Epstein: The Eroticization of Domination and Women’s Fight for Freedom

Jocelyn Crawley reflects on the objectification, domination and abuse of women and girls. She highlights the importance of feminist theory and the right for women and girls to live free from abuse and dominance. 


Epstein: The Eroticization of Domination and Women’s Fight for Freedom

By Jocelyn Crawley

Recently, a close friend of mine and I became deeply engaged in a dynamic dialogue regarding the persistence and pervasiveness of the contemporary regime which perpetuates systems of hierarchy and hegemony: white supremacist capitalist patriarchy. During the discourse, she encouraged me to watch the documentary on Jeffrey Epstein and his role in sustaining a sex trafficking regime. After viewing the 60 Minutes documentary “Exposing Jeffrey Epstein’s International Sex Trafficking Ring,” I found that my mind was drawn to analyzing his nefarious, necrotic activity through the lens of an important feminist theory: the eroticization of domination.

Those who are unfamiliar with Jeffrey Epstein should know that he paid underage girls hundreds of dollars to provide him massages and proceeded to sexually abuse them. The abuse transpired in many places, including homes in New York, Florida, and Palm Beach. As a hedge fund manager, Epstein’s wealthy status, associations, and access to shrewd legal representatives enabled him to allude severe sentencing for his activities. For example, in a 2008 non-prosecution agreement, Epstein was able to plead guilty to charges in Florida for the solicitation of prostitution involving a minor. The ‘victims’ in question were children who had been sexually exploited for profit.  With the 2008 non-prosecution agreement, Epstein served a mere 13 months through a work-release program. When he was later met with more severe charges, he killed himself.

Feminist Analysis.

As many radical feminists have argued in analyzing how the patriarchy structures ‘relationships’ between men and women, the system of relations is predicated on the eroticization of domination. Although defined diversely, the eroticization of domination essentially references the process through which the patriarchy structures the system of sexual relations between men and women. In essence men expressing their sexuality by controlling and subordinating women. Within this system, women (generally speaking) come to naturalize and accept dominance as an integral, inalienable, and inevitable component of sexuality. For this reason, normative conceptions of female sexuality incorporate the idea of one being violated, humiliated, or repeatedly having all types of psychic and physical boundaries broken.

In her article Eroticized Dominance-Emotional Grooming, Predatory Behaviors As Cultural Norms?, Athena Staik notes six key components of sexual relations marked by eroticized dominance that  are particularly pertinent to the forms of patriarchy actualized by Jeffrey Epstein. The first is the idea that the main pleasure the perpetrator acquires results from causing emotional pain to the other. This process involves tricking or manipulating the victim for one’s own gratification. In viewing the documentary, I noted that Epstein was able to make his sex trafficking ring functional by informing young women that he would pay them to provide him with massage services. Once in his home, he had them provide him with massages but then proceeded to sexually abuse them.

This type of manipulative, deceptive behavior reflects not only the principles of domination, but also the process of male objectification of women.

Within this schema, women are no longer viewed as thinking, emotive beings who bring their own thoughts and preferences to human interactions. Rather, they are reduced to entities whose thoughts, feelings, and volition can be ignored for the purpose of satisfying the male fantasy. In short, Epstein’s praxis of deceit to lure women into his home for the purpose of sexually abusing them works to create a system of relations between men and women in which the latter lack sexual agency and authority. Additionally, the system of relations ensures that sexual activity between men and women is not predicated on empathy and mutuality but rather the former ruling the latter. This system of domination diminishes the likelihood of equality between the sexes and continually recreates a world in which female objectification is presented as a normative, natural way for women to exist.

The second element of eroticized dominance that Athena Staik references in her article pertains to an individual being viewed as “a weak or defective object without feelings, thoughts, opinions, etc.” This principle is prevalent in many of the actions and attitudes of Jeffrey Epstein. I was particularly drawn to two examples of it. The first was the fact that Epstein’s master bedroom contained prosthetic breasts.  . In addition to doing harm to real female bodies through his trafficking ring, Epstein reworked the material reality of a woman’s physical form to become something that he could toy with, without having to with the real female human who possessed the breasts.

In my conceptualization of Epstein’s activity, he has observed and isolated a component of women’s bodies in a fetishistic manner that precludes him from having to deal with women as whole humans.

Women who have breasts yet are not just this one body part. In Epstein’s world, women repeatedly become their body parts; he was fine with removing them from the realm of material reality. He recreates them as prosthetic toys so he could handle without a living, thinking entity being part of the sexual process.  According to Staik, eroticized dominance creates a system in which “sex is a weapon for personal gain to prove superiority via dominance (versus a key aspect of emotional intimacy in a couple relationship).” As I analyze Epstein’s appropriation of prosthetic breasts, I concluded that he  actualized this principle of superiority through dominance by creating the prototypical system of relations in which men are subjects and women are objects.

Within this schema, Epstein can use his perverse imagination to invent and control how he relates to femaleness. In his mind, femaleness or womanhood involved not only sexually abusing real women but reducing them to non-thinking body parts which he could control. This component of the eroticization of domination is distinct from the objectification referenced in the previous paragraph because, in this component of the schema, objectification is no longer just objectification but rather the foundation or building block upon which domination is established.

In Epstein’s toxic mimicry of humane sexuality, superiority was actualized through his ability to dominate the other.

He perpetuated the system by reducing real female bodies into synthetic objects which could not protest or resist his advances. Those who are familiar with the diversity of Epstein’s sexual depravity may be aware that when his home was raided, authorities found child pornography and a stash of lewd photos stored away in a freestanding safe. These realities are also representations of both 1. objectification and 2. objectification as the springboard through which domination is attained. I think it also goes without saying that Epstein’s selection of victims as young as 12 years old is an example of the eroticization of domination insomuch as these individuals lack the emotional maturity, intellectual development, and physical power necessary to interact with him as sexual equals.

Reflecting on Epstein’s depravity and dehumanization of women, I found myself ruminating on the importance of presenting ourselves with alternatives to the modality of domination. Considering systems of relations that include parity, mutuality, and empathy. One thought that gained traction in my mind while pondering alternative modalities was the fact that people typically present two suggestions as solutions for domination: practicing love or cultivating individual and institutional freedoms.

Love and the fight for freedom.

Love is defined as an intense feeling of deep affection for another. It is an ethical, sustainable way to interact with others. However, prototypical schemas of love do not necessarily facilitate liberation from domination, or freedom. Rather, love embeds one in a system of relations with another individual who is viewed as an equal (or as having innate value and thus commanding respect) rather than freeing one from the dictatorial, oppressive grip of a malevolent individual or institution through which the subject has been reduced to an object. Although defined diversely, freedom is typically construed as the ability to speak, think, and act without restraints or hindrances being imposed on one by another. I posit that freedom exists but, because collective consciousness has yet to demonstrate an intense love for freedom, systems of domination are able to persist.

I conclude that cultivating a love of freedom, which involves being intentionally and continually in allegiance with thought systems and resistance movements that relentlessly fight for liberation, is the modality through which the current regime of domination can and should be contended.

We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes.


Jocelyn Crawley is a radical feminist who resides in Atlanta, Georgia. Her intense antagonism towards all forms of social injustice-including white supremacy-grows with each passing day. Her primary goal for 2020 is to connect with other radicals for the purpose of building community and organizing against oppression.
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One thought on “Epstein: The Eroticization of Domination and Women’s Fight for Freedom”

  1. Good points, with two qualifications: Epstein was an extreme aberration, and hardly typical of male attitudes toward women. And though women lack the power to dominate men sexually, there are many who want to dominate or be dominated — or both.

    Three examples from past relationships: I had a girlfriend who opposed women’s liberation, which she felt politicized intimacy. She was the woman I wanted to spend my life with, and she only had one flaw. She saw her role as subservient, and made it almost impossible for me to know what she needed, wanted, or should have complained about.

    Another (the first time we slept together) encouraged me to “be rougher” with her in bed. Another time, she asked me to tie her up. Neither suggestion interested me, or seemed to have anything to do with love.

    On the other hand, she used men shamelessly. When we lived together, she claimed she couldn’t afford her part of the rent. Then, 6 months later, she moved out and bought a house, using the rent she hadn’t paid as part of the down payment. She treated the man she later married even worse, suggesting she stay at home and raise their two kids, while he paid the bills. When the kids were grown, they separated. She kept the 4-bedroom house with a pool and 9 acres of land, and he lived in his car. He told me they had agreed that a divorce would just be too expensive.

    In a later, very brief relationship, another girlfriend once suggested that she try to talk a single woman into coming home with us for a threesome. I declined, and broke off the relationship when I learned that her homeless ex-boyfriend was sleeping with her, nights that we were apart.

    I’m sure any of the 3 could also expound on my faults. The point is that there are very kinky people out there, male and female, and that the impulse to dominate is neither gender-specific nor a male creation. Certainly men unfairly have far too much say over what goes on in the world, and at home. But there is no shortage of women who would like to exercise unearned power — and often do. And there is little evidence to support the notion that they picked up this character flaw from men.

    Far too many people, male and female, see life as an adversarial game, instead of what should be loving relationships with our partners at home, our neighbors, and the natural world around us.

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