The latest Lifetime documentary is Surviving Jeffrey Epstein, which tells the story of eight women who survived being part of Epstein’s sex trafficking network, some of whom were recruited when they were only 14 or 15 years old.
Two survivors are Kiki Doe and Rachel Benavidez, who appeared in a press panel event for the documentary for the Television Critics Association. Here is what they had to say about the documentary and what they hope viewers take away from it.
The Survivors Say Telling Their Story Can Be ‘Retraumatizing’
Survivor Doe said that at first, she was “hell-bent on remaining anonymous” throughout the lawsuit process. But in time, she began to realize that while it is “retraumatizing” to tell her story, it is also empowering.
“I decided to share my story publicly — it’s always a little bit more empowering every time you do it … [but] imagine having to sort of re-invite this trauma, this experience into your life every time that you retell the story, you’re kind of reliving it. So, it’s very retraumatizing to tell your story,” said Doe. “And then on top of that, you’re going into a strange place that you’ve never been with people you’ve never met, and you’re sharing some of the most intimate trauma experiences of your life, that continue to affect you. So, it’s very difficult but the way that [the producers] handled it and the whole crew was — I mean, you couldn’t have asked for a better crew. They were wonderful and I can only imagine how difficult it is for them, because you have to handle everything with kid gloves. And they did a great job, so yeah, it was a fantastic experience.”
Benavidez echoed Doe’s statement, saying, “It was a good experience because I felt like [the producers] didn’t pressure me, and you came from a real, true place of wanting to tell the story. You were very respectful about our boundaries, and the process, and where we were in our own lives, and meeting us there. And I really appreciated that.
“The actual filming, the actual prep, the actual aftermath, the emotional rollercoasters that I went through, pre- and post-filming was a bit brutal. But you guys did make it easy and you were very respectful about the process, and I appreciate that.”
Lifetime Is Partnering With Rise to Run a Special PSA During the Broadcast
Lifetime has partnered with Rise to run a special PSA during the airings of the documentary to encourage other survivors to use their voice to RISE UP and help establish Survivors Bills of Rights in their states. Lifetime will also run a PSA from RAINN to provide hotline resources for those in need.”
In a virtual panel for the event, the executive producer Bob Friedman told reporters that they are telling the survivors’ stories in their own words.
“The story that we’ve told has been pretty much in the survivors’ own words, the survivors who bear this burden of abuse. Abuse that dare we all believe is hidden in plain sight,” said Friedman. “And we think that we go into some of the stories and the reason why with the making of the sex trafficking pyramid scheme, that was recent. We take a look at the recruiting that existed, the grooming of potential victims, and how allegedly Ghislaine Maxwell trained recruiters to create this abuse pipeline that we live through.”
He added that this is not the end of the story, saying, “We all believe that there will be some future revelations. The trial is scheduled to begin in July of next year, but we believe that we’ve addressed many of the questions that have not been addressed in the past.”
Director Ricki Stern added that it was so important to the filmmakers to emphasize to the survivors that this was not your run-of-the-mill news piece.
“It was really important that we spoke to [the survivors] and said to them, ‘This is going to be different than a news piece. We really want to spend time with you and have your story portrayed in your own words.’ There’s so much strength in these women’s stories, in their history, to understand where they come from and where they are today is so powerful,” said Stern. “And that was something that we wanted to make sure that the series portrayed. Lifetime is, of course, the perfect place for this series because they really value and they spotlight the women’s voices. And so, it was a lengthy process … It was a lengthy process to get to women. Because there had been so much attention, quick news stories that were done, that we had to really differentiate the series, because it is four hours told in their voices.”
Surviving Jeffrey Epstein airs Sunday, August 9 and Monday, August 10 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Lifetime.