"She had just transferred to a new school and didn't know anybody," attorney Kimberly Lerner said in an interview. "She didn’t have a father. Her mother was very poor. She was from a single-parent home. She was really struggling, and she wanted to be a model and an actress. He absolutely preyed upon the most vulnerable."
Araoz claims that the billionaire investor recruited her outside of her New York City performing-arts high school when she was 14 and raped her when she was 15. On Wednesday, she exclusively shared her story with NBC News.
Araoz detailed her alleged encounters with Epstein in the interview: She said a woman approached her outside of her high school and invited her to Epstein's opulent Upper East Side townhouse, which was just blocks away. She had lost her father to AIDS a couple of years before, and she said Epstein sympathized with her and talked about donating to AIDS charities. After repeated visits to his home, after which he'd pay her $300, Araoz said Epstein began to sexually assault her after asking her to give him massages. Shortly after her 15th birthday, she alleges he raped her.
Following the alleged rape, Araoz said she dropped out of school due to its proximity to Epstein's home, and developed crippling anxiety over the following years. She never reported the alleged rape to the police, but told at least four people about her alleged experiences with Epstein years later: her mother, her boyfriend at the time, and two close friends.
"He had to have known she would blame herself and wouldn’t come forward," Lerner said. "When the articles came out in 2008, it was the first time she realized she was one of many."
Araoz is now a makeup artist living in Queens, New York, and said she still suffers from the emotional scars of the alleged abuse. "He took something from me that can never be repaired, never made whole," she told NBC News.
The well-connected financier was arraigned on Monday on two sex-trafficking-related charges in a New York federal court. The federal indictment against Epstein, 66, alleges that between 2002 to 2005 Epstein sexually exploited and abused dozens of underage girls in New York and Florida "by enticing them to engage in sex acts with him in exchange for money," and employed others to "ensure that he had a steady supply of minor victims to abuse." Epstein pleaded not guilty.
Araoz will be filing a civil suit against Epstein on August 14, when New York’s Child Victims Act goes into effect, increasing the statutes of limitations for child sexual assault survivors to seek justice against their abusers. Current New York state law gives survivors until age 23 to file criminal charges or civil lawsuits. Under the new law, they'll be able to file a civil lawsuit until they turn 55, and pursue criminal felony charges until they turn 28.
Lerner said Araoz has been debating coming forward for a long time. "Jennifer had made the decision to come forward to tell her story long before all of the allegations came about," Lerner said. "It was not an overnight decision."
Refinery29 has reached out to Jeffrey Epstein's legal team for comment and will update this story if we hear back.
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