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Lisa Bloom: lawyer in Epstein case speaks of suffering sexual abuse

Edward Helmore in New York
Photograph: Tom Nicholson/REX/Shutterstock

Lisa Bloom, the powerhouse lawyer who has risen to prominence in the #MeToo era, has spoken of suffering sexual abuse herself.

Related: 'Boorish and self-centred': little love for Prince Andrew over Epstein links

The experience, she said, left her feeling suicidal.

“I blamed myself,” Bloom told the Guardian. “I thought it was my fault. I had no idea who to talk to, or what to say.”

At the age of 18, she said, she found her way to a therapist.

“I think experience as an abuse survivor has enabled me to have a lot of compassion and understanding for my clients,” she said. “I know everything they’re going through because I’ve gone through it myself.

“I understand the shame and fear, but I also understand how empowering and liberating it is to tell your story. I tell my clients ‘this happened to you, but it does not define you.’”

In recent years, Bloom and her mother and fellow attorney Gloria Allred have stood prominently counter to a parade of mostly white, middle-aged and famous men accused of sexual misconduct.

Both are media-savvy practitioners of the law of women’s rights. Both are veterans of the courtroom and press-call soundbite. Both have, in one way or another, stood against the crimes or alleged but uncharged conduct of Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein, Jeffrey Epstein, Les Moonves, Roger Ailes, Charlie Rose and Donald Trump.

In an email to the Guardian, Bloom named her alleged abuser. The Guardian was however not immediately able to contact the man for comment.

“I don’t know if he is still alive,” Bloom wrote, in part. “I assume so. I have spoken about being sexually assaulted/abused but I have not named him before publicly.”

‘A good measure of justice’

Amid a slew of #MeToo cases, Allred and Bloom have remained prominent. Where there is no criminal case, often because the statute of limitations has expired, there is still the court of public opinion. There is a news conference to name the alleged perpetrator, followed by relentless media coverage. Eventually the scales tip, advertisers are spooked and, in the case of many media figures, corporations are forced to act.

A case in point was Bloom’s takedown of the Fox News host Bill O’Reilly.

“He would never talk to her, not even hello, except to grunt at her like a wild boar,” Bloom told the Hollywood Reporter, recounting the claims of an African American Fox staffer. “He would leer at her. He would always do this when no one else was around and she was scared.”

We still have an opportunity in the civil system, and that is to demand full and fair compensation for Epstein's victims

For Bloom, “Operation O’Reilly” culminated when she said the nickname her client said O’Reilly gave her: “Hot Chocolate”. Amid a deluge of reports of settled sexual harassment suits, TV’s most feared pro-Trumper was toast.

Bloom is now representing two alleged victims of Epstein, the financier and convicted sex offender who was friends with the rich and powerful but who killed himself in a Manhattan jail two weeks ago.

Speaking in New York during her lunch break on Friday – from litigating, she said, a sexual harassment case she was confident would result in multimillion-dollar judgement – Bloom said her mission in representing the alleged Epstein victims was “to deliver justice that was denied when jail authorities allowed Epstein to kill himself”.

Bloom has filed suit against Epstein’s estate and an alleged co-conspirator, named in court documents as Sue Roe. The suit alleges that two hostesses at the Coffee Shop in New York City’s Union Square were approached regarding “opportunities” to “perform what they thought were massages on [Epstein] for cash payments”.

Unbeknown to the women, the suit says, the financier went on to “sexually touch” them “against their will and force them to watch him masturbate”.

Epstein’s death, Bloom says, meant the women “were denied accountability in the criminal justice system. But we still have an opportunity in the civil system, and that is to demand full and fair compensation for his victims from his estate.”

Money, she said, “is a good measure of justice in many ways”.

“It makes a big difference. It’s a deterrent for people who do bad things and it can help victims get therapy, pay medical bills, go back to school, pay off debt and start a new life. It’s very meaningful to to them.”

Epstein faced federal charges more than a decade ago but in a controversial deal pleaded guilty to a lesser state charge in Florida and was permitted to serve a 13-month sentence in which he spent six days out of seven at his office. It now appears he continued to receive visits from young women. His sentence completed, he returned to public life, largely unscathed.

For offenders who enjoy the protective cocoon of extreme wealth, Bloom reasons, the only thing that really makes a difference is a loss of privilege.

“Power corrupts and extreme wealth corrupts,” she said. “Wealthy people believe they are above the law because in many cases they are above the law. Look at Jeffrey Epstein. He got away with this for years. He had a system of recruiters to bring underage girls to him. Anytime a predator gets away with this, they feel impervious to legal consequences.”

‘Represent the underdogs’

Bloom’s initiation into the world of women’s rights and the law came through her mother, an attorney who achieved celebrity herself. Among her high-profile cases, Allred was the first woman to challenge the Friars Club of Beverly Hills, because she was denied certain benefits of membership. She also sued the archdiocese of Los Angeles over sexual abuse by Catholic priests and represented the family of Nicole Brown Simpson, the murdered ex-wife of OJ Simpson.

Lisa Bloom and Janice Dickinson announce a settlement in their defamation lawsuit against Bill Cosby in Woodland Hills, California, on 25 July. Photograph: Frederick M Brown/Getty Images

Bloom attended Yale Law School, she has said, because she “wanted to represent the underdogs”. She and her mother have worked well together: they were once profiled in W magazine under the headline “Defenders of Women in 2017”.

Bloom’s practice is now 100% for the victims of sexual misconduct and she has given up representing accused men. That decision came after she found herself on the wrong side of the Weinstein story.

While her mother took on two of Weinstein’s alleged victims, in initial stages of the case Bloom advised the accused. It was a surprising choice: Weinstein had optioned her book about the slain Florida teen Trayvon Martin.

The pendulum needs to keep swinging … because we’ve been living through an epidemic of sexual harassment and assault

Lisa Bloom

Bloom initially defended her work, saying the former Hollywood producer was trying to change his ways.

Now, she said: “The problem was that Harvey Weinstein ended up being about a great deal more than inappropriate language. When the first woman accused him of sexual assault I was out of there. When the deluge came, I just felt mortified I’d ever associated with him.”

Some suggest famous men accused of sexual misconduct have lost the right to clear their name, given the highly public cases of Weinstein, O’Reilly, Ailes, Cosby and others.

Bloom recognizes that men have been going through their own awakening to the realities of sexual harassment. But she doesn’t believe the pendulum has swung too far.

“The pendulum needs to keep swinging in favor of women because we’ve been living through an epidemic of sexual harassment and assault,” she said. “I believe the #MeToo movement is long overdue and profoundly important.”

Ultimately, she said, it’s a question of due process, of going to court and trying cases there.

“I love being in that environment where there has to be evidence and witnesses,” she said, “not just people swinging allegations back and forth. The brave women who are standing up now are sending a message to predators that their day of reckoning is coming.”