Following news of multimillionaire financier Jeffrey Epstein’s recent arrest on sex trafficking and sex trafficking conspiracy charges, a woman has come forward with claims that he raped her when she was only 15.
Jennifer Araoz, now 32, spoke out Wednesday morning on the Today show about the alleged incident, which she says took place back in 2002.
According to Araoz, Epstein first began grooming her in the fall of 2001, while she was attending a performing arts school called Talent Unlimited on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. She was approached outside of the school by an unnamed brunette woman in her 20s, who invited her to Epstein’s nearby mega-mansion townhouse, promising he could help with her modeling career.
“I was 14 years old,” Araoz told Today. “What the hell do you know when you’re that young?” She was taken to Epstein—whom prosecutors believe was behind a sex-trafficking operation of dozens of underage girls in Florida and New York in the 2000s—at his townhouse and, despite being underage, provided alcohol. She was then given an envelop with $300 inside, and an invitation to return soon. A few weeks after her first encounter with Epstein, he allegedly asked her to give him a massage in his underwear, while he masturbated.
“I didn’t know if he would get angry or if I didn’t listen what the repercussions would have been,” she said. “So I kind of just followed. I was so young, so I didn’t know better.”
Then, after she turned 15, she claims he forced her to have sex with him.
“I was terrified, and I was telling him to stop,” she said. “I thought I was obligated, like that’s what you’re supposed to do.”
“He took something from me that can never be repaired, never made whole,” she added.
Araoz says she kept the alleged rape to herself at the time, because he, “knew a lot of powerful people and [she] didnt’ know what he could do to [her].” (A detailed explainer on Epstein’s connections to powerful politicians, including President Donald Trump, can be found, here.) Now, she regrets not telling anyone about the alleged nonconsensual sexual encounter. “If I wasn’t afraid to come forward sooner, then maybe he wouldn’t have done it to other girls,” she said. “I feel really guilty.”
Araoz says she drifted into a deep depression, experiencing anxiety and panic attacks. She even dropped out of school. She did eventually tell her family, two close friends, and an ex-boyfriend—all of whom confirmed the alleged rape with Today. “She was so anxious but I couldn’t figure out why,” Araoz’s mother told Today. “The anxiety got so bad that she couldn’t function, and I urged her to go to a doctor.”
Epstein, who was arrested Saturday at New Jersey’s Teterboro Airport, has pleaded not guilty to sex trafficking and sex trafficking conspiracy. He is set to appear before a judge for a bail hearing on Thursday.