This article originally appeared on VICE US.
Jeffrey Epstein is dead.
But that did not make talking about him any easier for the 23 women and attorneys who appeared in front of U.S. District Judge Richard Berman to recount Tuesday how the wealthy financier’s abuse left them or their clients traumatized for years — and how his suicide earlier this month took away their chance for true justice.
“I’m just angry he’s not alive to pay the price for his actions,” said one woman who, like many who spoke, preferred to be identified only as “Jane Doe.”
Berman had scheduled the hearing to dismiss the criminal charges against Epstein, who killed himself in a Manhattan jail cell on Aug. 10.
However, Berman also invited Epstein’s alleged victims and their lawyers to speak publicly about what they’d endured, as an opportunity to tell the stories Epstein would never hear in a courtroom.
“I have suffered and he has won,” said Chauntae Davies, who also said Epstein abused her. But her voice slowly grew in volume as she told the court, “I will not be silenced anymore.”
“I do not want the narrative to be, ‘Those poor girls,’” added another woman.
When it came time for them to speak, a silent line of women and their attorneys filed past a mass of reporters in the cavernous courtroom. They profusely thanked the judge for the chance to speak and spoke about how empowering it was to see one another in person.
Some brought page-long letters to the podium, and cried during their testimony. Many described painful memories that had played out in Manhattan, where Epstein maintained a palatial mansion on the Upper East Side.
One woman could hardly speak, she was sobbing so hard. She’d needed therapy multiple times a week after meeting Epstein, she said.
“I don’t even think he spent a day in jail as a normal human being,” the woman said. “Money should not let you buy your way free.”
Now, denied the chance to see Epstein imprisoned, many of the women are determined to get their justice through a civil lawsuit. Gloria Allred, the renowned lawyer known for defending victims of sex crimes, is representing multiple women who plan to sue in a matter of days. In a letter read aloud by Allred in court, one anonymous woman said that Epstein had threatened to kill her if she wasn’t a virgin.
She was 16 at the time.
Before meeting Epstein, the woman said in the letter, she had never kissed a boy. And to Epstein, she said, “I was nothing. I was his slave.”
She recalled him telling her, “I fucking own this town.”
Throughout their testimony, Epstein’s accusers stressed that Epstein didn’t act alone. Instead, the women he allegedly terrorized were turned into “a victim of a system,” as one “Jane Doe” put it. The woman said she was 15 in 2004, when Epstein sexually molested her at his New Mexico ranch.
Another anonymous woman told the court that she met Epstein in New York City, during an attempt to become a Victoria’s Secret model. He never looked at her portfolio, but instead tried to touch her genitals, the woman said. She threw a vibrator at him — but not before Epstein let her know that he knew former President Bill Clinton, who rode on Epstein’s private jet multiple times.
On the train ride home from her meeting with Epstein, the woman said, “I felt like I was in hell.”
“Please, please finish what you started,” Sarah Ransome urged prosecutors. “He did not act alone.”
Federal prosecutors are already heeding their plea: They’ve vowed to continue investigating the rich, powerful network of enablers who surrounded Epstein. Attorney General William Barr is also overseeing an investigation the Metropolitan Correction Center, where Epstein died.
“To those brave young women who have already come forward and to the many others who have yet to do so, let me reiterate that we remain committed to standing for you, and our investigation of the conduct charged in the indictment — which included a conspiracy count — remains ongoing,” Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said in a statement after Epstein died.
Women like Ghislaine Maxwell, Epstein’s longtime friend, are now facing the glare of the spotlight. Multiple women at the Tuesday hearing said they’d been recruited into Epstein’s inner circle by Maxwell, who has repeatedly maintained her innocence and denied any involvement in Epstein’s abuse. (One of the five unnamed women suing Epstein’s estate alleged Maxwell taught her how to effectively give Epstein a blow job.)
Though he was dogged by similar trafficking accusations more than a decade ago in Palm Beach, Florida, Epstein took a cushy plea deal with federal prosecutors in 2007. He pleaded guilty to prostitution charges and was sentenced to about a year in jail. He spent much of that sentence working out of his Palm Beach office, where he reportedly continued his abuse.