The first time I stepped into Jeffrey Epstein’s mansion on the Upper East Side in the fall of 2001, I noticed his security cameras. They were hard to miss. Inside the front door, he had small TVs playing the footage in real time. I was a child, just 14 at the time. But the message was clear: I was in the house of someone important and I was being watched.
I can still remember watching myself on those screens as I walked into the house of the person I came to know as a predator, a pedophile, my rapist.
I’m filing a civil action against Jeffrey Epstein’s estate and accomplices today, under New York’s Child Victims Act. A key provision of the law goes into effect today and allows survivors to revive claims if the statute of limitations had expired.
Epstein was found dead, apparently by suicide, in his jail cell last week. I’m angry he won’t have to personally answer to me in the court of law. But my quest for justice is just getting started.
During my freshman year, one of Epstein’s recruiters, a stranger, approached me on the sidewalk outside my high school. Epstein never operated alone. He had a ring of enablers and surrounded himself with influential people. I was attending a performing arts school on the Upper East Side, studying musical theater. I wanted to be an actress and a singer.
The recruiter told me about a wealthy man she knew named Jeffrey Epstein. Meeting him would be beneficial, and he could introduce me to the right people for my career, she said. When I confided that I had recently lost my father and that my family was living on food stamps, she told me he was very caring and wanted to help us financially.
The trap was set.
The visits during the first month felt benign, at least at the time. On my second visit, Epstein also gave me a digital camera as a gift. The visits were about one to two hours long and we would spend the time talking. After each visit, he or his secretary would hand me $300 in cash, supposedly to help my family.
But within about a month, he started asking me for massages and instructed me to take my top off. He said he would need to see my body if he was going to help me break into modeling. I felt uncomfortable and intimidated, but I did as he said. The assault escalated when, during these massages, he would flip over and sexually gratify himself and touch me inappropriately.For a little over a year, I went to Epstein’s home once or twice a week.
The last day I went to his house was during the fall of my sophomore year. This time, when I was giving him the massage, he told me to take off my underwear and get on top of him. When I said no, he got more aggressive, held me tightly and raped me.
After that day, I never went back. I also quit the performing arts school — the one I had auditioned for and had wanted so badly to attend. It was too close to his house, the scene of so many crimes. I was too scared I would see him or his recruiter. So I transferred to another school in Queens close to my home. Since I was no longer able to pursue my dream of performing arts I eventually lost interest and dropped out.
It took me years to tell the people close to me what had happened. I was so intimidated by his insistence that I never speak a word of my visits to anyone. And like many survivors, I struggled with anxiety and shame for what I had experienced.
The power structure was stacked against me. His money, influence and connections to important people made me want to hide and stay silent. Those same powerful forces let him hide and evade justice.
That changes, starting now. I want my story to hold Epstein to account and also his recruiters, the workers on his payroll who knew what he was doing and the prominent people around him who helped conceal and perpetuate his sex-trafficking scheme. Their hideous actions victimized me and so many young girls like me.
For years I felt crushed by the power imbalance between Epstein, with his enablers, and me. The Child Victims Act finally offers a counterweight. Moving forward, victims will now have until age 55 to bring a civil case.
I hope more states pass similar laws so that more survivors who endured abuse, assault and rape as a child can know what wresting back their power feels like.
Standing up to the entrenched network of power and wealth that surrounded Epstein is scary, but I am no longer afraid. Reliving these experiences is tough, but I’ve learned to be tougher.
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. I will be seen. I will be heard. I will demand justice.
Jennifer Araoz lives in Queens, N.Y.
The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips. And here’s our email: firstname.lastname@example.org.