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Jennifer Araoz, who accused Jeffrey Epstein of raping her when she was 15, filed a lawsuit against the wealthy financier’s right-hand woman Ghislaine Maxwell and three of his employees on Wednesday. It’s yet another sign that the case is far from over, even though its main player is dead.
“Jeffrey Epstein and his network of enablers stole from me,” Araoz told reporters during a Wednesday press call about the suit, which also names Epstein’s estate as a defendant. “They robbed me of my youth, my identity, my innocence, my self-worth. For too long, they escaped accountability. I am here today because I intend to change that.”
Araoz is also one of the first people to file a lawsuit under New York’s Child Victims Act. Starting Wednesday, survivors of child sex abuse have a one-year, one-time window in which they can sue their attackers and the institutions they represented, regardless of whether the statute of limitations on the crime has expired.
Epstein was found dead Saturday of an apparent suicide in his Manhattan jail, but his estate can still be sued for civil damages. Aside from Maxwell, the other Epstein employees aren’t not named in the complaint but instead identified by the monikers “the Recruiter,” “the Secretary,” and “the Maid.”
A “brutal rape”
In the complaint, Araoz says she first met Epstein when she was a high school student in New York City. The Recruiter introduced her to Epstein, while Araoz says she encountered the Secretary and the Maid during her repeated visits with Epstein.
“Each time, Ms. Araoz stayed between 1-2 hours, and at the end of the stay, Epstein would direct his Secretary to give her $300 in cash and just say that he ‘wanted to help her out,’ while she and the Recruiter would be served cheese, crackers, and wine by the Maid,” the complaint alleges.
These visits eventually evolved into Araoz visiting Epstein alone and giving him massages, according to the complaint. Epstein became increasingly sexually aggressive during these massages, which would involve him masturbating and touching Araoz — who was then between 14 and 15 years old.
When she was 15, Araoz alleges, Epstein raped her in his palatial Manhattan mansion. He did not use a condom, “which substantially contributed to extreme emotional distress and the development of a panic disorder, which was exacerbated by the fact that Ms. Araoz had recently lost her father to AIDS,” according to the complaint.
After the “brutal rape,” as the complaint describes it, Araoz never returned to Epstein’s house and ignored his calls. Araoz went public with her account in July, after Epstein was arrested and charged with sex-trafficking; she was not one of the victims named in the federal indictment against Epstein.
What happens next
Araoz did not have any contact with Maxwell. However, her lawyers maintain that because Maxwell allegedly helped perpetuate Epstein’s sex trafficking ring, she should be held responsible for what happened to Araoz and other Epstein victims. Maxwell stands accused of helping recruiting people for Epstein to abuse, and, at times, even training or abusing them herself.
“There was a sex trafficking ring that was sophisticated, that was maintained, that was concealed,” attorney Dan Kaiser, who’s representing Araoz, told reporters. “Ms. Maxwell was a key figure in accomplishing all of that.”
An attorney for Maxwell didn’t immediately return a VICE News request for comment, and Araoz’s legal team isn’t sure where in the world Maxwell is. Maxwell has previously denied being involved in Epstein’s alleged sex trafficking ring.
Araoz’s legal team also do not have any information about what will happen next to Epstein’s estate, or with the criminal case involving Epstein, though Araoz has pledged to cooperate with law enforcement. But Kimberly Lerner, a criminal attorney who’s also representing Araoz, did have some strong words for the Manhattan Correctional Center, where Epstein died.
“There are a lot of questions and frankly, they let Jennifer and the other victims down,” Lerner said. “All they had to do was keep him safe and produce him.”
Epstein had been taken off suicide watch shortly before his death, even though he had apparently already tried to kill himself weeks earlier. The two jail officials tasked with watching him were asleep at the time of his suicide and did not check on him for hours, the New York Times reported Wednesday. Attorney General William Barr, who’s in charge of all federal prisons, has promised the public that his officials will investigate how one of the most high-profile defendants in the country died in custody.
During the call with reporters, Kaiser repeatedly mentioned his belief that other “powerful men” helped enable Epstein and need to be held accountable, though he said his team does not yet have enough information to name anybody else. In a recently unsealed deposition, another Epstein accuser, Virginia Giuffre, said she was trafficked to several prominent men.
“If powerful men participated in the sex trafficking in the sense that young girls were trafficked to them, they then become enablers,” Kaiser said. “It was just like their little playground.”
Cover image: This July 25, 2013, file image provided by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement shows financier Jeffrey Epstein. (Florida Department of Law Enforcement via AP, File)