps to talk about the implications the latest Jeffrey Epstein case has on conversations about sex slavery nationwide. She is herself a survivor of human trafficking from a young age and has spent her career bringing grim realities behind the revolting practice to the forefront. She previously shared her story of survivorship in “Carissa,” a 2008 documentary written and directed by David Sauvage, executive produced by Davis Guggenheim.


*This transcript was generated by a third-party transcription software company, so please excuse any typos.

Mike Papantonio:             Billionaire Jeffrey Epstein has been charged with both human trafficking and conspiracy to traffic humans. This has forced this country to have the uncomfortable conversations that we’ve been avoiding as a nation for far too long. Human trafficking is alive and well in the United States and few people understand just how pervasive that is other than the people that I’m going to talk to right now. Carissa Phelps is an attorney, advocate and author working to protect young people from the kind of abuses we’ve seen Epstein commit.

Carissa, start by telling us why human trafficking, how that became such an important topic to you. Why have you dedicated the last decade of your career and, and life really to raising awareness and let American know what’s happening right here on our shores?

Carissa Phelps:                  For myself, having lived through it myself and been ignored as a victim, as young as 12 years old, being a victim of trafficking and being completely ignored, I was actually pretty shocked to find out that over a decade later that our systems hadn’t figured it out. So it became important to me because I saw myself out there and I needed to get the word out so that those people who did not have any voice, who were being harmed and criminalized and charged as young as 11 and 12 years old as prostitutes, needed to have a voice.

Mike Papantonio:             So you escaped, you escaped, went on to get your MBA, went on to get your law license. I mean, that is so exceptional. I mean, this is, the story we’re telling with you is not a typical kind of story. You are the exception to the case obviously. But how is your law firm and educational organization, how is it working to help others escape this horrible situations, that you lived through for so many years?

Carissa Phelps:                  Well, I mean, Pap as you know, governments can try to make a change. They could try to make an influence. But in our society, especially in a capitalist society that we live in, where we know that money is power, money is decision. We have to do something more. I mean I go out and I train governments, I train organizations, I train individuals on how to respond and there are some good people out there trying to do the work on the, on the front lines. Really trying to do this work and trying to do it right, but as long as we have the rich and powerful raping children and getting away with it, we will continue to have that same behavior and our local governments, our communities won’t stand a chance.

You know, in our firm what we’re trying to do, the transition I’m making from being an educator in this community to now bringing civil claims and suits, is about giving voice to people who are trapped. Today I’ve, I probably right now feel more like I can set captives free than I ever have before with the combination of my law license, with the combination of the support of other attorneys with the awareness and education that is out there. We’re going to do more to set captives free in this next decade than I have in the last decade.

Mike Papantonio:             Well, full, full disclosure here, Carissa, as you know, I want to tell Carissa that that help that you’re giving to the law firms that are trying to to bring a national case. Now, can you imagine human trafficking has been around for so long, but nobody has said, let’s bring a national case. Let’s bring a multidistrict litigation case and let’s deal with this once and for all, at least let the American public know what’s going on. So all of a sudden comes this dirt bag, Jeff Epstein. Now all of a sudden Jeff Epstein’s timing becomes really important.

Let’s talk about Epstein for a moment. He’s charged with human trafficking among other charges. Do you think this high profile case is going to help the public start paying attention, not just to the handful of girls who are trafficked? It’s well beyond a handful. I can tell you that. We, we get calls, right now, we’re getting calls from people that say, hey, I wasn’t mentioned in this article, but this happened to me. Give me your take on this. What does this do for the public perception of the human trafficking problem?

Carissa Phelps:                  I think everyone from the most well informed and well educated on this issue to the least educated and least informed on this issue is going to be motivated, motivated, not just to see, do something about it. And whether that’s our corporations, our attorneys that we’re partnered up with, that we’re working with and really bring a voice again to the voiceless who are out there, who aren’t able to speak for themselves.

And to do it in a way that says once and for all the companies, the corporations, the individuals, the businesses that have made a profit off of young girls and boys being enslaved, those people need to have those profits taken back from them and given to the people who it rightly belongs to. And that’s, that’s, that case is not about money. That case is not about money at all. It’s about a voice and it’s about life.

And ultimately it’s about their freedom because I go and visit young women who now we’re representing as clients who can’t step out of their homes. They’re afraid, they’re terrified, they don’t trust other human beings. They can’t get on with their lives. They can’t live and be productive. And my story is definitely an exception. It’s definitely one that I fight for every single day and fight to find meaning in. So that I could be a part of this. That I’m welcomed in this fight is amazing.

It’s been a long road, a very, very long road. And at times myself, I wonder if it was best to share my story or not, but it’s times like these that I know it was the right thing to do. That I could give voice to others who are sitting alone and terrified right now. Maybe watching this program right now and unsure what to do.

Mike Papantonio:             Well, that, that’s part of the problem. You see, you have Epstein who of course always threw around his connections, his political connections, whether it’s Bill Clinton or, or Donald Trump or any number of senators that he gave money to. He gave so much money to politicians. And so, so all of a sudden you have this person out there that’s been a victim to all this and they’re saying, wow, this guy is just so powerful that had it not been for a handful of attorneys down in south Florida that did their job. People like you who are talking about it right now. Government didn’t solve this problem.

The H, you know, the, the H-2A, H-2A visa issue is a disaster. We’re letting people, trafficking’s become part of all that. Government’s not doing their job. The mainstream corporate media certainly is not doing their job because they so rarely tell the, the accurate story here. Now I want to ask you this. Epstein was said to have employed a madam Maxwell to help recruit girls and those recruits would have also have to recruit other people. Is this a common practice that you experienced and saw in, in trafficking during the years being caught up in that?

Carissa Phelps:                  Absolutely. I mean, it’s so common for victims to be used to, to criminalize them, really to further criminalize them, to further cem, cement them in their victimization by using them to recruit other women or girls or boys into trafficking for the trafficker. I think the difference here is that you may have had layers of traffickers kind of working together. Definitely working together. Epstein did not do this on his own according to all the accusations. There were other people involved and that those people also have to be looked at in the sense of how they contributed to the, to the harms and to the wrongs that were done. In addition to that, it’s…

Mike Papantonio:             Yeah.

Carissa Phelps:                  It’s Epstein’s status that is exactly that allowed him to do this and that’s, that is really the, the shame and the horror of all of this is that his resources allowed him to do this and no one in this country deserves to hold resources that they use to enslave others. No one does. And that’s why we have our civil justice system.

Mike Papantonio:             Give me a quick thought on this. You see, okay, Epstein is caught. He has to serve jail, a jail time. Everybody knows it’s for molesting young girls. Kids as young as 15, 14, 15. Everybody in the country that followed that story knew what this guy was about. He was a pedophile dirt bag. Nevertheless, he shows up in Hollywood. He’s treated like a hero. He, you look at his celebrity list, I mean just Katie Couric, George Stephanopoulos, Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk. Harvard makes him like this, this, this wonderful poster boy for giving money to the university. On his phone list is Alec Baldwin, Michael Ovitz, Woody Allen.

What is it that these folks didn’t see that anybody with a brain would have seen that they’re embracing and, and lifting this guy up by even acceptance? What is that all about? The celebrity notion of is it money and power? I wonder what, I wonder that. Is it just money and power and they want to be around that money in power? What’s that all about? Maybe you can help. You’ve experienced it, I’m sure.

Carissa Phelps:                  Well I think on a gut level it just, it brings a level of disgust to me because all those people, most of those people that you mentioned probably could have helped victims have a voice and didn’t. Some of the people that you mentioned may themselves may have had accusations themselves, may have had things that they were involved with that were sinister and bad and that’s why they wanted to be involved with someone that had that reputation. Others, like I said, could have given voice and didn’t chose not to. So that is their own journey that they’ll have to go on wondering why they didn’t.

But the fact that money pulls people in like the gravitational force in the United States is not a surprise. People are always trying to pull themselves closer to people who have money and power and instead we need to see ourselves pull closer to people who have justice and have heart and want to do the right thing. I would, I would like for this to be a lesson to anyone that money and power is not, is not an answer, is not an answer and is not a solution to what we have as one of the biggest problems in the world, in slavery.

Mike Papantonio:             We saw the same thing with Weinstein, didn’t we? Exactly the same thing we’re talking about. Everybody knew he was a dirt bag. Everybody knew that he had been raping women there in Hollywood. But nevertheless, Hollywood embraced him. Oh, he’s wonderful. He’s a great, he’s a great director. Why is, why does that happen? And that’s something we’re going to be exploring in this show. What, what is it about this celebrity hook, this celebrity hook to where somebody like Bill Clinton or, or Kevin Spacey or Alan Dershowitz, these people know there’s something wrong with this guy.

But nevertheless, he has so much money and he has so much power that they’re willing to jump on an airplane and fly to an island with him. Or they’re willing to go have dinner with him. They’re willing to make him part of their close group of association. What is it? It happened with Weinstein. It’s happened with Epstein. We’re seeing the same thing happen again and again, where it comes to Hollywood, where it comes to Wall Street, big money people where it comes to, to politicians. They simply don’t have the courage to say, you know what, let’s call shots like they are.

This is not somebody that we want associate with. This is somebody that we want to go after. Look, I gotta tell you, Carissa, I the, the, somebody needs to read your book to understand some of these questions we’re talking about. The book is excellent and it kind of tells your experience. Well, it certainly tells your experience being trafficked and it tells the experience of what these young men and women go through when they’re caught up in this process, that’s not much different than what we’re seeing with Epstein. Thank you for joining me. Okay.

Carissa Phelps:                  Thank you Pap. Thanks so much for having me on.

Mike Papantonio is an American attorney and television and radio talk show host. He is past president of The National Trial Lawyers, the most prestigious trial lawyer association in America; and is one of the few living attorneys inducted into the Trial Lawyer Hall of Fame. He hosts the international television show "America's Lawyer"; and co-hosts Ring of Fire Radio, a nationally syndicated weekly radio program, with Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and Sam Seder.