Jennifer Araoz, one of the dozens of women who have alleged that financier Jeffrey Epstein sexually abused them — some when they were as young as 14 years old — sued his estate Wednesday, becoming the first woman to file a lawsuit against him under a new law in New York.
The Child Victims Act opens a one-year window for sexual abuse survivors to file lawsuits, regardless of when the alleged abuse occurred, overriding any statutes of limitations that often inhibit survivors from seeking justice. The law was implemented Wednesday, the one-year anniversary of a major report about hundreds of Catholic priests in Pennsylvania who sexually abused children.
“Today is my first step toward reclaiming my power,” Araoz said Wednesday in a call with reporters. “Jeffrey Epstein and his network of enablers stole from me. They robbed me of my youth, my identity, my innocence and my self-worth. For too long, they escaped accountability.”
Araoz told NBC News in July that Epstein raped her in 2002 when she was 15, after a “recruiter” working for Epstein groomed her under the guise of career help. Araoz, then a student at a performing arts high school in New York City, began visiting Epstein’s Manhattan apartment, where she says he sexually assaulted her.
Epstein, who had been awaiting trial in Manhattan, was found dead in his prison cell early Saturday, in an apparent suicide.
“While I am angry that Mr. Epstein’s death means he will never personally answer to me in the court of law, my resolve to pursue justice is only strengthened,” Araoz said on the call.
Araoz’s suit implicates Epstein’s estate and several of his employees, including the recruiter, as well as British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell, who is widely alleged to be Epstein’s chief associate and enabler of his alleged serial sexual abuse.
While Araoz did not have any contact with Maxwell, the suit seeks to expose “her role in maintaining and concealing the sex trafficking ring that Mr. Epstein was involved in,” said Dan Kaiser, one of Araoz’s attorneys. The lawsuit aims “to expose and hold accountable his enablers, and at the end of the day, hold accountable wealth and power,” Kaiser said.
Maxwell has previously denied the claims and has not faced charges. She was also not named in Epstein’s 2008 plea deal, which allowed him to largely escape prosecution.
Neither Epstein nor Maxwell’s attorneys responded to requests from comment from NBC News, which first reported Araoz’s lawsuit Wednesday.
Kaiser said Maxwell’s attorneys were “dismissive of the allegations, but did not deny any particular factual allegation.”
Several other women who have said Epstein preyed on them and abused them also intend to sue his estate this week, in response to the new law.
Araoz’s attorneys said Wednesday that she is also cooperating with federal investigators looking into his suspected accomplices.
Need help? Visit RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Online Hotline or the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s website.