Jeffrey Epstein is dead, but the damage and the need for justice remain.
Hundreds of women have come forward, both before and after Epstein’s suicide cut his criminal trial short, to share their knowledge and experiences relating to the broad sex trafficking network he reportedly surrounded himself with.
While some settlements have been paid out, and one high-profile accomplice has been convicted, many of the self-identified survivors remain completely uncompensated. Some have not even received clear acknowledgement of their legal status as victims. There may also be more survivors who have yet to make themselves known.
There’s plenty of cause here for frustration and disappointment, but now is not the time to give up on truth, fairness, and accountability. This is not over.
Below, we’ll take a detailed look at the legal factors affecting survivors’ options for compensation and their right to sue Epstein’s estate. If you would prefer to speak directly with a lawyer who represents sexual abuse survivors about your specific case, please feel free to reach out by chat or phone at any time.
The Victims’ Compensation Fund Wasn’t the Last, or Necessarily Best, Chance for Justice
After Epstein’s suicide, part of his estate went to the Epstein Victims’ Compensation Program, a project partially run by Kenneth Feinberg, the same lawyer who organized the relief fund after 9/11, among other devastating events.
The program’s purpose was, ostensibly, to provide survivors of Epstein’s crimes with a faster, more comfortable means of collecting compensation than fighting for it though civil litigation.
The compensation program closed to new claims in March of 2021. During its operation, it received hundreds of claims and approved about 150 of them. Of those approved, 138 claimants accepted the settlements they were offered. Altogether, the program paid out a total of approximately $121 million to participants.
For those survivors who missed the window to file a claim, had their claims rejected, or chose at any point not to participate, the Victims’ Compensation Program is no longer an option. However, there may be other ways of collecting compensation. In fact, given the terms and the ultimate payouts provided by the program, being a non-participant may actually be a good thing for many survivors.
Those who accepted settlements through the program were required to sign waivers, barring them from any further action against Epstein’s estate or accomplices, and the compensation they shared in added up to only a fraction of the estimated $635 million value of the estate. Many of the women and their legal counsel reported dissatisfaction with the amounts offered, as well as with the secrecy and apparent arbitrariness of how those amounts were calculated.
Many survivors of sexual violence understandably place great value on protecting their privacy and avoiding situations that will add to their distress, which is why out-of-court victim compensation programs like this one can sometimes be the most appealing option, in spite of their shortcomings. No survivor should be faulted for choosing whichever option they believe will be best for them, out of the imperfect avenues of recourse available.
For those who are interested in what a civil suit has to offer, however, the right to pursue one is a precious thing to hold on to. While the process of litigation may be more time-consuming and invasive than accepting payment from a relief fund, it can also place much more emphasis on bringing the truth to the surface, and on providing fairer, more thorough compensation.
Federal Law Gives Sex Trafficking Survivors Until The Day Before Their 28th Birthday to Sue
If you were sexually exploited by Jeffrey Epstein and have not already agreed to forego litigation in exchange for a quicker settlement, your right to sue will largely depend on the statute of limitations.
The legal limit on how much time can pass between an act of negligence and a lawsuit against the negligent party varies based on the nature of the act itself, the time and place when it occurred, and some additional factors we’ll discuss in more detail below.
In cases of child sex trafficking, the Federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act guarantees survivors a window of 10 years starting on their 18th birthday to file a suit. So, if Epstein’s actions against you qualify as child sex trafficking, and you are under 28, the Protection Act applies.
Although each case must be examined individually, underage victims of Epstein are generally recognized as child sex trafficking victims. This can be confusing, because many people think of sex trafficking only as a for-profit criminal enterprise, involving transporting victims over great distances to be abused by lots of different customers. The legal definition is much more inclusive than that, and it includes any use of a minor for commercial sex.
The sex trafficking charges against Epstein at the time of his death mostly involved recruiting and maintaining a pool of underage victims for himself, using a variety of methods and tools to gain power over them, including money. Even without the allegations that he sometimes provided victims to other powerful men, these actions already count as sex trafficking.
You do not need to prove that Epstein profited financially from your abuse, or that you were abused by anyone other than Epstein himself, to file a suit based on the Trafficking Victims Protection Act.
State Laws Allow Some Survivors Additional Time
At present, most of the accusations against Epstein and his associates involve events between 1991 and 1997, and between 2002 and 2005. This does not mean that Epstein could not have victimized anyone outside of those times, but it does mean that those who were teenagers during the alleged peaks of his predatory activity are now over 28.
If this applies to you, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re out of options. The states where Epstein was active each have their own statutes of limitations, some of which grant additional opportunities to sue.
- In Georgia, the Hidden Predator Act allows survivors of childhood sexual abuse who repressed their memories, or were otherwise unaware of the effect the abuse had on their lives, an additional two-year window (if memory of the abuse was repressed) to file a lawsuit after rediscovering their trauma. This exception to the statute of limitations is valid at any age, but will require testimony by a mental health professional.
- Florida has a similar provision for survivors of childhood abuse, allowing a four-year window after the survivor recovers the memories, recognizes their effect, or leaves the control of the abuser, whichever comes last. More recently, Florida has granted survivors of sexual battery who were under the age of 16 at the time an unlimited period to file a lawsuit, but only if their cases were not already excluded by a previous statute of limitations as of July 1st, 2010.
- In New Mexico, recent attempts to extend the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse have been repeatedly shot down, but there is a three-year window allowed specifically for the rediscovery repressed memories.
- New York recently concluded a look-back period that temporarily allowed almost all lawsuits for childhood sexual abuse. Although this period is now over, the bill which initiated it also permanently raised the state’s age cutoff for these lawsuits from 23 to 55.
If you’re not sure whether you’re within the statute of limitations for the state where your abuse or assault took place, it’s definitely worth checking with a lawyer.
Epstein’s Estate May Not Be the Only Possible Source of Compensation
Accounts of Epstein’s alleged crimes consistently note that he did not act alone. His best-known associate, Ghislaine Maxwell, has already been found guilty of child sex trafficking and conspiracy to commit child sex trafficking under criminal law, and she may be an appropriate target for many civil suits yet to come.
The indictment against Epstein himself specifically mentions three unnamed employees as accomplices, and existing litigation against Maxwell alleges that she ordered at least one Epstein victim to provide commercial sex to, among others, a former governor of New Mexico and a former U.S Senator.
In many sex trafficking scenarios, suing individual perpetrators isn’t very effective, because those individuals can’t afford to pay for anything close to the true amount of damage they’ve caused. This time, however, it seems there may be no shortage of perpetrators who actually have the means to pay for significant settlements.
Of course, if you are an Epstein survivor, you probably know better than anyone who the villains are in your story. Your knowledge will be one of the key guides in determining how to proceed with litigation, and who the defendants should be. As you look to your memories as a resource for mapping your litigation options, the most important point of law to keep in mind is this: “sex trafficking” means every part of sex trafficking.
Any person or entity that knowingly harbors or benefits in any way from the use of a minor for commercial sex can be sued for child sex trafficking.
This often opens up possibilities that survivors hadn’t originally thought of. In addition to the individuals who directly recruited or abused you, you may have legal recourse against:
- Transportation services that knowingly delivered you into harm’s way
- Beautician services that knowingly prepared you to be abused
- Hotels, or any other entities or individuals that knowingly housed you in a convenient location for the abuse to occur
It can often be helpful to take some time to compile a list of people and companies you think might be legally liable for your abuse, and why. That way, when you talk one-on-one with your lawyer to optimize your strategy, you can feel more comfortable and confident in your ability to access important information when you need it, without having to sift through painful memories on the spot.
The Stoddard Firm Is Experienced in Representing Survivors of Sex Trafficking and Sexual Abuse
The professionals at The Stoddard Firm care deeply about correcting and preventing injustice in any way we can. Childhood sexual abuse is one of the most unjust phenomena imaginable. It subjects the most vulnerable of people, not only to immediate suffering, but to developmental trauma that can affect the rest of their lives, often in insidiously subtle ways.
Though nothing can erase sexual abuse that has already occurred, survivors deserve to have the wrongness of what was done to them acknowledged under the law. They deserve to see abusers and enablers held accountable. They deserve to be free to pursue their recovery and the rest of their lives without worrying about the enormous financial burden this process typically carries.
Winning justice for survivors takes more than identifying perpetrators and presenting the facts of the original incident. A good lawyer for sexual abuse survivors must also establish the harm that was done, physically, psychologically, and financially, in the past, present, and future, so that the survivor’s ultimate settlement properly reflects that.
We have extensive experience working with mental and physical healthcare providers to ensure that the court understands the gravity of our clients’ losses, while protecting our clients from retraumatization to the greatest extent possible.
To speak with a compassionate and highly qualified lawyer about suing Jeffrey Epstein’s estate or accomplices, just reach out through our online chat window or call 678-RESULT for a free and confidential consultation.