Several of the women who have accused Jeffrey Epstein of sexual abuse were allowed to speak Tuesday in a New York City court, where they expressed their anger and disappointment after the criminal case against the disgraced financier ended abruptly with his suicide earlier this month.
Judge Richard Berman, the federal judge who had been overseeing the case, held the hearing for the purpose of formally dropping the sex trafficking charges. Twenty-three women showed up in court, by BuzzFeed’s count.
One of the women involved in the case, Courtney Wild, called Epstein a “coward.”
Epstein, 66, had been awaiting trial when he was found dead in his cell at a high-security Manhattan prison facility on Aug. 10. The shocking development in an underage sex trafficking case that had already captured nationwide attention prompted several investigations into how such a high-profile inmate was left alone long enough to harm himself.
In court Tuesday, some of the women chose to withhold their names, calling themselves “Jane Doe.” Some gave written statements to attorneys to read on their behalf.
One Jane Doe said “it felt like new trauma all over again” when Epstein killed himself and thereby avoided the consequences of any misdeeds. One said the abuse she suffered led her to buy a gun and drive to an isolated place, contemplating suicide. One said that Epstein told her his abuse was helping her “grow.”
Another woman, Chauntae Davies, described what it was like to give Epstein a massage. (Epstein allegedly paid young girls to give him massages, during which time he would assault them.)
″[B]efore I knew what was happening, he grabbed onto my wrist and tugged me towards the bed,” Davies told the courtroom, later adding, “I was searching for words but all I could say was, ‘No, please stop,’ but that just seemed to excite him more.”
Another Jane Doe explained how she believed Epstein would prey on specific young women.
“A lot of us were in very vulnerable situations and in extreme poverty,” Jane Doe #2 said, according to NBC News. “I had so much self-hatred and doubt and so much guilt for everything.”
Jane Doe #11 said she had “never even kissed a boy” before meeting Epstein.
“When he stole my virginity, he washed my entire body compulsively in the shower and then told me, ‘If you’re not a virgin, I will kill you.’ And then I wasn’t a virgin anymore,” she said.
Prosecutors said Epstein abused dozens of underage girls on private islands and at his Manhattan mansion, his Palm Beach, Florida, home and his New Mexico ranch, allegedly using his vast wealth to cover his tracks. In 2008, he secured a federal non-prosecution agreement in exchange for pleading guilty to state charges for abusing minors. He was sentenced to 13 months in a private wing of the Palm Beach stockade and was allowed to leave on a work permit for up to 12 hours a day, six days a week.
While the criminal case is over, prosecutors have said they do not intend to stop investigating the case or rooting out potential co-conspirators who could be criminally charged.
“To be very clear, today’s dismissal in no way inhibits or prohibits the government’s ongoing investigation,” federal prosecutor Maureen Comey said Tuesday, per CNN.
Many of Epstein’s accusers maintain that the financier was able to abuse so many young women due to a web of enablers who either participated in his abuse or looked the other way. He was known to socialize with influential scientists and such wealthy and powerful people as former President Bill Clinton, real estate developer Donald Trump and Britain’s Prince Andrew. All deny any wrongdoing.
One person in particular, former Epstein associate Ghislaine Maxwell, has been repeatedly accused of acting as his “madame.” Maxwell, a British socialite, also denies all suggestions of wrongdoing.
Epstein’s accusers may also pursue civil litigation against his estate, but steps he took just days prior to his death will likely make it harder for the women to obtain financial damages.
This article has been updated with details on the number of women who appeared in court and some of their testimony.
If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also text HOME to 741-741 for free, 24-hour support from the Crisis Text Line. Outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of resources.