By Sarah Fitzpatrick, Savannah Guthrie and Rich Schapiro
Jennifer Araoz says she was 14 years old when a young woman approached her outside her New York City high school in the fall of 2001.
The woman was friendly and curious, asking Araoz personal questions about her family, her upbringing, their finances. Soon she began talking to Araoz about a man she knew who was kind and wealthy and lived nearby.
The first few times she went to Epstein's Manhattan townhouse, all they did was talk, Araoz said, and the friendly woman came along. Araoz told him about her dream of becoming a Broadway actress and about her father, who had died of AIDS when she was 12.
But on Araoz's first visit without the woman, Epstein gave her a tour of his mansion that culminated in a visit to what he described as his "favorite room in the house," Araoz said. A massage table sat on the floor. A painting of a nude young woman hung from the wall.
Araoz would return to that room regularly over the next year, she said, manipulated into stripping down to her panties and giving Epstein massages that ended with him pleasuring himself to completion and her leaving with $300.
In the fall of 2002, Epstein pressured her to do more, Araoz said. He told her to remove her panties. Then he grabbed her 15-year-old body.
"I was terrified, and I was telling him to stop. 'Please stop,'" Araoz, now 32, added.
Epstein, Araoz said, ignored her pleas. She never returned to his home after that day and her life spiraled downward over the next several years as a result of the trauma, she said.
Epstein, 66, was charged Monday with operating a sex trafficking ring in New York and Florida between 2002 and 2005. Federal prosecutors in New York say the wealthy financier, who has socialized with the likes of Donald Trump, former President Bill Clinton and Britain's Prince Andrew, sexually abused dozens of minors and paid his victims to recruit others, allowing him to build a vast network of girls to exploit. He entered a plea of not guilty.
Araoz's account adds a new dimension to the allegations against Epstein: a young girl being recruited outside a New York City school to perform sexual favors for him.
The federal indictment unsealed this week refers to three unidentified victims but none of them is Araoz. She never contacted the authorities to tell her story, but she says she did tell at least four people — her mother, her old boyfriend and two close friends — about the Epstein encounters several years after they occurred.
Reached by NBC News, all four confirmed that she told them years ago that she had been sexually assaulted by Epstein.
"She said that she was raped by Epstein and before the rape she had been giving him massages for a year," a friend of 16 years said. "There's no doubt in my mind knowing her character, the type of person she is, that what she says happened is exactly what happened."
Epstein's lawyers did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
This isn’t the first time that Epstein has been accused of preying on young girls.
Epstein, who ultimately pleaded guilty to state charges of soliciting minors for prostitution, has maintained that his encounters with the alleged victims were consensual and that he believed they were 18 when they took place.
From the start, Araoz says she loved her high school. The Talent Unlimited High School was a small, specialized school for the performing arts located on E. 68th St. on Manhattan's Upper East Side.
It seemed a perfect fit for Araoz, who longed for a career in theater. She grew up in Queens in a household that had little money. The death of her father, when she was in middle school, took an especially heavy toll.
"I was a little bitter," Araoz said. "I felt a little cheated in life."
It was early in her freshman year when Araoz says a brunette in her 20s approached her outside school. She was easy to talk to, and Araoz spoke freely about her struggles and her dreams.
"I was kind of a lost kid and she sensed it," Araoz said.
They had chatted a few times before the young woman ever brought up Epstein's name. She said he believed in helping people and was already supporting her and her family, Araoz said.
"She was saying he's very powerful, he's very wealthy, he's a great guy," Araoz recalled. "He's almost like a fatherly figure to her, which had meaning for me at that time because I was maybe longing for that."
Araoz said the woman showed up outside her school multiple times and even offered to buy her a soda or lunch nearby. "She was definitely trying to get to know me," Araoz said.
Araoz eventually agreed to accompany the woman on a visit to Epstein's home. His townhouse, located less than 10 blocks from her school, was as impressive as the woman had described.
Vast ceilings, marble stairs, artwork covering the walls. "It looked like a museum," Araoz said.
There was a bank of cameras near the front entrance, with mini TV screens showing who was coming and going, she said. A secretary's office was off to the left. Up the hall to the right, there was a cavernous room filled with exotic animal trophies. Araoz recalled seeing a stuffed lion, tiger, even a giraffe — as well as the skins of other animals draped across the floor.
The 14-year-old Araoz and the woman who'd brought her to the townhouse were offered wine and cheese by a member of the staff as they waited for Epstein. When he did show up to greet the pair, he was warm and welcoming, Araoz said.
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She recalls him telling her that he had heard a lot about her and felt terrible about her father's death. Epstein insinuated that Araoz was "very lucky to have met somebody like him" and "that he could really help me," she said.
Before they left, Epstein gifted the woman who'd brought Araoz to the townhouse a brand new digital camera. His secretary handed Araoz $300 in cash, she said.
She returned a handful of times with the woman, and left after each visit with $300, Araoz said. Epstein talked about donating money to AIDS charities, which struck a chord for her given her father's death, and wanting to help with her career.
He talked up his contacts in the acting business and mentioned that he owned a modeling agency. Araoz recalls him telling her that "I should be a model and all these things that young girls like to hear."
"There was nothing not to trust at that time," Araoz said. "He was giving me $300, which was a big help for me."
The joint visits continued for about a month, she said. By then, she felt comfortable enough with him to go on her own.
"I thought it was maybe a little odd because I didn't know what he necessarily was getting out of it," said Araoz, who could not recall the recruiter's name. "But I said, 'This is a genuinely really nice guy, (a) good man who wants to help me.'"
But the dynamic changed that first time she showed up alone, Araoz said. Instead of talking downstairs, Epstein escorted his 14-year-old visitor onto his elevator and brought her deeper into his seven-story home.
"All the rooms were very grand and had a lot of artwork, a lot of murals on the walls," Araoz said.
He showed her an oval-shaped room with blue walls and likened it to "his favorite room in the White House" — an apparent reference to the Oval Office.
She also saw a bathroom with a tub and a set of prosthetic breasts within arm's length. "It was very odd," Araoz said.
She said they ended up in a small room with a massage table and a bathroom off to the side. A large Sistine Chapel-like mural depicting angels against a blue sky hung on one wall. A painting of a nude young woman with brown hair clung to another, she said.
"When he first brought me up there, he was like, 'You know, you remind me so much of this woman in the painting,'" Araoz said.
Epstein asked her if she was good at massages, she said. She wasn't sure how to answer but she eventually agreed to strip down to her underwear and rub his bare back.
Araoz said she thought it was strange but she also didn't feel comfortable saying no to him.
"I felt almost obligated because of the money he was giving me," she said.
"I didn't know if he would get angry or if I didn't listen what the repercussions would have been," Araoz added. "So I kind of just followed. I was so young, so I didn't know better."
Like the others that followed, the massage began innocently. But it didn't stay that way, she said.
Epstein would turn over, Araoz said, and "play with himself."
"He would also like when I would play with his nipples. He used to get turned on by that. And then he would finish himself off and then that would be the end of it."
Over the next several months, Araoz's visits followed a familiar routine. Epstein's secretary would contact her by email, beeper or her family's landline to set up a meeting, Araoz said. When she arrived, she'd be escorted to the elevator and head straight to the massage room.
"It was just such a big help, the money," Araoz said. "And I said, 'I'm not really doing anything that wrong.'"
During the visits, Epstein showered her with compliments about her appearance, Araoz said, emphasizing how much he loved women with smaller breasts. He also reiterated his promises to jump-start her acting or modeling career, she said.
Araoz said that she had told the recruiter that she was 14 and mentioned it in Epstein's presence.
"He knew exactly who he was hanging out with," Araoz said. "I don't think he cared."
Araoz said she performed the massages once or twice a week for the duration of her freshman year.
But one day at the beginning of her sophomore year, Epstein got violent with her, Araoz said.
While she was giving him a massage, Epstein first asked a question that Araoz took to be more of a demand.
"Why don't we try something a little bit different?" she recalls him saying. "Why don't you do the massage on top of me?"
Araoz said she told him that she wanted to "stick to the normal routine," but she ultimately removed her underwear. He fondled her privates, she said. Then he "brought me up there and it was very aggressive, it was forceful," she said.
Araoz said she was terrified and told him to stop. "He was like, 'It's okay. You're fine. You're not doing anything wrong,'" added Araoz, who said he did not use a condom.
After it was over, Araoz said, she rushed out of the house angry and shaken. Her life unraveled over the next few months. She developed crippling anxiety. She suffered panic attacks. She dropped out of school to avoid having to return to his neighborhood — and eventually gave up on her dream of becoming an actress.
But Araoz didn't tell anyone about the source of her torment — at least not initially.
"I kind of hated myself for it," Araoz said. "I was like, 'I'm stupid, I should have known better. I'm a bad kid.'"
"I basically just tried to forget about it and live my life," she said.
Araoz said Epstein and his associates tried to contact her but she never responded to the messages or spoke to him ever again.
She said it wasn't until several years later that she confided in her boyfriend at the time, and subsequently told her mother and at least two close friends.
The boyfriend, who asked to remain anonymous, told NBC News she revealed to him in 2008 that Epstein had abused her. Araoz's mother also told NBC News that her daughter told her about the abuse around the same time. The mother, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said she noticed a change in her daughter's behavior and appearance around 2002. Araoz lost weight, became withdrawn and was frequently angry, her mother said.
"I was really scared," the mother said. "She was so anxious but I couldn't figure out why. The anxiety got so bad that she couldn't function and I urged her to go to a doctor."
A close male friend told NBC News that Araoz confided in him about the abuse roughly five or six years ago. And a female friend of 16 years said Araoz was crying and blaming herself when she confided in the friend about a decade ago. "I think she had to get it off her chest," the friend said.
Araoz is now a makeup artist living not far from her childhood home in Queens. She said she's still grappling with the emotional damage of her teenage encounters with Epstein. "He took something from me that can never be repaired, never made whole," Araoz said.
The charges against Epstein were brought more than a decade after Florida prosecutors cut the controversial deal that allowed him to dodge the prospect of a lengthy federal prison sentence for allegedly preying on underage girls.
Epstein was under investigation and facing possible federal prosecution for allegedly sexually abusing several minor girls, court records show, a case that could have put him behind bars for years.
Instead, he pleaded guilty to state charges of soliciting a minor for prostitution. He served 13 months at Palm Beach county jail and was allowed to leave the facility six days a week for work. He was also required to register as a sex offender.
The new indictment has ignited fresh criticism of Labor Secretary Alex Acosta, who was the U.S. attorney in Miami at the time.
Acosta, who has long defended the deal, did so again Monday.
"With the evidence available more than a decade ago, federal prosecutors insisted that Epstein go to jail, register as a sex offender and put the world on notice that he was a sexual predator," he tweeted. "The crimes committed by Epstein are horrific, and I am pleased that NY prosecutors are moving forward with a case based on new evidence."
Epstein is facing up to 45 years in prison if convicted on the new charges of sex trafficking and conspiracy. Mimi Rocah, an NBC News legal analyst who served as a former assistant U.S. attorney in New York, said any new allegations against Epstein could lead to additional federal counts. Child sex victims must be under the age of 28 to pursue state charges in New York.
At a press conference Monday, Geoffrey Berman, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, urged any other Epstein victims to contact the FBI.
Araoz said she hopes Epstein spends the rest of his life in prison, and is willing to testify in court if called upon by federal prosecutors.
"He shouldn't be on the streets anymore, period," she said.
When asked why she didn't contact the authorities about the alleged assault, Araoz said she feared the repercussions.
"I was so young that I was worried that somehow I would get in trouble," Araoz said. "I was really frightened of Epstein. He knew a lot of powerful people and I didn't know what he could do to me, and I wasn't sure that anyone could protect me."
Araoz's legal team filed papers in New York state court Wednesday seeking more information from Epstein prior to filing her civil complaint. Her lawyers contacted Epstein's attorneys this past March seeking an out-of-court settlement but the talks broke down, Araoz's lawyer said.
"He injured her grievously," said one of Araoz's lawyers, Daniel Kaiser. "She suffered a horrific event that altered the course of her life forever."
Attorney Kimberly Lerner, who is also representing Araoz, added: "Jennifer is no longer the scared 14-year-old child who was victimized by Jeffrey Epstein. Today, she is the brave young woman telling her story to let all the other victims know that they are not alone."
Araoz said she's finally summoned the strength to speak out now to help prevent other young girls from falling into the clutches of predatory men.
But she still harbors guilt over not doing so earlier.
"What hurts me even more so is that if I wasn't afraid to come forward sooner, then maybe he wouldn't have done it to other girls," Araoz said.
Sarah Fitzpatrick is an investigative producer for NBC News. She previously worked for 60 Minutes and CBS News.
Savannah Guthrie is the co-anchor of NBC News’ "Today" and NBC News chief legal correspondent.
Rich Schapiro is a reporter for the NBC News Investigative Unit.