Dam breaking: New Epstein accuser comes forward

Federal prosecutors announced on Monday that they want to hear from any of Jeffrey Epstein’s victims, and today the deluge began — in public, anyway. NBC’s Savannah Guthrie interviewed Jennifer Araoz, who claims Epstein “forcibly raped” her at 15 years old in 2002. She describes in detail how Epstein’s staffer recruited her at a high school as a freshman, and then how the two of them groomed her for sexual exploitation.

Be warned that this is a little graphic, and it also raises a question or two:

In the fall of 2002, Epstein pressured her to do more, Araoz said. He told her to remove her panties. Then he grabbed her 15-year-old body.

“He raped me, forcefully raped me,” Araoz told NBC News in an exclusive interview. “He knew exactly what he was doing.” …

Araoz’s account adds a new dimension to the allegations against Epstein: a young girl being recruited outside a New York City school to perform sexual favors for him.

The federal indictment unsealed this week refers to three unidentified victims but none of them is Araoz. She never contacted the authorities to tell her story, but she says she did tell at least four people — her mother, her old boyfriend and two close friends — about the Epstein encounters several years after they occurred.

Reached by NBC News, all four confirmed that she told them years ago that she had been sexually assaulted by Epstein.

“She said that she was raped by Epstein and before the rape she had been giving him massages for a year,” said a friend of 16 years. “There’s no doubt in my mind knowing her character, the type of person she is, that what she says happened is exactly what happened.”

Knowing Epstein’s character, it’s lands much closer to certainty than possibility. However, Araoz’ public revelation has a couple of curious aspects to it. She tells Guthrie that she didn’t report it to police at all at the time, thinking it was her fault — which is a very typical reaction for victims of sexual assault, especially with children. According to her conversation with Guthrie, Araoz wasn’t aware that Epstein had committed any other crimes until just recently. However, Epstein was charged in a highly publicized case in 2007, five years later. Why not come forward then? One answer: Araoz hadn’t told others about it at that point and may not have wanted to be identified as a victim, also understandable.

However, Araoz has not contacted federal prosecutors in this instance either, at least not yet, as Araoz tells Guthrie. Instead, she’s filing a civil lawsuit against Epstein — which, let’s face it, might be a more satisfying way for Epstein’s victims to punish his depravity. Certainly understandable, but why not do both? Prosecutors would be very, very interested in potential rape charges against Epstein along with molestation. It seems curious that at a time when prosecutors are publicly begging victims to talk with them that Araoz chose to talk to NBC instead, or at least first.

Still, Araoz has a command of a number of detailed recollections of her encounters with Epstein, some of them so bizarre as to be difficult to credit to imagination. The story about the prosthetic breasts in particular is a detail that sticks. The pattern is similar to the grooming strategy revealed in the indictments but with more detail, and Araoz tells her story in a compelling manner. She seems quite credible, and even if she’s going the lawsuit route, she’ll still have to provide a preponderance of evidence to win and testify under oath to do so — so this isn’t an easy route. It might be easier for Araoz to work with prosecutors, in fact.

Besides, Epstein’s problem isn’t going to be finding ways to poke holes into Araoz’ allegations. His problem will be dealing with an avalanche of similar stories from women like Araoz. In the end, it won’t matter whether 5% or 25% of them turn out to be fabulism; the extent of Epstein’s predation will ensure that both prosecutors and the media have a parade of legitimate victims coming forward to bury Epstein for good this time, as should have happened in 2007.  Let’s hope that the media takes care to act as responsibly in airing these stories as prosecutors will be in lining up witnesses for testimony. The media’s performance in last year’s Brett Kavanaugh debacle — and NBC’s in particular — certainly gives reason for caution in accepting claims made via media entirely at face value.