Fury over ‘stunning turn of events’
When Jeffrey Epstein died by suicide in jail he took the opportunity for his victims to have their day in court.
That was judge Richard M. Berman's concern.
And so today dozens of the accusers, who say the wealthy financier sexually abused them, filed into the US District Court in New York after being invited to testify before the case was dismissed as a result of his death.
A coroner ruled Epstein, 66, killed himself on August 10 while awaiting trial on sex trafficking and conspiracy charges involving underage girls. He was facing up to 45 years prison if found guilty.
On Tuesday, the judge started the hearing by describing Epstein's suicide as "a rather stunning turn of events".
"I believe it is the court's responsibility, and manifestly within its purview, to ensure the victims in this case are treated fairly and with dignity," he said.
One after another, 16 women spoke through tears about how they had been lured into giving Epstein erotic massages, then pressured to continue seeing him.
Virginia Roberts Giuffre, who now lives in Cairns, was among the plaintiffs in court.
Ms Giuffre, who previously said she was a 15-year-old working at President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago club when she was recruited to perform sex acts on Epstein, told the court that her "hopes were quickly dashed and my dreams were stolen".
Jennifer Araoz, who has accused Epstein of raping her in his New York mansion when she was a 15-year-old aspiring actress, said he "robbed me of my dreams, of my chance to pursue a career I adored".
"The fact I will never have a chance to face my predator in court eats away at me," she said. "They let this man kill himself and kill the chance for justice for so many others."
Sarah Ransome, who alleged Epstein pressured her into sex when she was in her early 20s, encouraged prosecutors in their efforts to bring others to justice, saying: "Finish what you started. … We are survivors and the pursuit of justice should not abate."
Another accuser, Courtney Wild, told the court that "justice has never been served in this case".
"I feel very angry and sad," she said.
"He is a coward."
Some of the accusers, who withheld their names, said they felt Epstein had victimised them a second time by him taking his own life.
"It felt like new trauma all over again," one woman said.
Brad Edwards, one of the lawyers representing Epstein's victims, described it as "a historic day for crime victims in the United States".
According to prosecutor Maurene Comey, the dismissal of Epstein's case "in no way prohibits or inhibits the government's ongoing investigation into other potential co-conspirators, nor does it prevent the bringing of a new case in the future". Those inquiries "have been ongoing, remain ongoing and will continue", she said.
Earlier this month, US Attorney-General William Barr said the abuser's co-conspirators should "not rest easy"
Several women have come forward to sue the late sex offender's estate and a slew of others say they were sexually abused by Epstein both before and after the controversial deal that allowed him to avoid federal prosecution for sex crimes in 2007. They are seeking unspecified damages.
Three new lawsuits, filed in Manhattan federal court, bring the number of civil cases against Epstein's estate to at least five since his death.
The women allege they were brought to the wealthy financier's New York mansion by recruiters to provide Epstein with massages for payment before being repeatedly sexually assaulted by him. Two of them were aged 17 and one was 20 when they first encountered Epstein, according to the papers.
One accuser, Priscilla Doe, was a 20-year-old dancer "recruited" as one of Epstein's personal masseuses when she was allegedly taken on a trip to the convicted paedophile's island, Little St. James, in 2006. Her passport was taken from her on arrival so she couldn't escape, the suit said.
Priscilla claimed that while being held captive, Epstein's alleged former "lady of the house" Ghislaine Maxwell, 57, taught her "the proper way" to perform sex acts on him in a "step-by-step tutorial".
The complaint said Ms Maxwell, a British socialite,used her hands "to demonstrate how to pleasure Jeffrey Epstein manually so that plaintiff would know exactly how to make Jeffrey Epstein happy".
The suit alleges that Ms Maxwell eventually made sure that Priscilla and other young women were "constantly on call to sexually service" Epstein.
Ms Maxwell has repeatedly denied accusations against her and has never been charged.
In court on Tuesday, one woman alleged that Epstein raped her at his home in the Virgin Islands. "I tried to pull away, but he was already unbuttoning my shorts," she said. "All I could say was 'No, please stop,' but that just seemed to excite (him) more. I spent two weeks vomiting almost to death in a (Los Angeles, California) hospital after that first encounter."
Priscilla's lawsuit also referenced some of Epstein's high-flying associates. It said she once met the sultan of Dubai through Epstein, and on another occasion, was made to serve hors d'oeuvres at a private party where director Woody Allen - who isn't implicated in the case -was a guest.
"This server's role was forced upon plaintiff in order to demean her, frighten her, and impress upon her the need for her to conceal the commercial sex trafficking enterprise he was running," the complaint said.
Epstein would also boast about being "close friends with other powerful influential people" including Bill Clinton, Donald Trump and Prince Andrew, the court papers read.
Priscilla claimed she was forced to give some of Epstein's "powerful friends" massages - during which she was sexually abused - but didn't identify any by name.
On the same trip, Priscilla was forced into having sex with another woman, identified as "Associate 2", during which she was choked by Epstein, the documents said.
Another one of the new accusers, identified as Katlyn Doe, was just 17 when she first met Epstein in 2007 and spent the next seven years travelling to his homes in New York, Florida and the US Virgin Islands for the sole purpose of having sex with him, court documents allege.
In 2013, he allegedly coerced her into legally marrying one of his female recruiters, "Associate 3", so the recruiter could obtain legal status to "remain in the country to work for him", court papers said. The nuptials included "posing for photographs to give the appearance that the marriage was legitimate," according to the documents.
Epstein paid Katlyn $10,000 once she had tied the knot and promised to make a second payment of an equal amount when the marriage ended, as well as cover her expenses for an undisclosed medical condition.
"Jeffrey Epstein continued to use the still-owed $10,000 as a cudgel to cause plaintiff to continue to engage in commercial sex acts, knowing that if she did not do so he would never pay the shortfall," the suit said. The victim is still awaiting surgery, according to the suit.
Katlyn said at age 25 she was deemed "too old" for Epstein, in 2014. He stopped having sex with her, kicked her out of his apartment and refused to make the outstanding payment when she and "Associate 3" divorced in 2017.
"Plaintiff was never paid the additional ten thousand dollars Jeffrey Epstein had promised to pay her for the marriage favour," the suit said.
The third new accuser, identified as Lisa Doe, was 17-years-old when she was hired to teach a "dance-based exercise class" at Epstein's New York residence in 2002, according to court documents.
She soon became one of his personal masseuses before being forced to perform sexual acts on him. Following their first encounter, he handed her a copy of the book Massage for Dummies, the complaint said.
"Jeffrey Epstein handed the book to plaintiff and instructed her to read the entire publication before the next time she saw him," the suit alleged. Then he handed her $300 in cash.
Lisa said that on her first trip to Epstein's home she was introduced to "Prince, who was there visiting as a close personal friend".
"Prince engaged in conversation with Jeffrey Epstein and plaintiff, who was shocked that someone as powerful as a royal family member would be engaging in small talk with her," the filing said, without identifying the royal by name.
Britain's Prince Andrew is among prominent men who have long been accused of soliciting Epstein's harem of underage "sex slaves". He has denied the allegations.
By 2009, Epstein controlled "every aspect" of Lisa's life and even tried to steer her to becoming a professional masseuse, the complaint said.
"Turning his young, illegitimate masseuses into legitimate masseuses was a common scheme of Jeffrey Epstein," it continued.
"He did this in an effort to add apparent legitimacy to his illegal commercial sex acts."
On Tuesday local time, the victims' lawyer Stan Pottinger said his clients weren't just suing for the multi-millionaire's fortune - they want justice.
"We want to hold the Epstein organisation to account first, it's not primarily about money," Mr Pottinger said.
Mr Pottinger and his legal team represent 20 Epstein accusers, including the latest three women to have filed civil lawsuits.
"All of them are against the Epstein estate and various companies that he had as part of his scheme or syndicate or … the organisation that he had that helped him round up girls," he continued.
Prosecutors previously alleged that several unnamed employees of Epstein's were involved in his alleged crimes in the early 2000s by accepting payment to arrange massages that led to sex acts with young girls, then encouraging them to recruit others.
"Through these victim recruiters, Epstein gained access to and was able to abuse dozens of additional minor girls," Epstein's indictment read.
According to multiple court filings previously reviewed by the Miami Herald, lawyers for one alleged victim claimed that Epstein and Ms Maxwell acted as the leaders of an "organised crime family" and that Ms Maxwell helped traffic girls and women to powerful figures.
According to the documents, Ms Maxwell lured the alleged victims into the sex ring by offering them modelling, fashion, and educational opportunities. Two of the women alleged that Epstein and Ms Maxwell together sexually assaulted them, according to court documents.
In recent years, she has struck confidential settlements in civil court with two of the women who say she participated in Epstein's sexual exploitation of them, according to the The New York Times.