Updated at 2:06 p.m. ET
A woman in New York who said she was raped by Jeffrey Epstein, the wealthy financier who was charged with sex trafficking, is suing his estate, an associate and members of his staff for their alleged involvement in the scheme.
“Today I am starting to reclaim my power,” Jennifer Araoz, 32, told reporters.
The lawsuit filed Wednesday comes after Epstein’s apparent suicide left victims questioning how they would receive justice.
Araoz said Epstein preyed on her when she was a 14- and 15-year-old student at a performing arts high school in New York City. The lawsuit filed in New York County Supreme Court said a recruiter approached Araoz on the sidewalk of the school.
The suit targets three unidentified women who worked for Epstein, including that recruiter, a secretary and a maid. The lawsuit also names Epstein’s longtime confidante and British socialite, Ghislaine Maxwell, saying she assisted and protected Epstein in a sophisticated sex trafficking ring.
Maxwell is accused in the suit of scheduling appointments, intimidating potential witnesses and ensuring that Epstein had girls to meet with every day.
“It is clear that Ms. Maxwell was a co-conspirator in the sex trafficking ring, it’s clear she played an administrative role,” whether or not she had direct contact with victims, attorney Dan Kaiser told reporters.
Maxwell’s whereabouts are unknown. In a deposition in a separate case, Maxwell denied allegations that she helped Epstein acquire girls or young women, the Miami Herald reported.
Kaiser emphasized that Epstein had a network of enablers, including the wealthy and the powerful. “Without those enablers, it would not have gone on for as long as it did,” Kaiser said. He said additional enablers will be named.
Kaiser also said he did not know the identity of the executor of Epstein’s estate.
The recruiter — described in the lawsuit as “a brunette woman” — allegedly befriended Araoz in the days that followed their initial meeting on the sidewalk. She began to talk fondly of Epstein, describing him as a wealthy, connected person who could help Araoz’s career.
Araoz was first brought past security cameras and into an opulent trophy room in Epstein’s Manhattan mansion, according to the lawsuit. She was offered wine, snacks and cash to help her family. Eventually, Epstein took her upstairs to his massage room, starting what Araoz said became more than a year of sexual assault and battery.
At the time, she was living in Queens with her mother, according to the lawsuit. Her father had died when she was 12, leaving her without a father figure.
After Epstein allegedly assaulted her, the shame compelled her to tell her mother a different story: that she had been bullied at school. To avoid encounters with Epstein or the recruiter, she transferred to a different school, in Queens. Ultimately, she stopped pursuing modeling, acting and singing.
Kimberly Lerner, a victims’ rights attorney for Araoz, praised her courage to come forward. “She has the resolve and the strength to help bring down the criminal enterprise and the conspiracy,” Lerner said. She added that Araoz gave up her anonymity while Epstein was alive because she wanted other victims to know that they are not alone. She said Araoz had also lived in fear of Epstein.
Early Saturday, he was found unresponsive in an apparent suicide in his cell at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan. He was arrested on July 6 and pleaded not guilty to charges of sex trafficking of dozens of young girls.
“I am angry Jeffrey Epstein won’t have to face his survivors of his abuse in court,” Araoz said in a statement after his death. “We have to live with the scars of his actions for the rest of our lives, while he will never face the consequences of the crimes he committed the pain and trauma he caused so many people.”
Her lawsuit was filed under New York state’s new Child Victims Act, which took effect Wednesday. The legislation gives victims of childhood sex abuse more time to file civil lawsuits against abusers — until the victims reach the age of 55.
In an opinion piece published in The New York Times in tandem with the lawsuit filing, Araoz wrote, “I used to feel alone, walking into his mansion with the cameras pointing at me, but now I have the power of the law on my side.”