Ghislaine Maxwell has been arrested by the FBI. Epstein’s former girlfriend, long-term friend, alleged procurer of young girls and accused molester, she was the socialite that opened the doors to high society and introduced Epstein to some of his most famous friends. With Epstein dead, a lot rests on Maxwell in what has been described as a ‘public reckoning’. How big a part of this was she?
Ghislaine Maxwell and Jeffrey Epstein were introduced in the 1990s in New York, through a mutual friend. As the wealthy daughter of media magnate Robert Maxwell (another shady, powerful man who died under questionable circumstances), she was a part of elite society circles: she knew Prince Andrew, and Sarah Ferguson (and would later be photographed sitting on the Queen’s throne, during a tour of Buckingham Palace); the Clintons; the Kennedys; Naomi Campbell was a friend.
The two met soon after Robert Maxwell’s death and many have said Epstein became a stand-in for the father to whom Maxwell was extremely close: she was devoted to him. They briefly dated, but what outlasted their romantic relationship was their friendship. Maxwell was recognised as his closest confidante and in the light of his death, it is she who has come under added scrutiny over her involvement in his crimes. She faces multiple charges.
But this isn’t a story of a woman facing the repercussions of the man she was connected to. Many of Epstein’s survivors have spoken out against Maxwell, accusing her of being Epstein’s madam, a woman they say is complicit in the abuse, who is alleged to have facilitated it by procuring for him the underage girls he molested. And some have said her actions went further than that.
Maria Farmer believes she was the first of Epstein’s survivors to report his abuse to the FBI in the 1990s. Farmer had been working for Epstein on the front desk of his townhouse. While she was there, she reported seeing numerous underage girls come into the house and go upstairs—girls, she alleges, who were found and brought there by Maxwell.
Farmer stopped working for Epstein after she herself was assaulted, on the estate of former Victoria’s Secret owner Les Wexner. It was while she was there that she claims both Epstein and Maxwell came into her room and began groping her. She escaped and hid but has said that the following day, Wexner’s staff stopped her from leaving. Following the assault, Farmer has also alleged that Maxwell threatened first her career, then her life.
Ghislaine controlled the girls. She was like the madam
Virginia Guiffre has echoed Farmer’s allegations. It was Maxwell, Guiffre has said, who approached her under the guise of hiring her as a masseuse for Epstein when she was only a teenager. As well as being raped by Epstein, Guiffre has spoken out about the sex trafficking ring she was forced into—something she says Maxwell played a fundamental role in. Guiffre alleges it was Maxwell who ordered her to have sex with a number of powerful men, including Prince Andrew. He has denied these claims. In 2015, Guiffre sued Maxwell, after Maxwell accused her of lying; they settled out of court.
Another of Epstein’s survivors, Sarah Ransome, has called Maxwell Epstein’s ‘madam’. Speaking to BBC Panorama, Ransome said: 'Ghislaine controlled the girls. She was like the madam. She was like the nuts and bolts of the sex trafficking operation.' It was Maxwell, she claimed who would summon her to Epstein’s bedroom, where she knew Ransome would be raped.
Other survivors have spoken about how the presence of Maxwell, a woman, made them feel more comfortable around Epstein, initially. Her presence allowed the abuse to continue by creating a veneer of safety. She would also, allegedly, win their trust by taking them shopping and asking about their lives, later normalising the abuse by mirroring it: offering victims massages and undressing in front of them—all things they would be asked to do for Epstein.
In recent month, more accusers have also come forward, including one who has claimed Maxwell raped her aged 14.
Maxwell has denied all the allegations against her.
Her fall from high society has been quieter than that of Epstein’s. Epstein was accused of sexual assault in 2005 and later, pleaded guilty and sentenced to 18 months. Following that, he and Maxwell were no longer seen together and when in 2015, she was sued by Guiffre, she, too, left the public eye. The lawsuit was settled in 2017, but in 2019, papers relating to it were released. Epstein’s body was discovered a day later and Maxwell went into hiding. She was briefly spotted in Los Angeles, before disappearing, again.
In the wake of the accusations against Epstein, much was made of Maxwell’s disappearance. There were reports she could be hiding in Paris, in California, near Boston; that she was constantly on the move. The truth, as it turns out, was that she was in New Hampshire, holed up in a secluded luxury four-bed property, which is where she was arrested.
She has now been charged with six federal crimes that span from 1994-97 and include conspiring to entice minors to engage in sex, as well as perjury following allegations that she lied to investigators about her involvement previously. If found guilty, she could face up to 35 years in prison.
In a memo to the court seeking pre-trial release, Maxwell is claiming she didn’t have contact with Epstein for more than a decade, much in the way that many of his other powerful associates have done before her. Although what bearing this will have on her charges (centred around the mid-nineties) remains to be seen.
The question now is will she face consequences for the crimes she allegedly committed? Both her father and close friend died deaths that have been dogged by conspiracy theories before they could serve time for their own actions. For the sake of Epstein’s survivors and the women who have accused Maxwell, it’s important that justice is served.