Seizing on a legal opportunity that went into effect in New York today, a woman who alleges that Jeffrey Epstein raped her when she was a teenager filed a lawsuit against the late financier’s estate, his longtime confidante Ghislaine Maxwell and three unnamed women who worked for him.
The Child Victims Act opens a year-long window, beginning Wednesday, for adults who were sexually abused as children to revive their claims. Such litigation would previously have been barred by a statute of limitations that prevented victims from suing after age 23. The law is expected to bring forward a flood of cases against institutions like the Boy Scouts, the state’s Catholic diocese and other religious organizations.
And now, it has been used by an alleged victim of Epstein in an attempt to seek justice.
In a complaint filed on Wednesday, Jennifer Araoz claims that Epstein sexually assaulted her numerous times when she visited his Manhattan townhouse to give him massages when she was age 14 and 15, and that, in one instance, he raped her. She would not have been put in these circumstances, she alleges, had it not been for the efforts of Maxwell and her associates.
In the complaint, Araoz, 32, alleges that Maxwell “participated with and assisted Epstein in maintaining and protecting his sex-trafficking ring” by hiring recruiters to bring him underage girls for sexual purposes, scheduling appointments for Epstein, as well as intimidating witnesses and ensuring that his behavior remained a secret.
In an op-ed for the New York Times published on Wednesday, Aaroz explained that she had been able to sue thanks to the Child Victims Act.
“It took me years to tell the people close to me what had happened,” she wrote of her decision not to come forward sooner. “I was so intimidated by his insistence that I never speak a word of my visits to anyone. And like many survivors, I struggled with anxiety and shame for what I had experienced.”
Though she expressed frustration that Epstein’s death on Saturday meant she could not confront him directly in court, she still wanted her story told “to hold Epstein to account and also his recruiters, the workers on his payroll who knew what he was doing and the prominent people around him who helped conceal and perpetuate his sex-trafficking scheme.”
Araoz may not be the only alleged victim of Epstein’s who utilizes the Child Victims Act throughout the next year.
Jennifer Freeman of the Marsh Law firm told The Washington Post on Wednesday that she and her colleagues represented a handful of Epstein’s alleged victims of sexual abuse, some of whom could stand to benefit from the new legal opportunity.
Her firm has not yet filed any lawsuits because Epstein’s death leaves the future of the case uncertain, but Freeman called the Child Victims Act “a second chance for restorative justice.”
Epstein died of an apparent suicide Saturday while in federal custody in New York City, after being charged with sexually abusing dozens of underage girls during the early 2000s. Multiple investigations are ongoing, with intensifying scrutiny on the Manhattan detention facility where he was awaiting trial. On Wednesday, the Justice Department, citing data provided by the Bureau of Prisons, said that 10 of the 18 personnel working at the Metropolitan Correction Center during the shift when Epstein was found hanging in his cell were working overtime. Union officials who represent MCC employees have said that both of the staff members assigned to watch the special housing unit, where Epstein was being held, were on overtime assignments — one for his fourth or fifth straight time that week, the other forced to stay by management.
Epstein’s death has complicated his alleged victims’ attempts to seek justice, as the initial case against him will be dismissed, leaving the next steps in the case unclear.
Prosecuting Epstein’s co-conspirators remains one option, the Post reported this week. Attorney General William P. Barr on Monday warned that “any co-conspirators should not rest easy.”
“This case will continue on against anyone who was complicit with Epstein,” Barr said. “The victims deserve justice, and they will get it.”
This development has put a spotlight on Ghislaine Maxwell, a socialite and close friend of the late financier’s who some of Epstein’s accusers allege played a key role in procuring young girls and keeping his secrets. Maxwell was already named in a 2015 defamation lawsuit brought by a different Epstein accuser, Virginia Roberts Giuffre, which has led to the public release of thousands of pages of documents detailing Epstein’s activities.
Araoz’s lawsuit prominently implicates Maxwell, saying that her assault and rape stemmed from Maxwell’s successful procurement efforts.
In the complaint filed Wednesday, Araoz alleges that a “recruiter” hired by Maxwell repeatedly approached her when she was a 14-year-old freshman at a New York high school and took her to Epstein’s residence. Araoz made repeated visits to the Upper East Side townhouse, in which Epstein would show her various rooms, point out his taxidermied trophies, and often gave her $300 in cash to “help her out.” But about a month into these visits, the complaint says, Maxwell began contacting her directly to schedule appointments.
Lawyers said to be representing Maxwell did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The complaint alleges what Araoz told NBC’s Savannah Guthrie in July — that Maxwell was “100 percent” recruiting for Epstein and that Araoz was a victim of these efforts. At her first visit to the house alone, court documents say that Epstein took Araoz to a massage room and told her, “In order to help you with your modeling career, I will need to see your body.” He asked her to take off her top, and then to give him a massage, during which he began masturbating in front of her.
The complaint says that these incidents occurred on a weekly basis while she was a freshman and a sophomore in high school, and that she was paid $300 each time she gave Epstein a massage. He frequently groped and assaulted her during the sessions, Araoz claims, but she says she was fearful of him and did what she was told. When she was 15, the complaint says, he raped her.
During one massage, she said, Epstein told her to take off her underwear and climb on top of him.
“I said I didn’t want to, and he, you know, very forcefully kind of brought me onto the table,” Araoz told Guthrie of the 2002 incident. “I just did what he told me to do. I was really scared, and I was telling him to stop, please stop.”
Epstein did not stop, she said.
“He raped me,” Araoz told Guthrie. “Forcefully raped me, knew exactly what he was doing, and I don’t think cared.”
Matt Zapotosky contributed to this report.