explainer

"She preyed on vulnerable young girls." Ghislaine Maxwell has been found guilty.

This post deals with allegations of sexual assault and may be triggering for some readers. 

Ghislaine Maxwell, the 60-year-old British socialite, had been found guilty of luring teenage girls to be sexually abused by convicted peadophile Jeffrey Epstein between 1994 and 2004.

Epstein, an American financier, died in jail in 2019 while awaiting trial on sex abuse charges.

After a month-long trial, jurors deliberated for five days, before finding Maxwell guilty on five of six counts. These include conspiracy to entice a minor to travel to engage in illegal sex acts, conspiracy to transport a minor with the intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, transporting a minor with the intent to engage in criminal sexual activity and conspiracy to commit sex trafficking of minors and sex trafficking of minors. The last charge carries a maximum sentence of 40 years in prison.

Maxwell could face the rest of her life behind bars. 

Over the past month, two dozen prosecution witnesses testified at the trial, including four women who alleged they were sexually abused by Epstein. Two of the women said they were 14 when the abuse started and that Maxwell sometimes participated in the encounters.

These are the eight biggest takeaways we learnt from the trial. 

1. Jurors told that Ghislaine Maxwell "preyed on vulnerable young girls".

In her opening statement last month, a US prosecutor said Ghislaine Maxwell targeted young girls for sexual abuse by Jeffrey Epstein. 

"She preyed on vulnerable young girls, manipulated them and served them up to be sexually abused," Assistant District Attorney Lara Pomerantz told jurors.

Pomerantz also said Maxwell and Epstein were "partners in crime", adding the defendant and Epstein lured their victims with a promise of a bright future, only to sexually exploit them". 

However, Maxwell's lawyers said the socialite was being scapegoated for Epstein's alleged crimes. 

2. The first woman who testified said she was "frozen in fear".

The first woman to accuse Ghislaine Maxwell, an actress known by the pseudonym "Jane", claimed she had sexual contact with Epstein multiple times when she was 14 years old and portrayed Maxwell as an active participant. 

During an explicit and emotional testimony earlier this month, Jane said Maxwell and Epstein first approached her and a group of friends when they were eating ice-cream at an arts summer camp in Michigan in the summer of 1994.

Jane, who was a singer, said her family was struggling financially after her father's death. Epstein and Maxwell told her they were benefactors of her camp and awarded many students scholarships.

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She testified Maxwell would sometimes take her to the movies or hang out by the pool at Epstein's house, and talk about school, including whether she had a boyfriend.

Prosecutors alleged in a 2021 indictment against Maxwell that behaviour such as buying the girls gifts and discussing sexual topics with them amounted to "grooming" them for abuse.

After camp ended, Epstein invited her and her mother over for tea, Jane said, adding she was later invited by Maxwell and other Epstein employees to come on her own.

On one of those occasions, Jane testified that Epstein offered to help with her singing career before ending the conversation abruptly.

"He just took my hand and said, 'Follow me', before taking her to his pool house and pulling down his pants," Jane said. 

He then pulled her on top of him and "proceeded to masturbate". He later went to the bathroom to clean himself up, she said. 

"I was frozen in fear, I had never seen a penis before," said Jane. "I was terrified and felt gross and like I felt ashamed."

On other occasions, also at age 14, Jane said Maxwell and Epstein would take her to a massage table in his Palm Beach house and demonstrate how Epstein liked to be massaged.

The massages transitioned into sexual activity, and Maxwell sometimes touched her breasts, Jane said.

3. Ghislaine Maxwell's defence lawyers sought to undermine Jane's allegation. 

Following Jane's testimony, Ghislaine Maxwell's defence lawyers sought to undermine her allegation.

During a methodical cross examination, defence lawyer Laura Menninger confronted Jane with FBI documents from 2019 and 2020, saying she had told the government her memory was foggy on whether Maxwell was present when Epstein molested her and on whether she ever touched her.

Other documents also claimed Jane said that no abuse occurred during a visit to Epstein's ranch in New Mexico. This contradicted her testimony about alleged encounters with him that she said made "my heart sink into my stomach."

However, Jane denied ever changing her story and challenged the accuracy of the documents, saying her statements were never recorded.

She later choked up when a prosecutor asked why she did not reveal everything about her experience with Epstein in her initial meetings with prosecutors.

"Because it was too difficult, too difficult emotionally, too difficult on every level," she said.

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Menninger also pointed out during the trial that Jane, who is in her early 40s, now works as an actor. 

"You are an actor who convincingly portrays someone else for a living," the lawyer stated. "You are able to cry on command."

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4. The second woman who testified claimed Maxwell told her she was "such a good girl".

A second woman who testified, known by the pseudonym "Kate", claimed Maxwell told her she was one of Epstein's "favourites" and he "needed to have sex about three times a day".

Kate is not considered a minor victim in the charges because she was over the age of consent at the time of the alleged abuse, however, her testimony could still be heard in court. 

Taking to the stand, Kate claimed she was 17 when she was introduced to Maxwell by her boyfriend during a trip to Paris in 1994.

A few weeks later, Maxwell invited her for tea at her London townhouse. At the time, Kate was an aspiring musician, and Maxwell offered to introduce her to her boyfriend, Epstein, who could help her career.

"I left there feeling exhilarated," Kate said. "Like somebody wanted me."

Weeks later, Maxwell invited Kate to the townhouse again where she met Epstein. While there, Kate was requested by Maxwell to give Epstein's feet a massage and show him how strong she was. Epstein also had Kate massage his shoulders. 

A few weeks later, Maxwell called Kate asking for a "favour" and requested she give Epstein a massage with her "strong hands" despite the fact she didn't work as a massage therapist. 

Kate said Maxwell led her upstairs to a massage room where Epstein was standing in a bathrobe. Maxwell closed the door behind her and Epstein had a sexual encounter with Kate, she testified. 

After the encounter, she saw Maxwell. 

"She said, 'Did you have fun? You're such a good girl. I'm so happy you were able to come'," Kate said.

"She sounded really pleased, and I was really pleased that she was pleased."

Kate later saw Maxwell and Epstein at his estate in Palm Beach where she had another sexual encounter with him.  

She said Maxwell "told me that I was such a good girl and that I was one of his favourites".

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5. The third woman who testified said she gave Epstein sexual massages at 14. 

A third woman who identified under her first name, Carolyn, testified that she gave Epstein sexual massages when she was 14 and was once touched by Maxwell. 

During her testimony, Carolyn recalled how Epstein would touch her breasts and buttocks, and the encounters would end with Epstein masturbating until he ejaculated.

"Something sexual happened every single time," she told jurors.  

Carolyn also spoke about her difficult upbringing, saying her mother was a drug user and alcoholic, and her grandfather sexually abused her when she was four. She said she became a cocaine addict and dropped out of school.

Now in her mid-30s, Carolyn said she was introduced to Epstein in 2002 by Virginia Giuffre, one of Epstein and Maxwell's most prominent accusers, who asked her "if I wanted to go make money".

Carolyn said Giuffre, then known as Virginia Roberts, brought her to Epstein's house in Palm Beach, Florida, where the pair were greeted by Maxwell.

She recalled helping Giuffre massage Epstein for about 45 minutes, and looking on after Epstein turned over and began having sex with Giuffre. Carolyn said three $US100 bills were left for her on a bathroom sink.

Carolyn said she returned to Epstein's home after the initial encounter because she needed money to buy drugs.

She said Maxwell would sometimes call her to schedule appointments, and that Maxwell once invited her to travel to an island.

"I told her that I was too young and there was no way in hell my mum was going to let me leave the country," Carolyn said. "I told her I was 14."

Carolyn also said Maxwell once touched her while she was preparing to massage Epstein.

"I was fully nude and she came in and she felt my boobs and my hips and my buttocks and said that... I had a great body for Mr Epstein and his friends," Carolyn said.

6. The fourth woman who testified said Maxwell touched her breasts. 

The fourth and final accuser, Annie Farmer, testified that Maxwell and Epstein forced themselves on her during a visit to his New Mexico ranch when she was 16.

Annie, now 42, took to the stand using her true identity - a departure from the decision made by three other accusers. 

During the trial, she recalled meeting Epstein at age 16 on a 1996 trip to New York City to visit her older sister, who was working for him at his Manhattan mansion.

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When they visited him at the home, he "seemed very friendly and down to earth," and even offered to mentor her, she said.

She said an outing to the movies with Epstein, he reached over to hold her hand and caress her leg.

"I felt sick to my stomach," she said.

"It was not something I wasn't expecting at all."

When Farmer returned home, she stayed in touch with the billionaire and accepted an invitation to travel to New Mexico with a plane ticket he paid for even though, as she said, "After what happened in the movie theatre, I didn't want to be alone with him".

She told jurors she initially felt more comfortable because Maxwell was there and she accepted the invitation hoping the pair wanted to help her with her academic endeavours.

But when they took her to the movies, she said Epstein "right away began to hold my hand" and rub her foot and arm throughout the film. 

Once home, Maxwell insisted on giving Farmer a massage and told her to take off her clothes, Farmer testified.

Maxwell "pulled down the sheet and exposed my breasts and starting rubbing on my breasts," Farmer said.

"It didn't make sense to me that would happen," she said.

"I so badly wanted to get off the table and have the massage be done."

The next morning, she said, Epstein came into her bedroom and told her he wanted to cuddle.

After he climbed into bed, she froze, thinking: "I just have to get through this."

He pressed his body against her, she said.

She finally made up an excuse to go to the bathroom: "I wanted to be in there long enough that this situation would be over," she said.

Farmer recalled the unwanted physical contact making her feel like she "just wanted the weekend to be over... I wanted to be done with it".

"All these experiences made me feel like they had a very different interest in me," she added.

7. Epstein's pilot flew Prince Andrew and Donald Trump.

The first week of the trial saw Epstein's long-time personal pilot, Larry Visosk, take to the stand. 

Visosk frequently shuttled Epstein and guests between Epstein's properties in New York, Florida, New Mexico, Paris and Caribbean islands.

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During his testimony, he recalled flying Prince Andrew and former US Presidents Bill Clinton and Donald Trump, none of whom have been accused of wrongdoing in the criminal case.

He also said Epstein introduced him to a female singer named Jane in the cockpit of financier's plane in the 1990s. 

When asked where Maxwell stood in relation to Epstein's operations, he said, "Ms Maxwell was number two. Mr Epstein was a big number one."

8. The closing arguments.

The closing of the trial saw a prosecutor labelling Maxwell a dangerous and sophisticated predator while a defence lawyer told jurors she was an "innocent woman."

Assistant US Attorney Alison Moe said Jeffrey Epstein could not have preyed on teenage girls for more than a decade without the help of the British socialite, who she described as the "lady of the house" as Epstein abused girls at a New York mansion, a Florida estate and a New Mexico ranch.

"Ghislaine Maxwell was dangerous," Moe told jurors, adding Maxwell accepted over $30 million from Epstein over the years. "Maxwell and Epstein committed horrifying crimes."

Meanwhile, defence lawyer Laura Menninger said prosecutors had failed to prove any charges beyond a reasonable doubt.

"Ghislaine Maxwell is an innocent woman, wrongfully accused of crimes she did not commit," Menninger said.

"Ghislaine Maxwell is not Jeffrey Epstein," he stated plainly.

With a coronavirus outbreak in New York worsening by the day and a holiday weekend ahead, Judge Alison J. Nathan urged lawyers to keep their closings tight so the jury could begin deliberating.

On Wednesday, December 29, Maxwell was found guilty. 

If this post brings up any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service. It doesn’t matter where you live, they will take your call and, if need be, refer you to a service closer to home. 

You can also call safe steps 24/7 Family Violence Response Line on 1800 015 188 or visit www.safesteps.org.au for further information.

This article was originally published on December 7, 2021, and was updated on December 30, 2021.

 With AAP. 

Feature Image: Getty/Mamamia. 

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