Key Takeaways from Ghislaine Maxwell’s Sex Trafficking Trial

Published on: Jan 4, 2022fb-roundtwitter-roundemail-round
Ghislaine Maxwell in New York City in 2013.Getty Images

Warning: This story talks about sexual abuse, which could be triggering to some readers.

More than two years after the death of Jeffrey Epstein, his former girlfriend and alleged partner in crime” Ghislaine Maxwell went on trial for federal sex-trafficking charges. And on Dec. 29, after an almost month-long trial, she was found guilty on five of six felony counts — including sex trafficking of minors, which carries a maximum 40-year prison sentence. Here’s everything you need to know about her and the case.

Ghislaine Maxwell’s Relationship With Jeffrey Epstein

Maxwell, a British socialite, grew up in a well-known family. Her father, Robert Maxwell, was a newspaper tycoon and former British lawmaker. Soon after his mysterious death in 1991, she moved to New York. And, after reportedly meeting him through a mutual friend, started dating financier Epstein.

They eventually split up, but stayed close. With Epstein even calling her his “best friend” in 2003. They also had a professional relationship — Maxwell worked for him, including by managing his properties. Given their powerful backgrounds, they also had ties to many famous people. See: former Presidents Bill Clinton and Donald Trump, and Prince Andrew.

Ghislaine Maxwell and Jeffrey Epstein together in 2005
Jeffrey Epstein (L) and Ghislaine Maxwell (R) in 2005 | Getty Images

Maxwell and Epstein have been accused of running a sex trafficking ring, with one victim reportedly calling Maxwell “the puppeteer” in Epstein’s alleged crimes. In 2008, Epstein pleaded guilty to two state prostitution charges — which resulted in a controversial plea deal. He spent 13 months in county jail. But was granted the ability to leave jail six days a week for work. Epstein’s deal also let him avoid federal charges for his crimes. For context: He could have faced life in prison.

  • What about Maxwell? She seems to have come out of that unscathed. And, surprise, didn’t cut ties with Epstein. The reason? She calls herself “a very loyal person.” 

Ten years after the plea deal, Miami Herald reporter Julie K Brown dropped a bombshell investigation that put a new spotlight on the agreement. Which many thought was essentially a slap on the wrist. And...they may not be wrong since Epstein was so well-connected. The prosecutor who cut Epstein’s plea deal — Alex Acosta — was also the former labor secretary under the Trump admin. He resigned in the aftermath of the report.

A year later in 2019, Epstein was taken into federal custody. He faced sex trafficking and sex trafficking conspiracy charges involving allegations from the early 2000s. The indictment against him accuses him of paying victims to “engage in sex acts” and to recruit other girls. In turn, “creating a vast network of underage victims for him to sexually exploit” in New York and Florida. About a month later, he died by apparent suicide in his prison cell.

But Epstein wasn’t the only one to face legal trouble over the alleged abuse. Prince Andrew has been sued over alleged crimes tied to Epstein and Maxwell. And in 2020, Maxwell’s alleged crimes caught up to her. After being MIA for months, the FBI arrested Maxwell at her hideout in New Hampshire. And she was charged for her alleged role in helping Epstein abuse and exploit girls over a ten-year period. 

“Ghislaine is as guilty if not worse than Jeffrey,” Sarah Ransome, a victim of Epstein said in an interview with theSkimm. “Ghislaine was the chief orchestrator. She engineered everything.”

Ransome, who recently released a memoir “Silenced No More,” spoke in detail about the alleged abuse she suffered at the hands of Epstein and Maxwell when she was 22 years old — hear what she had to say by tapping play below.

What To Know About Maxwell’s Case and Trial

The charges stemmed from accusations from four victims, who said Maxwell set them up for abuse between 1994 and 2004. She was accused of getting them to trust her and delivering them “into the trap” that she and Epstein set up. She allegedly discussed sexual topics with victims, encouraged them to give Epstein massages, and undressed in front of them.

The now-adult victims were underage at that time. And testified during the trial. The six charges Maxwell faced included...

  • One count of sex trafficking of a minor

  • One count of enticement of a minor to travel to engage in illegal sex acts

  • One count of transporting a minor with the intent to engage in criminal sexual activity

  • Plus three conspiracy charges related to the other counts

Maxwell has repeatedly denied wrongdoing, and pleaded not guilty. The trial went down in New York and lasted almost one month. After five full days of jury deliberation, they found Maxwell guilty on all the above counts except one — enticing an underage girl to travel for illegal activity. Now, she could face 65 years in prison. 

Lawyers for the victims celebrated the verdict. And US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Damian Williams — whose office prosecuted the case — said, “justice has been done.” But Maxwell’s defense attorneys said they’ve already started working in her appeal. And are “confident that she will be vindicated.” No sentencing date was set. 

Here are some other key takeaways from the trial…

  • Opening statements: The prosecution insisted that Maxwell was Epstein’s accomplice. And that she “helped normalize abusive sexual conduct” by developing trust with the girls. (Think: by taking them shopping and asking about their lives, schools, and families.) Meanwhile, the defense said that Maxwell is a “scapegoat” for Epstein, arguing that his death left “a gaping hole in the pursuit of justice.” And Maxwell was “filling that hole.” They also told jurors to be skeptical about the accusers’ memories or accounts.

  • Accusers took the stand: Three victims — under the pseudonyms “Jane,” “Kate,” and “Carolyn” — said Maxwell played a direct role in facilitating the abuse. And even participated, in some instances. Two of the women said they saw Maxwell as a friend, establishing their vulnerability at such a young age. One woman said Maxwell inappropriately touched her when she was 14. The final accuser to testify used her real name in court: Annie Farmer. She said Maxwell massaged her chest when she was naked and that Epstein climbed into bed with her without her permission. 

  • The defense’s strategy: They tried to attack the accusers by questioning their motives and memory. And one attorney revealed one of the accusers’ real names in court — even though the judge warned him to keep their identify anonymous, according to Bloomberg. Maxwell’s attorneys asked the judge to allow their witnesses to testify anonymously. But a judge turned down the request, saying they don’t plan to “testify to sensitive personal topics or sexual conduct” and don’t qualify as victims.

  • Closing arguments: The trial finished with about six hours of closing arguments — offering two very different portrayals of Maxwell. Assistant U.S. Attorney Alison Moe labeled Maxwell as a “dangerous” predator. Defense attorney Laura Menninger painted Maxwell as “an innocent woman” and scapegoat for Epstein’s wrongdoings. The jury was left to decide which version of Maxwell is most accurate, beyond a reasonable doubt.

Meanwhile, Maxwell’s legal trouble isn’t over yet. She still faces two counts of perjury. She’s accused of lying under oath during a 2016 deposition for lawsuit against Epstein. One of his accusers, Virginia Giuffre, was suing him for defamation. The case was settled for an undisclosed amount.

But prosecutors now point to portions of Maxwell’s sworn testimony during that deposition. They’re accusing her of lying about Epstein’s actions when she repeatedly denied knowing about his abuses. It’s unclear when that trial will happen.


For years, Maxwell and Epstein have been accused of heinous crimes and hurting innocent, underage victims. Some victims felt that Epstein’s death left a void in their search for justice. But 2021 closed out with a guilty verdict, holding Maxwell accountable for a number of her alleged actions.

PS: If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline here or by calling 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

Updated on Jan. 4 with Maxwell’s guilty verdict.

Updated on Dec. 23 to include details on the trial's closing arguments.

Skimm'd by Maria McCallen, Macy Alcido, and Kamini Ramdeen-Chowdhury

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