NEW YORK — It was not the day in court they had envisioned, but it was, nonetheless, a day in court — a day to feel angry, to feel heard, to feel empowered.
The federal judge overseeing Jeffrey Epstein’s child sex trafficking case in Manhattan ordered a hearing Tuesday on prosecutors’ request to dismiss the case following the financier’s death. Judge Richard M. Berman also extended an invitation to Epstein’s accusers to share their stories in his courtroom.
At least two dozen, including women who didn’t come to court but whose statements were read into the record, seized the chance. Sixteen appeared in person.
For more than an hour, the women, some of whose voices cracked the moment they began to speak, walked to a microphone at the front of the room; many identified themselves by name, but some wanted to remain anonymous. Their testimony was at times graphic as they described alleged rape and manipulation by Epstein, who had pleaded not guilty to the sex trafficking charges before he died.
First to speak was Courtney Wild, who said she encountered Epstein when she was 14 years old and in middle school. She told Berman that Epstein “sexually abused me for years,” robbing her of her “innocence” and her “day in court to confront him.”
Chauntae Davies, who said she was recruited to be a masseuse for Epstein, told the court that Epstein abused her repeatedly over three years. During her first night on his island, she said, he grabbed her wrists and unbuttoned her shorts. She recalled his excitement each time she said no.
“We have all suffered, and he is still winning in death,” she told the court. “I will not be silenced anymore.”
Nine years before authorities opened an investigation into Epstein, sisters Maria and Annie Farmer tried to report him, but no one acted, they said; at the time, Maria Farmer was 25 and Annie was 16.
On Tuesday, Annie Farmer spoke on behalf of them both: Maria “risked her safety in 1996, so many years ago, to report them, to no avail, and it is heartbreaking to her and to me that all this destruction has been wrought since that time.”
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Actress Anouska De Georgiou told the court that “Epstein manipulated me, coerced me and sexually abused me,” and that she will be forever bound to the others who have identified as his victims.
The women — now in their late 20s and early 30s — spoke of feeling powerless while enduring the alleged abuse. They spoke of feeling powerless still, even years afterward.
“He knew I was vulnerable, and he took advantage of that poor girl, who will never be the same,” said Teala Davies, who said she met Epstein when she was 17.
The women spoke of being empowered by the chance to finally hold Epstein accountable, only to then be stripped of that moment.
Jennifer Araoz’s attorney held onto her arm, steadying her as, like most of those who addressed the court, she spoke through tears. She was 14 years old when she encountered Epstein, her attorney said. Until Araoz learned there were other alleged victims, she never believed she could come forward.
“Attempting to forgive him has been so difficult for me,” she said, in part because she will never have a chance to face Epstein, her “predator.”
Marijke Chartouni explained that she came forward “to be a voice to the victims who may not be able to tell their story, or at least not yet.”
The morning was reminiscent of moments last year when gymnasts, one by one, disclosed a long-kept secret of abuse by former Michigan State University sports physician Larry Nasser as he sat in court — where the courage of one to speak out emboldened others to do the same.
But Epstein’s accusers have been denied their day to come face to face with the accused. He was found dead in his jail cell on Aug. 10.
Theresa Helm, Sarah Ransome and Virginia Roberts Giuffre thanked the prosecutors in attendance, but reminded the room that others — like Epstein’s associates Ghislaine Maxwell and Sarah Kellen — should also be held responsible.
The “reckoning must not end,” said Giuffre.
And while Epstein’s criminal case may soon be abated by death and dismissed, Ransome’s words to everyone listening Tuesday linger:
“Please, please finish what you have started,” she said. “We are all survivors, and the pursuit of justice should not abate.”
Editor’s note: This article has been updated to correct the number of women who appeared in court on Tuesday.