Ghislaine Maxwell must not be the only one held to account - Dani Garavelli
It proves the rich and powerful can be held to account, even when their crimes took place some time ago, even when their victims are less than “perfect”.
Like the Harvey Weinstein verdict before it, it shows that juries - so historically susceptible to victim-blaming narratives - are, in fact, capable of seeing through rape myths; that they are not always won over by the underhand tactics of the defence.
As so often, witness-trashing was the strategy adopted in the Maxwell case. Her lawyers attacked the credibility of the complainers, criticising the length of time they took to come forward and the fact they had sought compensation from the Epstein victims’ fund. “Jane” - an actress - was accused of “putting on a show”. "Kate" was cast as an addict, though her substance abuse was what made her vulnerable to grooming, and was doubtless exacerbated by her trauma.
The defence also toyed with other approaches. It suggested Maxwell had been a victim of Epstein's "halo effect", dazzled by his brilliance or his charm. And that she was being used as a “scapegoat”, a sop to public outrage because Epstein - who killed himself - could no longer be tried.
The jurors, though, were having none of it. They saw Maxwell for what she was: crucial to Epstein’s operation, using the trust she garnered as a woman to lure girls who might otherwise have been wary. And so they found her guilty on five out of six of the charges, including the sex trafficking of minors. She may well spend the rest of her life behind bars.
US law enforcement had not previously covered itself in glory. In 2008, Epstein secured a disgraceful "non-prosecution deal" with the then Miami US Attorney Alexander Acosta (later Donald Trump's Labour Secretary). The deal guaranteed he would not be prosecuted for federal sex-trafficking charges in the southern district of Florida. Instead, he pled guilty to two state charges of soliciting and procuring a minor for prostitution. He was sentenced to 18 months and served 13 – most of it on work release in a private wing of a county jail, rather than the state prison most sex offenders are sent to.
The deal, however, did not prevent him being prosecuted elsewhere and, in 2019, he was charged with sex trafficking offences by prosecutors in the southern district of New York. Though the delays - and Epstein's subsequent suicide - increased their trauma, the victims have welcomed Maxwell’s conviction. Still, the trial was not without its frustrations and there is a long way to go before justice will truly have been served.
After all, if underage girls were being trafficked by Epstein and Maxwell, then men were having sex with them. Given the context - exclusive parties, private jets, flying out to Epstein’s private island - it is safe to say those men are well-connected.
Yet the names of most third parties were redacted from the private flight logs of Epstein's pilot. Several victims referred to men being present at his Palm Beach home without being asked to identify them. And then there was the strange non-appearance of Virginia Giuffre. Giuffre is the woman who has accused Prince Andrew of sexually assaulting her when she was 17. Despite being mentioned multiple times during the trial, she was not called as a witness. This meant Prince Andrew's name was also kept out of proceedings.
Maxwell could make it easy for US law enforcement to pursue other guilty parties. She could “flip” (agree to name names in the hopes of attracting a more lenient sentence). But that would require her to acknowledge her own culpability; and so far she seems determined to appeal. Thus, it will come down to the courage of the authorities. Do they have the energy and will to take this further? Or are they hoping Maxwell will satisfy the public demand for retribution?
The investigation has fed into concerns about the wider US justice system, with at least one lawyer alleged to have discussed cutting deals with rich men he wrongly believed had been caught on secret cameras having sex with girls at Epstein's homes.
But it has also exposed the rot at the heart of the Metropolitan Police. Not that the Met has done much to hide its contempt for women. From the sanctioning of rape by deception by undercover police officers to the manhandling of protesters at the Clapham Common vigil, it has become the poster force for institutionalised misogyny. The fact commissioner Cressida Dick is still in post is a statement in itself.
Now the Met can add its heel-dragging over Epstein and Maxwell’s alleged UK activities to its tally of shame. A Channel 4 investigation uncovered at least half a dozen allegations of girls having been “targeted, trafficked, groomed or assaulted” by the pair in the UK, but the force took no action. Just weeks before Maxwell’s trial, it announced it would be dropping its investigation into the allegations against Prince Andrew.
While C4 has doggedly pursued the story, some of the BBC’s post-conviction coverage has been wildly off-kilter. Immediately after the verdict, it interviewed Alan Dershowitz, presenting him as a neutral expert, though he was previously Epstein’s lawyer and has himself been accused of sexual abuse by Giuffre. On Friday, BBC Radio 4 gave Maxwell’s brother Ian a platform to defend her - a bizarre move in the light of the gravity of her crimes.
This cannot stand. In the light of the verdict, the Met in particular must rethink its position. For the sake of exploited girls everywhere (and its own reputation) all allegations must be rigorously investigated on both sides of the Atlantic. Maxwell was guilty of a heinous crime and she deserves her fate. But she must not be the only one to be held to account for the damage done.
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