NEW YORK — One woman was an aspiring violinist from Texas. Another was a struggling model from overseas. One woman invoked her own daughters in her remarks. Another said she had stayed single for years because of her experience.
One by one, the women walked up to a podium in a packed federal courtroom in Manhattan on Tuesday, and told their story of how financier Jeffrey Epstein had abused them, and then had leveraged his power and wealth to silence them, sometimes for years.
For many, it was their first time speaking about their experience in public.
Epstein was not there, having killed himself in jail two weeks ago.
But more than 16 of his accusers showed up at a routine hearing about dismissing the indictment to talk about the distress they had endured and a criminal justice system that they said had failed them.
Many expressed anger that Epstein had robbed them of the chance to confront him in court after he hanged himself with a bedsheet. “For that, he is a coward,” one of the women, Courtney Wild, said.
“I feel very angry and sad,” Wild added. “Justice has never been served in this case.”
The hearing was a moment of catharsis in a criminal proceeding that had attracted intense national attention because of Epstein’s ties to several wealthy and powerful people, including President Trump, former President Bill Clinton, and Prince Andrew of Britain.
Several of Epstein’s accusers told how they had been coerced at a young age into having sex with him for money, then were pressured through threats and promises of career help to continue seeing him.
“These are things that so many girls can relate to,” said one of the women, speaking anonymously. “Change needs to happen.”
Epstein’s suicide was particularly galling for his accusers because he had escaped federal prosecution on similar charges in Florida in 2008, when he reached a widely criticized plea bargain with the US attorney in Miami. Under that deal, Epstein pleaded guilty to two state charges, including soliciting a minor for prostitution, and served 13 months in a local jail, where he was allowed out on work-release six days a week.
Then in July, the possibility that he might face a stiffer punishment was rekindled, as prosecutors in Manhattan, who had reopened the investigation, charged Epstein, 66, with sex trafficking and sex trafficking conspiracy. The indictment said that between 2002 and 2005 he paid dozens of underage girls, some as young as 14, to have sex with him at his mansions in New York and his compound in Palm Beach, Fla.
Anouska De Georgiou, an actress, said she was appearing in court out of a spirit of solidarity. “I am every girl he did this to, and they are all me,” she said, “and today we stand together.”
Several of the women turned toward prosecutors during their remarks and urged them to continue investigating Epstein’s employees and associates, who they said had helped lure them into Epstein’s scheme. “Please, finish what you have started,” said Sarah Ransome, another of Epstein’s accusers.
Prosecutors assured the court that the investigation would continue into others who are believed to have aided Epstein in his long-running sex-trafficking scheme, helping to procure dozens of teenage girls and women.
The dismissal of Epstein’s case “in no way prohibits or inhibits the government’s ongoing investigation into other potential coconspirators, nor does it prevent the bringing of a new case in the future,” a government prosecutor, Maurene Comey, said. She added those inquiries “have been ongoing, remain ongoing, and will continue.”
Judge Richard M. Berman had scheduled the hearing Tuesday after federal prosecutors wrote to him last week, saying that in light of Epstein’s death, they planned to drop the criminal charges against him — a decision that requires a judge’s approval.
Noting the intense public interest in the case, he invited victims to speak.