Girls. Girls. Girls. This is the crux of it. “He told me he wanted them as young as I could find them,” Wild said. When the Epstein story re-broke as news in early July, however—because of an indictment brought by the Southern District of New York, and aided greatly by Brown’s reporting—a common error occurred: Many media outlets referred to Epstein’s victims, both acknowledged and newly alleged, as “underage women.” The New York Times used the term. So did New York magazine. Jezebel counted 90 instances of it aired on broadcast news in the days after Epstein’s arrest alone.
The phrase is wrong in every sense: There is no such thing as an “underage woman.” Underage women are girls. But the mistake, repeated several times since July, has been in its own way revealing. It suggests an American culture that remains reluctant to equate the interests of powerful men and the interests of vulnerable girls. And it suggests an ongoing ambivalence about what it means to be a girl in the first place.