Child abuser and rapist Jeffery Epstein’s first accuser has gone public on national television with her allegations against him, giving us all a terrifying glimpse at the way that unsuspecting youth can suddenly become victims of sex traffickers. Thirty-two-year-old Jennifer Araoz sat down for an exclusive interview on NBC’s TODAY with Savannah Guthrie to bravely share her story with the public.
Araoz was only 14 years old when she first was introduced to billionaire Jeffrey Epstein. Her high school in New York City, a special performing arts school, was located near Epstein’s estate, a circumstance that put her within reach of one of his recruiters. Araoz was brought to Epstein under the impression that he could help further her dreams of becoming an actress. We have seen this pattern of recruiters baiting potential victims with the false hope of advancing their aspirations, e.g. cases like Harvey Weinstein and the Nxivm sex cult.
For the first few weeks, Araoz explained to Guthrie, she was simply invited to Epstein’s for a chat — unbeknownst to her at the time, she was being groomed — after which he would send her home with $300. From there, he felt emboldened to show her to the massage room, demanding that she give him massages while only wearing her underwear. Fearing his anger, she complied. Epstein’s secretary would leave $300 for Araoz in a drawer somewhere that she could pick up on her way out.
Araoz returned to the house once or twice a week at Epstein’s request until finally, at the age of 15, he raped her, forcing her to have sex with him. He was over thirty years her senior. Though she didn’t recognize it as rape at the time, blaming herself for her assault, she never returned after that. “I was terrified,” she said. “I was really scared, because I didn’t want that to happen again.” She ended up dropping out of her school because of its proximity to him.
In hindsight, Araoz shared that she had had the ability to come forward sooner, believing that she could have prevented Epstein from victimizing other adolescents. Even now, though, she expressed her reluctance to go public with her story. “I prefer not to go through this,” she revealed to Guthrie, unable to hold back tears. But, she has also managed to find peace in beginning this long process. “Even though maybe I don’t look it because I’m so sad — but also happy tears because I’m able to let myself go of this burden, I feel brave, I feel strong. More than ever right now.”