On June 28, 2022—for the first time since befriending and betraying them—Ghislaine Maxwell spoke directly to the young women she and wealthy financier Jeffrey Epstein sexually abused.
“I am sorry for the pain that you experienced,” the 60-year-old former socialite told victims at her sentencing in Manhattan federal court.
“I believe that Jeffrey Epstein was a manipulative, cunning and controlling man who lived a profoundly compartmentalized life and fooled all of those in his orbit,” she said.
Federal Judge Alison J. Nathan didn’t buy it. She sentenced Maxwell to 20 years in prison for her role in what prosecutors called a decade-long scheme to “recruit, groom and ultimately abuse” teenage girls.
“The damage done to these young girls was incalculable,” Nathan said.
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Although Maxwell expressed empathy for the victims, “she didn’t say she was sorry about the pain she caused,” former assistant U.S. attorney and current Fordham School of Law Associate Professor Cheryl G. Bader tells A&E True Crime. “She stopped short of accepting responsibility. And I think that impacted the judge.”
What was it about Maxwell that made victims trust her?
The allure of power and money was irresistible for some young, impressionable girls, Bader says. “Maxwell understood that—and she used her status and ability to seduce these young girls to carry this out.”
Stalking, ‘Seasoning’ Victims
Maxwell, daughter of British media giant Robert Maxwell, was convicted on December 29, 2021 for sex trafficking and conspiring to entice minors to engage in illegal sex acts. Epstein was charged with sex trafficking in July 2019 but died by suicide in a Manhattan prison a month later.
“Traffickers come in all forms and that includes females; it includes people that are white and of a higher class,” the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children’s Staca Shehan tells A&E True Crime.
“Typically, I think what’s commonly portrayed in pop culture, the media and movies is more of a focus on traffickers being Black males, when in reality we see all types, including females. Maybe it’s not as common, but it’s definitely not unique or rare,” says Shehan, vice president of NCMEC’s analytical services division.
Between 1994 and 1997, Maxwell was in an intimate relationship with Epstein, who also employed her to manage his various estates, authorities said. In that period, she began luring girls as young as 14 to satisfy Epstein’s sexual cravings. Many were from single-motherhouseholds with limited incomes.
One casual encounter with the charismatic brunette could sweep girls into Maxell’s orbit. It often began with outings to movies or shopping malls, sometimes in company with Epstein. The power couple exuded a wealth and sophistication that was hard to resist.
Being a socialite requires a unique skill set, psychologist James Cates tells A&E True Crime. “It’s based on the ability to read other people quickly and have social interactions that seem very sincere. You’ve got someone who is very good at looking like they’re interested in the other person.
“We all have to read people, but we’re all doing it for different purposes,” explains Cates, who counsels victims of sexual abuse. “[Maxwell] and Jeffrey Epstein were reading young girls to see: ‘How can we star-strike you enough that you’re going to come back…and [then] we get you to where we want you, and use you the way we want to use you.'”
Maxwell homed in on teens’ ambitions, such as fashion design or music, promising to advance their careers.
Epstein offered tuition assistance to those who needed help and also paid to fly girls to his mansions in Manhattan, Palm Beach and Santa Fe. Parents approved, assuming Maxwell would chaperone. Trapped in those secluded locations, the girls witnessed Maxwell normalize sexual encounters for them by undressing in front of them and encouraging them to participate in massages.
‘I Blamed Myself’
Victims recalled being fondled, touched on their breasts or genitals, probed with sex toys and coerced into sex acts alone with Epstein or in groups. Sometimes he would masturbate in front of them, prosecutors said.
In most of those scenarios Maxwell was present or participating, victims stated.
It’s known as a “seasoning process,” Shehan says, that occurs “as barriers and boundaries are crossed slowly over time.”
By pinpointing a vulnerability such as a girl’s desire to be a pop star, sex traffickers “start to play that up and insert the sexualization of that. Like ‘if you want to impress the music community, you need to dress like this.’
“And it escalates from there. Maybe it starts with stripping or goes on to massage. Then it’s escalating, to ‘well, you’ve done the massage,’ and ‘you’ve seen me naked’ and moving on to actual sex acts.'”
Victim Virginia Giuffre was targeted by Maxwell at age 16 in 2000 at the Mar-a-Lago Club in Florida, owned by former President Donald Trump.”You chose to follow me and procure me for Jeffrey Epstein. Just hours later, you and he abused me together for the first time,” Giuffre said to Maxwell in a 2022 victim impact statement.
“Jeffrey Epstein was a terrible pedophile. But I never would have met Jeffrey Epstein if not for you. For me, and for so many others, you opened the door to hell.”
Annie Farmer, who fell into Maxwell’s clutches in 1996, recalled hiding in a bathroom at Epstein’s ranch in Santa Fe to escape being groped.
She tried to rationalize the trauma. “Someone who cares enough about me to do all these nice things surely wouldn’t also be trying to harm me,” Farmer explained in a victim impact statement. Later on, “I blamed myself for believing these predators actually wanted to help me,” stated Farmer, who is now a psychologist.
Was Ghislaine Maxwell a Tormented Child or Just Another Madam?
Defense attorneys argued that Maxwell was a vulnerable woman with a tragic childhood who became a scapegoat for Epstein. Shortly after Maxwell was born, her eldest brother, Michael, nearly died in a car accident. Their grief-stricken mother, Elisabeth, ignored her daughter to care for her son, lawyers explained.
Patriarch Robert Maxwell, bullied his children, once punishing Ghislaine by smashing her hand with a hammer when she was 13 for nailing a poster on her wall. Yet she desperately craved his affection, family members said.
In 1991, Robert Maxwell died while vacationing on his yacht. His business imploded, and the tragedy made Ghislaine an easy target for Epstein, sister Anne Holve and brother Philip Maxwell told Judge Nathan in a letter.
“The effect of our father’s psychologically abusive treatment of her foreshadowed Epstein’s own ability to exploit, manipulate and control her,” they wrote.
But victim advocates see Maxwell as just another madam, accumulating personal gain by exploiting women for powerful men. “Wealth and status loom large here,” Bader says. “Obviously Maxwell loved that lifestyle and that was part of her motivation.”
Will Maxwell Go to an Upscale Prison for Her Sentence?
Maxwell and her lawyers decried harsh treatment, inedible meals and solitary confinement while she was housed at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn.
They have requested she serve her sentence at the Federal Correctional Institution in Danbury, Connecticut, the prison popularized by author Piper Kerman’s incarceration experience as documented in her memoir Orange Is the New Black: My Year In a Women’s Prison. It’s also where singer Lauryn Hill served time for tax evasion.
“It’s not a camp like where Martha Stewart was in, with almost no security, but it’s a lighter security,” says Bader. “In federal prison, at least there’s programming, it’s more established and the conditions are better.”
The Oxford University graduate will find it “a far, far cry from the lavish estates she was used to,” says Bader.
Maxwell’s defense team has appealed her conviction and sentence but “I think the prosecutors are very confident about their case,” says Bader. “They have articulate witnesses who tell very compelling, heart-wrenching stories of abuse and rape and were very clear about Maxwell’s role and involvement.”
On July 25, 2022, the New York Post reported that Maxwell has been moved to a low-security prison in Florida, the Federal Correctional Institution in Tallahassee. While at that prison, Maxwell will be able to participate in activities like yoga, Pilates and softball, and watch movies with fellow inmates.