Wednesday 18 September 2019

'The fact I will never get to face my predator eats away my soul' - accusers tell of crimes

Listened to: Gloria Allred was one of the attorneys for Epstein’s accusers. Photo: Bebeto Matthews/AP
Listened to: Gloria Allred was one of the attorneys for Epstein’s accusers. Photo: Bebeto Matthews/AP

Harriet Alexander

New York prosecutors have given renewed hope to accusers of Jeffrey Epstein that justice may yet be served, sitting down with them amid increasing speculation that British heiress Ghislaine Maxwell could still be charged.

Geoffrey Berman, the US attorney for the Southern District of New York, met behind closed doors with the some of the 16 women who spoke in court on Tuesday. Mr Berman was "very encouraging", one of those present at the meeting said, and the women were given hope by what they heard.

Several of the dozens of women to accuse Epstein of abuse told prosecutors in Tuesday's hearing that they were trapped in a web created by both Epstein and Miss Maxwell, his long-time companion.

She is alleged in court documents to have served as a recruiter of vulnerable girls for Epstein. Miss Maxwell (56) has never been charged, and has denied any wrongdoing. Epstein's death has led to increasing speculation that prosecutors will now turn their focus on her.

Gloria Allred, the high-profile women's rights lawyer who is representing five Epstein accusers - and weighing up taking on yet more - said she was impressed by Mr Berman's words.

"He was encouraging that the investigation of others who may have been involved in a conspiracy with Mr Epstein to sex traffic under-age minors would continue, despite the fact that Jeffrey Epstein is deceased," she told reporters.

Mr Berman, who was overseeing the charges Epstein faced when he died on August 10, has previously said that his team's "investigation of the conduct charged in the indictment - which included a conspiracy count - remains ongoing".

Frank Perrone, a former prosecutor in New York and now a partner at private law firm Davidoff Hutcher & Citron LLP, said Miss Maxwell could not rest easy, despite there being no charges filed so far.

There were emotional scenes this week as one by one, the women stood in court, fighting back tears as they described how Epstein coerced and abused them, and - to the end - avoided efforts to bring him to justice.

The women would have preferred a trial.

But because Epstein, a politically connected multimillionaire, apparently killed himself, authorities said, they got only this: a three-hour hearing, convened ostensibly so a judge could weigh prosecutors' request to drop the sex-trafficking charges brought against the jet-setting financier.

Judge Richard Berman said at the outset the obvious yet painful truth: "Mr Epstein's death obviously means that a trial in which he is a defendant cannot take place."

Instead, the judge provided a venue for the women to share their stories with each other and the world - some publicly for the first time, others retelling the now-familiar horrors they endured in hopes of some bit of catharsis.

"He could not begin to fathom what he took from us, and I say 'us' because I am every girl he did this to, and they're all me," said actress Anouska De Georgiou, who alleged Epstein coerced and sexually abused her as a girl.

"I'm glad to be part of a group of women who are now bonded forever in the trauma that we endured at the hands of this man."

The women's stories were chillingly similar. Epstein, they said, manipulated them and the system that was supposed to hold him accountable, and the effects of his abuse would remain after his death.

"The fact I will never have a chance to face my predator in court eats away at my soul," said Jennifer Araoz, fighting through tears. "Even in death, Epstein is trying to hurt me."

Chauntae Davies, who told the court she was recruited to be a masseuse for Epstein, graphically described being raped by the financier over several years and how she has felt enduring effects throughout her life.

"I've suffered, and he has won," Ms Davies said.

"Every job offer that's been offered to me and then retracted because of my connection to this case - I have suffered, and he has won. Every public humiliation I have endured - I have suffered, and he has won."

While Ms Davies said Epstein's death had robbed her of justice, she would not let the pain silence her.

"I refuse to let this man win in death," she said.

"I couldn't fight back when Jeffrey Epstein sexually abused me because I hadn't yet found my voice. Well, I have found my voice now, and while Jeffrey may no longer be here to hear it, I will not stop fighting, and I will not be silenced anymore."

In total, 16 women spoke in court, 10 whom identified themselves by name, others who were referred to only as 'Jane Doe'. Others had their attorneys read statements.

Theresa Helm said it was "time to bring light to that darkness, and it's time to replace that darkness with light".

"I note today I do feel respected and listened to," she said. (© The Telegraph, London and agencies)

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