"Abuse happens every day. I hope I influence women to speak out," Epstein survivor Courtney Wild says

By Greg Hanlon Elaine Aradillas
October 11, 2019 03:10 PM
Virginia Giuffre, Michelle Licata, Emily Michot, Julie Brown, Jena-Lisa Jones, Courtney Wild
Gillian Laub

In 2000, Virginia Giuffre was a 16-year-old junior staffer at Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida when her life changed forever.

That year, she was recruited by Ghislaine Maxwell to work for Jeffrey Epstein, a multimillionaire with many celebrity and political friends. Guiffre says the pair groomed her and forced her to have sex with Epstein and others as part of an elaborate sex ring, from which she escaped in 2002.

For years, Giuffre told her harrowing story to authorities, but justice remained elusive.

In 2017, however, Giuffre spoke with Miami Herald reporter Julie K. Brown and videographer Emily Michot and spoke out about the abuse. The journalists also interviewed fellow Epstein survivors Courtney Wild, Michelle Licata and Jena-Lisa Jones.

The result was a bombshell three-part investigation published last year that led to Epstein’s arrest and the resignation of several government officials. Epstein killed himself in prison last August while awaiting trial.

RELATED: Jeffrey Epstein’s Cause of Death Confirmed, Officially Declared a Suicide

The five women — the three Epstein survivors and the two journalists — are honored in PEOPLE’s annual Women Changing the World edition.

In an interview with PEOPLE, Giuffre recalls the moment she learned of Epstein’s arrest.

• For more on the women who helped bring Jeffrey Epstein to justice and other women changing the world, subscribe now to PEOPLE or pick up this week’s issue, on newsstands Friday.

“I started screaming, ‘No way. He’s arrested,'” she says. “Tears of joy [were] streaming down my face.”

Licata says Epstein’s arrest showed women that “it doesn’t matter if a perpetrator is a big, grand, important rich person or somebody that’s living with you. Stand up for yourself no matter how hard it is.”

• Want to keep up with the latest crime coverage? Click here to get breaking crime news, ongoing trial coverage and details of intriguing unsolved cases in the True Crime Newsletter.

Wild, who was 14 when she met Epstein, said she was motivated to come forward for all victims of sex abuse.

“Abuse happens every day. I hope I influence women to speak out,” she says.

RELATED: Jeffrey Epstein Indicted on Accusations He Sexually Abused Girls as Young as 14

Jones, for her part, has a message for other survivors: “We believe what you say.”

Brown says the Herald story was so powerful because it showed “the breakdown of the criminal justice system, and the people that were supposed to protect these girls who didn’t protect them.”

RELATED: More Than 12 of Jeffrey Epstein’s Alleged Victims Speak Out in Court: ‘The Pain Will Never Go Away’

She adds, “The women are heroes for having the courage to speak out about it.”

Michot says the story of Epstein’s abuse is far from over.

“There’s still a lot more people to be held accountable,” she says. “We’ll just continue fighting this.”

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