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Despite Epstein’s death, his accusers vow their fight for justice endures

When accused sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein died by suicide in a New York jail, some of his alleged victims reacted with outrage that he had robbed them of the chance to face him in court. But more than a dozen of Epstein’s accusers told their stories to a federal judge in Manhattan on Tuesday instead. Amna Nawaz talks to The Washington Post's Renae Merle about what the women shared.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    When accused sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein took his own life in a New York City jail cell two weeks ago, some of his victims were among the first to react with outrage that he'd robbed them of their day to face him in court.

    But, as Amna Nawaz reports, today, many of those women did have the chance to tell their stories to a judge.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    That's right, Judy.

    More than a dozen of Epstein's accusers spoke at a hearing in a federal courthouse in downtown Manhattan today. Several described how Epstein coerced them as minors to have sex with him, then pressured them with money and other tactics to continue seeing him, and, in some cases, other wealthy men.

    The women expressed anger and frustration at the trauma they'd endured, but also a spirit of solidarity.

    Attorney Gloria Allred, who represents a number of the accusers, applauded their resolve.

  • Gloria Allred:

    Jeffrey Epstein's death, whether it was a suicide or murder, doesn't end the case, doesn't end their fight for justice.

    It doesn't end their feeling that they were manipulated, victimized and that they were child victims of Mr. Epstein. So,today, they spoke truth to power. They spoke truth to what happened to them.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Renae Merle has been covering the story for The Washington Post, and she joins us from New York now.

    Welcome to the "NewsHour," Renae.

    Renee, let me ask you. You were monitoring those courtroom proceedings all day today. Describe for us what it was that you saw and heard from the women today.

  • Renae Merle:

    Well, what I really saw was a lot of emotion.

    Yes, the victims were angry that Epstein had evaded justice, in their eyes, by committing suicide. But there was also a lot of tears, as people explained how they were affected by his abuse. And this was — seemed like a turning point for them.

    Yes, he wasn't — Epstein wasn't in the room, but they were there together. And they were really talking about how this impacted them. And it was a very personal, very emotional scene.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Give me a sense of the level of detail some of the women went into. Was this for some of them the first time that they were speaking publicly about what it was they'd suffered?

  • Renae Merle:

    Yes, several of the women said that they had come forward simply because the Manhattan federal prosecutors had brought up this case and they thought, for the first time, they were going to get a chance to take their complaints to court.

    And so they were telling their stories for the first time. And some of them went into some really graphic detail in telling the stories of how Epstein had raped them. One women talked about going to his island when she was 16 or 17 years old, and being called to his room late at night, and what happened after there, really just impacted her life for a really long time.

    So a lot of it — some of it was really just very graphic detail of the abuse that went on.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Renae, in recent weeks, there was a lot made about why so many women were reluctant to come forward for so many years. They were worried about going up against a powerful, well-connected man.

    And even today, it's been reported many of them chose not to use their real names. They submitted statements under Jane Doe. Why do you think that is?

  • Renae Merle:

    Well, part of it is that they want to avoid the public spotlight. And for some of them that even used their names, they said it was just really difficult.

    Some were still dealing with the idea that they were victims. They had blamed themselves for a really long time and didn't understand where they fit into this narrative and that it was wrong, what happened, that they had manipulated — been manipulated.

    And so in dealing with all of those things, that some women are just at different phases of that process than others.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    You know, you mentioned some of them had come there frustrated that they weren't going to be able to get justice in some way, with Epstein now dead.

    With the charges now formally, at least in this case, these charges formally dismissed, is there any sense that there will be any form of justice for these women?

  • Renae Merle:

    Yes, so the criminal case against Epstein is obviously done, but this case is far from over.

    There are still investigations, one into Epstein's death, and investigations into how he was able to secure such a sweet settlement deal in Florida 10 years ago, and investigations, civil — there's potential for a civil forfeiture of his assets. Epstein is said to be worth $500 million.

    And so what's going to happen to those assets? There are a lot of lawsuits out there. So this case is going to be going on for some time, even after his death.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Yes, I know you mentioned a lot of the women came forward to share their own stories and to be heard in public for the first time.

    Did any of them give a sense of what they would like to see happen next?

  • Renae Merle:

    Well, several of them turned to the prosecutors and said, this isn't over.

    They want the prosecutors to continue their investigations, and the prosecutors said they would. So there could be charges. They would like to see charges against other people involved, some of Epstein's friends who they say helped recruit them for this sex trafficking ring.

    So they want more charges to continue — or this case to continue in a criminal way by looking at some of Epstein's potential co-conspirators.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    For many of these women, coming forward today was the first time they get to share their story. Do you think that we will hear more from them in the future as these other investigations unfold?

  • Renae Merle:

    I wouldn't be surprised.

    One of the things that I heard from people was that they — while Epstein thought he was winning by taking his life, he wasn't, because they felt hope for the first time in a really long time, and they felt a power in being able to stand together, and that they weren't going to back down anymore.

    There was almost like a rally among these women that they had a shared experience, and, for the first time, they were standing together in a major way. There were just dozens of women there. About 16 spoke, but many others were there and didn't speak.

    So they have this group now that they can rely on for comfort.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Renae Merle, reporting for The Washington Post, you have been following this story. It is far from over. And thank you so much for being with us today.

  • Renae Merle:

    Thank you.

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