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Sarah Ransome writes about Jeffrey Epstein abuse allegations in 'Silenced No More'

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

First, a content warning - our next conversation centers around sexual trauma and abuse. The defense in the Ghislaine Maxwell trial has begun to make its case. Maxwell is accused of recruiting young women into the sex trafficking world of Jeffrey Epstein. The convicted sex offender died in custody in 2019.

Sarah Ransome says she was one of those young women who was abused by Epstein - 22 years old at the time. In 2018, she settled a lawsuit with Epstein and Maxwell. Sarah says early childhood trauma made her especially vulnerable to Epstein's abuse.

SARAH RANSOME: When I was sexually assaulted when I was 11, I always assumed it was my fault and I was the one to blame. So with that comes a lot of guilt, comes a lot of shame. And it almost sort of festers in you and eats you sort of almost inside out. So even now I'm still learning on what boundaries are. So that's why I feel, personally, I perhaps was a lot more vulnerable than the average person.

MARTIN: You met Jeffrey Epstein through a woman who was paid to recruit you under this false promise that he could help get you into an elite design school in New York. And you didn't have any money at the time. You had moved there. You were really young - 20 or so. And this woman convinced you to go on a trip to Epstein's private island. At what point did you realize that you were in danger?

RANSOME: There was never any mention at all during meeting my recruiter and Jeffrey of anything untoward. The only reason I went to the island - and this is what I need to make really clear - is because it was a girls weekend. It was a girls few days - holiday away. The first time I - you know - was the plane ride over there, when Jeffrey and another girl had, you know, erotic sex in front of me and when all the other girls who had invited me on this girls weekend pretended to be asleep. And that's where I started, like, getting really concerned.

MARTIN: And you ended up second-guessing your own judgment - like, ignoring, probably, something in your gut?

RANSOME: Well, absolutely. And, I mean, this was not OK. But everyone around me were acting as if it was OK. So it must be me. There must be something wrong with me. I mean, this is like a lamb being led to the slaughter. The second I got on the island - bearing in mind my passport's being taken away, and my phone's now being taken away as soon as I got there - it was a very peculiar sensation when I arrived because the whole energy changed. Everyone sort of turned quite cold. And now Jeffrey's asking for me to massage him. And everyone seems OK with this.

MARTIN: You felt that way even when you were told to go into his quarters and he sexually assaulted you.

RANSOME: After that, I just - that changed my life. I can't even begin to explain to you what that did. After Jeffrey raped me, that was it. He threatened if I ever went to the authorities, told my parents, told any friends, he would kill me and find my family and take them out. And I had nowhere to go. I was stuck on an island - no passport, no phone, couldn't phone anyone - so yeah.

MARTIN: I want to just pause the conversation to remind our audience that we're speaking with Sarah Ransome, a survivor of prolonged sexual assault. And this conversation is not appropriate for all listeners.

What was Ghislaine Maxwell's role in all of this?

RANSOME: Ghislaine - she tortured me daily. I mean, she tortured me every time I saw her. She starved me. She forced me into Jeffrey's room to be raped.

MARTIN: You're saying that she was essentially the operating officer. She was making this all happen.

RANSOME: Well, of course. Jeffrey made it very clear by saying to me, you do not cross Ghislaine. You answer to Ghislaine. And you do exactly what she says. And Ghislaine was the enforcer.

MARTIN: You ended up going back to Epstein's island several times. When you weren't there, you lived in an apartment that he paid for in New York and were ordered to have sex with him daily. Many will hear this conversation and say to themselves, why didn't you go to the police, the authorities, report them?

RANSOME: OK. I'm really, really pleased that you asked me this. And I'd like to make it very clear. This was not transactional. Rape is rape. It doesn't matter if I was living in Jeffrey's apartment. No one has the right to rape me. I already had two prior escape attempts. There was one when I tried to swim off the island after I'd been raped three times and after Ghislaine had taken my food away. I was prepared to die swimming and trying to escape off that island that night. And there was another occasion when, you know, I didn't respond to Jeffrey. And I was walking along. And his car pulled up next to me. I was forced into his car, taken to his mansion and raped. He knew exactly where I was. It didn't matter where I was. It didn't matter where I went. He would always find me. I've been running from Jeffrey and Ghislaine pretty much until the day Jeffrey died. I was finally free of him.

MARTIN: You live in a small town in England now, I understand. I assume people there knew of the trauma that you experienced at the hand of Jeffrey Epstein from press reports. But now your entire story is out there in the form of this memoir. How does it feel to walk through not just your neighborhoods - but how does it feel to walk through the world now that you have put this into the public eye?

RANSOME: I walk with my head held high. I feel proud of myself when I look at myself in the mirror because I know that, hopefully, my book will encourage other survivors who feel ashamed, for whatever reason, to come forward and to never live in silence.

MARTIN: Sarah Ransome - her new memoir is called "Silenced No More."

Sarah, thank you so much.

RANSOME: Thank you so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF SHELTERED SOLITUDE'S "DAWNING")

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Ghislaine Maxwell faces criminal charges and is accused of helping Epstein recruit, groom and ultimately sexually abuse underage girls. She has pleaded not guilty to those charges. We reached out to Maxwell's legal team and did not receive a comment. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.