Ghislaine Maxwell’s criminal trial is underway in New York. She’s accused of recruiting and grooming underage girls for the late Jeffrey Epstein during the late 1990s and early 2000s.
“He died before going to trial and took a lot of his secret with him, other than the ones Ms. Maxwell may have. And that's what makes this intriguing is that the person at the center of the drama isn't there, but someone that’s right there much of the time, is,” Mark Osler, a law professor at the University of St. Thomas, said.
Osler is a former federal prosecutor and criminal law professor.
“It’s what we see in case after case after case whether it is within the Catholic Church and the priest abuse scandals, things that happen in localities across this country, it's that same pattern. What's different here is that some of the people involved are famous,” he explained.
Maxwell, 59, is no stranger to money or running in famous social circles.
“She grew up in wealth and privilege. She was the child of a very wealthy and influential man,” Osler said.
She was arrested in July 2020. Four alleged victims are speaking out over the course of the trial.
Maxwell faces six counts: 1 count of enticement of a minor to travel to engage in illegal sex acts, 1 count transportation of a minor with intent to engage in illegal sex acts, 1 count of sex trafficking a minor, and 3 counts of conspiracy.
“The one that matters the most is the sex trafficking count. That has a maximum sentence of 40 years,” Osler said.
“Each enticement charge in itself carries a penalty of 10 years imprisonment,” Michal Buchhandler-Raphael, an assistant professor of law at the Widener University Commonwealth Law School, said.
She researches gender-based violence including sexual assault.
“This case kind of presents a different narrative because here we have a woman who is the alleged perpetrator and a woman who is an alleged predator and an accomplice to the male predator,” Buchhandler-Raphael said.
She said, in most cases, males are charged with sexual assault.
“The theory is that Ms. Maxwell engaged in what's called grooming, so grooming is a behavior that is understood to try to normalize a sexualized act in the eyes of the minor,” she said. “We already heard testimony from one of the witnesses who explicitly said Maxwell not only assisted Epstein, not only recruited girls for him, not only groomed underage girls for him, but also was an active participant, she was present in the room when some of the acts took place.”
Buchhandler-Raphael said in this case, the defense might portray or claim Maxwell as a victim herself.
“As a victim of Mr. Epstein, I think they will probably try to persuade the jury that she was under his spell, under his influence and she did what he asked her to do,” she said.
However, Buchhandler-Raphael said that may not be possible if the victims accuse Maxwell of being actively involved.
Osler said this case brings up some important points about entitlement.
“It brings to the surface this underlying dynamic of relatively powerful people using wealth, using privilege or their perception of that to go after the most vulnerable -- young children,” he said.
And a case like this could help others be more conscious of when situations like this arise.
“Maybe the best thing that can come out of this, is that parents will see this story being told and realize that something like that may be happening to their own child and step in and intercede. Maybe a kid will see it, read about it and realize it may not be healthy to be around these people that may be grooming me,” Osler said.