Another woman has come forward with rape allegations against convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, filing a pre-commencement petition to sue the financier under New York's Child Victims Act.
Jennifer Araoz, now 32, says a young woman approached her outside Manhattan's Talent Unlimited High School in 2001, when Araoz was a freshman. The woman told NBC she was pumped for details about her personal life, and asked about her family and their financial situation, but in a kind and unassuming way. Araoz came from modest means, and her father had died while she was in middle school. "I was kind of a lost kid and [the woman] sensed it," she said.
On Monday, Epstein was indicted on (and pleaded not guilty to) child sex trafficking charges in Manhattan federal court. Prosecutors argue that he deliberately preyed upon underage women who were "particularly vulnerable to exploitation," enlisting recruiters to bring him "a steady stream of minor[s]." Between at least 2002 and 2005, the indictment alleges that Epstein enticed "dozens" of girls to his Manhattan townhouse and Palm Beach estate, giving them hundreds of dollars in cash in exchange for fully or partially naked massages—and would give the more cash if they brought in more girls.
Prosecutors say he would often touch himself during the encounters, and/or the girls. Some of the women who've come forward with stories about Epstein say the abuse escalated to rape. (That on top of the fact that sex between a minor and an adult is by definition statutory rape.) Law enforcement also emphasized that many of the victims were especially vulnerable to exploitation.
According to Araoz, she was 14 when the stranger approached her, allegedly bringing up a friendly neighborhood billionaire named Jeffrey Epstein, describing him as a "fatherly figure," and offering to introduce him to her. After a few conversations with the woman, the teen agreed to go with her to Epstein's Upper East Side mansion. The woman initially chaperoned Araoz's visits with Epstein, but after about a month, Araoz went alone. That's when she says Epstein first brought her to his massage room.
For the next year, Araoz recalled, she would routinely report to the mansion and strip to her underwear, massaging Epstein—who she says definitely knew how old she was—while he masturbated. After each appointment, she told NBC, he would give her $300. "I felt almost obligated because of the money he was giving me," she said. "I didn't know if he would get angry or if I didn't listen what the repercussions would have been ... I was so young, so I didn't know better."
But in the fall of 2002, things allegedly turned violent: One day, he firmly suggested she "do the massage on top of" him. Araoz told NBC that she agreed to remove her underwear, that he started touching her, and then, despite her pleas for him to stop, he grabbed her. "He raped me, he forcefully raped me," she said. "He knew exactly what he was doing."
Araoz would have been 15 years old at that time. She eventually confided in at least four other people, all of whom confirmed her account to NBC.
The allegations have swirled around Epstein for well over a decade at this point, resurfacing in a big way when the Miami Herald ran a series of in-depth reports on the self-proclaimed billionaire in late 2018. In the mid-aughts, authorities in Florida prepared a case against Epstein, but the indictment was sealed thanks to a 2007 plea deal engineered by then-U.S. Attorney, now-Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta. Rather than a life prison sentence, Epstein wound up serving just over a year in a country club jail, and had to register as a sex offender.
However, because the abuse allegedly occurred in multiple states, and because New York imposes no statute of limitations on the sex trafficking of minors, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York can still prosecute Epstein on federal charges. Still, Acosta's deal got Epstein off the hook for years, prompting widespread calls for Acosta to resign. Faced with renewed scrutiny, the Trump appointee still hasn't apologized to Epstein's alleged victims, although he has reportedly acknowledged that Epstein "absolutely deserve[d] a stiffer sentence."
Reporter points out to Alex Acosta that he hasn't apologized to Epstein's victims. In his response, Alex Acosta does not apologize to Epstein's victims.
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) July 10, 2019
As for Araoz, she cannot file her complaint against Epstein until August 14th, when the Child Victims Act goes into effect. The CVA passed in response to rampant sexual abuse of minors by priests within the Catholic church, and gives adult survivors one year to pursue civil claims. Araoz is asking that Epstein be deposed so that she can figure out who the recruiter was and add her as a defendant.
On Monday, William F. Sweeney, assistant director in charge for the FBI's New York field office, asked anyone who may have been abused by Epstein, or have knowledge of abuse he committed, to contact the Victim and Witness Services at the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York. At a press conference, he said: "Your bravery might just empower others to speak out against crimes committed against them."
Epstein is being held without bail until at least July 15th, when a detention hearing will be held. The U.S. Attorney's office wants him to remain in custody because his vast resources and homes around the world make him a flight risk. Epstein has been adding onto his private island's compound off the U.S. Virgin Islands; locals call it "Pedophile Island."