Ghislaine Maxwell — Jeffrey Epstein’s right-hand woman who assisted him in grooming and sexually abusing young girls for years — was sentenced to 20 years in prison on Tuesday. She was also fined $750,000.
Maxwell was found guilty on sex trafficking charges in Manhattan federal court on Dec. 29. During the three-week trial, four women testified that Epstein had sexually abused them while they were between the ages of 14 and 17. Maxwell had helped to groom them, they said, and at times personally took part in the abuse.
Several victim impact statements were read in court prior to the sentencing, some by the women themselves, detailing the devastation Maxwell wreaked upon their lives. Many spoke of the long-lasting effects they've experienced, including suicide attempts and substance abuse issues.
"Maxwell is today the same woman I met almost 20 years ago — incapable of compassion or common human decency," one of the women, Sarah Ransome, said. "Because of her wealth, social status, and connections, she believes herself beyond reproach and above the law. Sentencing her to the rest of her life in prison will not change her, but it will give survivors a slight sense of justice and help us as we continue to work to recover from the sex-trafficking hell she perpetrated."
Annie Farmer — who testified during the trial about how both she and her sister were abused by Maxwell and Epstein — described how her trauma caused "a loss
of trust in myself, my perceptions, and my instincts."
"When a boundary is crossed or an expectation violated, you tell yourself, 'Someone who cares enough about me to do all these nice things surely wouldn't also be trying to harm me,'" Farmer said. "This pattern of thinking is insidious, so these seeds of self-doubt took root even as I learned my sister had also been harmed by them and came to find out years later that many others had been exploited."
Maxwell herself addressed the court before her sentence was announced, apologizing to the victims "for the pain you have experienced" and saying she hopes her "conviction and harsh incarceration brings you peace and finality."
"My [association] with Epstein will permanently stain me. It is the biggest regret of my life [that] I ever met him," she said, according to reporters in the courtroom.
In a sentencing memorandum released last week, federal prosecutors recommended Maxwell be sentenced to at least 30 years in prison for her “instrumental role in the horrific sexual abuse of multiple young teenage girls.
“As part of a disturbing agreement with Jeffrey Epstein, Maxwell identified, groomed, and abused multiple victims, while she enjoyed a life of extraordinary luxury and privilege,” the memorandum stated. “In her wake, Maxwell left her victims permanently scarred with emotional and psychological injuries. That damage can never be undone, but it can be accounted for in crafting a just sentence for Maxwell’s crimes.”
Before handing down her decision, Judge Alison J. Nathan said a "substantial sentence" was necessary due to Maxwell's "pivotal role" in the "horrific scheme," the New York Times reported. But despite being "heinous and predatory," Nathan sentenced her to far fewer years than the government recommended.
“It is important to emphasize that although Epstein was central to this criminal scheme, Ms. Maxwell is not being punished in place of Epstein or as a proxy for Epstein,” Nathan said.
As a result of a series of Miami Herald articles that brought renewed attention to his decades of abuse and highlighted how the justice system had failed to hold him accountable, Epstein was arrested in July 2019 on sex trafficking charges. His death in jail a little over a month later was ruled a suicide. Maxwell was arrested in July 2020.
The daughter of a British media magnate, Maxwell, 60, has been linked to Epstein since at least the early 1990s, first as his girlfriend and later as his closest associate. The two systematically groomed and abused young girls, particularly ones who were vulnerable — those with single mothers, difficult home lives, and in need of money. They would make the girls feel special, treating them to movies and shopping trips and even offering to pay for school.
Maxwell served as a normalizing presence during the grooming process, bringing up sexual topics with the victims, spending time naked or topless around them, and encouraging them to give Epstein massages. Epstein typically used these massages as a pretext to initiate sexual contact with the girls, often with Maxwell still in the room and directing them on how to touch him.
This would only be the beginning; the victims would be abused several times a week for years after, at times being flown on Epstein’s private jet to visit him at his multiple homes. Maxwell was often present during the sexual encounters, and at times participated herself. Three witnesses said she had touched their breasts, and one said she was made to participate in group sex acts with the couple and others.
Maxwell was “key to the whole operation,” Assistant US Attorney Alison Moe said in her closing argument.
“Epstein could not have done this alone,” Moe said. “A single middle-aged man who invites a teenage girl to visit his ranch, to come to his house, to fly to New York, is creepy. That sets off alarm bells.
“But when that man is accompanied by a posh, smiling, respectable, age-appropriate woman, that’s when everything starts to seem legitimate,” she continued. “And when that woman encourages those girls to massage that man, when she acts like it’s totally normal for the man to touch those girls, it lures them into a trap. It allows the man to silence the alarm bells and get away with molesting girls.”
Virginia Roberts Giuffre echoed this sentiment in her victim impact statement, which was delivered by her attorney, saying Ghislaine "deserve[s] to spend the rest of [her] life in a jail cell ... trapped in a cage forever, just like [she] trapped [her] victims."
“I want to be clear about one thing: without question, Jeffrey Epstein was a terrible pedophile,” Giuffre wrote. “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. And then, Ghislaine, like a wolf in sheep’s clothing, you used your femininity to betray us, and you led us all through it.”
Maxwell and Epstein were extravagantly wealthy and were friends with many famous and powerful people. One of the victims testified that they introduced her to both Donald Trump and Prince Andrew when she was 14, but she did not accuse either of any misconduct. Epstein’s former pilot said Trump and Prince Andrew had flown on Epstein’s private jet, as had Bill Clinton, actors Kevin Spacey and Chris Tucker, Sens. John Glenn and George Mitchell, and violinist Itzhak Perlman.
Days before her sentencing, Maxwell was put on suicide watch by jail officials, according to a letter to the judge from her lawyer, Bobbi Sternheim. However, Maxwell received a psychological evaluation and “is not suicidal,” Sternheim said. In the letter, Sternheim said Maxwell’s legal papers were taken from her when she was put on suicide watch and called for the postponement of her sentencing if she was unable to review the necessary documents.
Federal prosecutors said Maxwell was put on suicide watch after she emailed jail officials saying “she feared [jail] staff members were threatening her safety,” and she was moved to solitary confinement so her claim could be investigated. Her legal papers were ultimately returned to her, prosecutors added.
The US National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. The Trevor Project, which provides help and suicide-prevention resources for LGBTQ youth, is 1-866-488-7386. Find other international suicide helplines at Befrienders Worldwide (befrienders.org).