Ghislaine Maxwell, ex-girlfriend to Jeffrey Epstein, has been arrested by federal law enforcement alleging Maxwell aided Epstein in recruiting and grooming children for commercial sex. Although Maxwell has been accused of recruiting and grooming children for Epstein by survivors in the past, only after Epstein’s death and the release of the Netflix documentary detailing the abuse suffered by his victims has Maxwell been officially targeted by federal law enforcement. Maxwell has been charged with enticement and conspiracy to entice minors to travel to engage in illegal sex acts, transportation and conspiracy to transport minors with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, and two counts of perjury in connection with a sworn deposition. Her charges are a result of multiple Epstein survivors alleging Maxwell’s involvement in building a trafficking network alongside Epstein. Maxwell’s elusive personal history leaves many wondering how Maxwell became involved with Epstein and how deep her involvement was in helping Epstein target young women and girls to sexually abuse.
Maxwell’s past might give a window into how she became involved with Epstein’s network of the world’s rich and powerful. Maxwell’s father, Robert Maxwell, once a newspaper publishing tycoon in England, died from mysterious circumstances in 1991. Many believe he committed suicide following his failed business venture after it was revealed he had been stealing hundreds of millions from employee pension funds. After his death, Maxwell moved from London to New York and began networking with the city’s social elite. Less than a year after her father’s death, Maxwell started dating financier Jeffrey Epstein. The two ended their relationship sometime in the 1990s but maintained a close friendship. In 2003, Epstein referred to Maxwell as his “best friend” during an interview with Vanity Fair.
Multiple survivors have since referenced Maxwell as Epstein’s “accomplice.” One survivor alleges Maxwell “participated with and assisted Epstein in maintaining and protecting his sex trafficking ring, ensuring that approximately three girls a day were made available to him for his sexual pleasure.” Another survivor recounts multiple situations in which Maxwell forced her to engage in illegal sex with Epstein and his friends while giving her instructions on how to please Epstein and others. U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss released a statement alleging Maxwell knowingly facilitated, aided and participated in the sexual abuse of children by manipulating young women and girls into trusting her “setting them up to be abused sexually by Epstein.” The federal indictment officially charging Maxwell reads, “From at least 1994 through at least 1997, Maxwell assisted, facilitated, and participated in Jeffrey Epstein’s abuse of minor girls by, among other things, helping Jeffrey Epstein to recruit, groom, and ultimately abuse victims known to Maxwell and Epstein to be under the age of 18. The victims were as young as 14 years old when they were groomed and abused by Maxwell and Epstein, both of whom knew that their victims were in fact minors. As a part and in furtherance of their scheme to abuse minor victims, Maxwell and Epstein enticed and caused minor victims to travel to Epstein’s residences in different states, which Maxwell knew and intended would result in their grooming for and subjection to sexual abuse.” Sex trafficking of minors is prohibited by 18 U.S.C. § 1591. When the victim is a minor, as with the case here, the prosecution does not need to prove that the defendant used force, threats of force, fraud, or coercion, to cause the child victim to engage in commercial sex.
Until now, Maxwell has remained a mostly elusive figure in the narrative of Epstein’s abuse. In a court filing from a 2015 defamation case filed against Maxwell by a survivor, Maxwell and her attorney labeled the survivor plaintiff as an “unreliable narrator.” No comments have been made by Maxwell or her lawyer pertaining to the recent charges. Prior to her arrest, which took place in New Hampshire, Maxwell remained hidden from the public eye.
The complexity that surrounds Maxwell and her alleged involvement with Epstein highlights an important phenomenon in law enforcement pertaining to trafficking. Although there has been no indication that Maxwell suffered at the hands of Epstein himself, many women who are responsible for aiding traffickers in recruiting and grooming other women are known colloquially as “bottom girls” or “victim-offenders”. These persons tend to be victimized by a trafficker over a long period of time and eventually act as their “recruiters”. The trafficker- “victim-offender” relationship is complex. Many times, “victim-offenders” share a romantic relationship with their trafficker that morphs into a cycle of abusive dependency. Law enforcement still struggles with evaluating the culpability of “victim-offenders”. Although Maxwell’s history might suggest she turned to Epstein for financial support after the death of her father, nothing has been reported suggesting Maxwell was forced to comply with Epstein’s demands placing her within the victim-offender space.
However, the victim offender overlap is still highly relevant in the wake of Maxwell’s arrest. Many of Epstein’s survivors have mentioned they avoided further sexual abuse by helping to recruit girls from their own networks of underage friends. These survivors were abused, manipulated, and black-mailed by Epstein into recruiting more victims. Further, Epstein took advantage of these victims’ unique vulnerabilities, most notably victims’ desperate financial situations. Although there is no available evidence that Maxwell shared a similar experience, the victim offender overlap is still applicable to many survivors who were trapped in Epstein’s cycle of abuse. The CSE Institute believes that those who occupy the victim-offender intersectionality space should be treated as victims by the criminal justice system. As it stands, we hope the alleged actions of Maxwell do not overshadow the plight of true victim-offenders. This misunderstood population continues to be wrongly prosecuted for crimes their traffickers force them to commit. For more information on the victim-offender overlap, please read our 2020 Report.