When Jeffrey Epstein died in jail more than two years ago, it seemed like any chance at justice went up in smoke. There would be no accountability, no transparency for the underage girls who said that Epstein had, for years, sexually abused them—and used his massive fortune to get away with it.
Now, the trial of Epstein’s alleged madam, Ghislaine Maxwell, which starts opening statements on Monday, is the closest thing many of Epstein’s accusers will ever have to putting the sex offender on trial.
First indicted in summer 2020, Maxwell was a British socialite and heiress who, according to prosecutors, was Epstein’s girlfriend between around 1994 and 1997. She managed his properties until around 2004, according to an indictment filed earlier this year.
But that’s not all that prosecutors say Maxwell, 59, did for the late sex offender. Between about 1994 and 2004, Maxwell allegedly helped recruit and sexually abuse girls as young as 14 for Epstein. Prosecutors say that it was Maxwell’s job to gain their trust and groom them; she allegedly tried to normalize sexual abuse by talking to them about sex, undressing in front of them, and telling them to give sexualized massages to Epstein.
“Maxwell’s presence during minor victims’ interactions with Epstein, including interactions where the minor victim was undressed or that involved sex acts with Epstein, helped put the victims at ease because an adult woman was present,” the latest indictment alleges.
Maxwell has repeatedly denied wrongdoing and pleaded not guilty to the eight charges she’s now facing, which involve allegations of sex trafficking and perjury.
The indictment lists four unnamed minor victims of Maxwell’s. The abuse they suffered took place in New York, New Mexico, Florida, and London, per the indictment.
Maxwell met one victim when she was just 14 and befriended her through shopping trips and outings to the movies, according to the indictment. That alleged victim participated in “sexualized massages of Epstein.” Another underage victim was also allegedly taken on shopping and movie trips; Maxwell allegedly gave her an “unsolicited massage” while the victim was topless. Maxwell allegedly encouraged yet another minor to massage Epstein, even though Maxwell was aware that Epstein would sexually abuse the victim during those times.
Maxwell groomed a fourth underage girl into being sexually abused by Epstein, according to the indictment. Maxwell allegedly paid that girl hundreds of dollars after the girl gave Epstein nude massages, and allegedly encouraged the girl to bring in other young girls to give Epstein “sexualized massages.”
That filing also accuses Maxwell of lying under oath in a civil lawsuit in 2016.
Four accusers are expected to speak at Maxwell’s trial, with three being granted anonymity, according to Vanity Fair. Virginia Giuffre—the most high-profile Epstein accuser—will not take the stand, per the outlet. Giuffre is currently in the midst of suing Britain’s Prince Andrew for, she says, sexually abusing her after the two met through Epstein; in one infamous photo, Prince Andrew is pictured with his hand wrapped around a teenaged Giuffre’s hip, while Maxwell grins in the background. (Prince Andrew has denied all wrongdoing.)
Maxwell, who pretty much vanished from public life in the wake of Epstein’s arrest and death, has been in police custody since law enforcement picked her up at a New Hampshire estate in summer 2020. But Maxwell has tried repeatedly to get out of jail. Her lawyers have filed several letters with the court that complain about Maxwell’s treatment at Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, where Maxwell is now housed. Earlier this month, her attorney, Bobbi Sternheim, said in court papers that Maxwell’s incarceration “rivals scenes of Dr. Hannibal Lecter’s incarceration as portrayed in the movie ‘Silence of the Lambs.’”
“Ms. Maxwell’s conditions of detention for the past 16 months continue to be reprehensible and utterly inappropriate for [a] woman on the cusp of turning 60 with no criminal record or history of violence,” Sternheim wrote. “It is unwarranted, unrelenting, and utterly inappropriate.”
Sternheim alleged that her client has been abused by her jailers, dealt with sleep deprivation, and struggled to get adequate access to documents to prepare for her case. (She also clarified that Maxwell wasn’t kept in a cage or forced to wear a face guard—the two greatest hallmarks of Lecter’s imprisonment.)
Prosecutors, meanwhile, have repeatedly said that Maxwell is not treated differently than other incarcerated people.
Judge Alison Nathan has denied Maxwell’s requests for bail six times. Maxwell’s murky finances as well as her tripartite American, French, and British citizenships, Nathan has said, make her a flight risk. Last week, Maxwell’s siblings filed a complaint about her case to the United Nations, labeling her detention an act of “unprecedented discrimination.”
Jury selection in the case began in mid-November. And it’s already clear that Epstein’s specter will profoundly haunt the proceedings: One man was dismissed after he said he’d once met Epstein for about 30 seconds, Bloomberg reported. Maxwell’s legal team has also previously argued that Maxwell is being sacrificed as a “substitute” for Epstein.
“One does not need to engage in complex analysis to understand what has happened here: The government has sought to substitute our client for Jeffrey Epstein, even if it means stretching—and ultimately exceeding—the bounds of the law,” they wrote in a February filing. “The government’s sudden zeal to prosecute Ms. Maxwell for alleged conduct with Epstein in the 1990s—conduct for which the government never even charged Epstein—follows a history that is both highly unusual and deeply troubling.”
Now, Maxwell’s defense seems set to focus on questioning the credibility of her accusers. Her lawyers will call Elizabeth Loftus as a defense witness; the University of California, Irvine, professor, who testified for the defense in Harvey Weinstein’s trial, will speak about how people may create “false memories” regarding sexual abuse.