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Jeffrey Epstein's girlfriend Ghislaine Maxwell allegedly turned a female bond into a tool for abuse - The Washington Post

The U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York discusses charges against Ghislaine Maxwell. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

By Monica Hesse

Monica Hesse

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July 2 at 5:44 PM

Women with male health-care providers are accustomed to their medical appointments becoming three-person productions. You, the doctor, and a female nurse or technician, whose job is to bear witness. She’s in the room to make sure the doctor doesn’t do anything to you. She’s in the room to make sure you don’t falsely accuse the doctor. She’s there for your safety.

On Thursday, Jeffrey Epstein’s onetime girlfriend and associate Ghislaine Maxwell was arrested in New Hampshire, 11 months after the disgraced financier died by suicide in jail. Her indictment was made public, and over 18 pages her alleged role in Epstein’s sex trafficking scheme becomes clear. She was, allegedly, a twisted version of the woman in the room. She was there, allegedly, to serve a role in a three-person production: to make girls feel safe, so they could instead be abused.

Maxwell, 58, would allegedly take “Minor Victim 1” on shopping trips or to the movies. She would ask about “school, her classes, her family.” And then, the indictment reads, Maxwell “sought to normalize inappropriate and abusive conduct by among other things, undressing in front of Minor Victim and being present when Minor Victim undressed in front of Epstein.”

Minor Victim 1 was 14 years old.

Maxwell allegedly shopped with “Minor Victim 2,” offered her massages, and then encouraged her to massage Epstein. “Minor Victim 3” was allegedly recruited and groomed by Maxwell, specifically for Epstein’s pleasure. Maxwell met her in London and then introduced her to Epstein, according to the indictment. Epstein then requested the massages that other victims have said gave way to sexual assault.

“Maxwell’s presence during minor victims’ interactions with Epstein, including interactions where the minor victim was undressed or that involved sex acts with Epstein,” the indictment alleges, “helped put the victims at ease because an adult woman was present.”

It would have been, in other words, a horrifying scheme exploiting an intuitive solidarity. It would have relied on perverting all the safety tips young women are taught as they prepare to enter a world that can be unsafe for them: Go in pairs. Bring a female friend. Are you in trouble? Look for another woman, one who could be your mom.

Like many abusers, Epstein frequently targeted vulnerable girls. In “Filthy Rich,” Netflix’s recent Epstein documentary, women now in their 30s reflect on themselves as teenagers, homeless or trying to escape violent homes, desperate for the stabilizing influence of an adult, but without the life experience to know what that would look like.

Enter Maxwell, a glamorous mentor — the Oxford-educated, quadrilingual daughter of a wealthy publishing magnate — signaling that Epstein’s depravity was fine. Of course it was fine. If it weren’t, would this woman be in the room?

Since the sordid Epstein saga began unspooling, years ago, Maxwell has continued to be one of its more inscrutable characters. Was she as evil as he was? Was she under his thrall as well? Other victims have discussed how they were encouraged to recruit friends to perform sexual favors for Epstein, creating a pyramid of abuse where other women were crushed below. Did Maxwell begin as a victim, then become an accomplice? Under oath, she once said in a deposition that she had no knowledge of Epstein abusing underage girls; she has now been charged with perjury as well.

“For years, I feared Epstein and his ring,” wrote Epstein accuser Jennifer Araoz in a statement praising Maxwell’s arrest. “Maxwell was the center of that sex trafficking ring.”

After Epstein’s death, she disappeared. She was spotted once in California, then she was rumored to be in France. Lawyers for victims attempted to serve her papers for civil suits, and then complained they couldn’t find her to do so. Conspiracy theorists tacked her on their pinboards. She seemed like Carmen Sandiego, always on the run, aided by her money and her connections, mysterious and missing.

It was easy to get so caught up in where she might be that you forgot about the places she’d been.

Picture a 14-year-old girl, unaccompanied in a mansion, wondering how a surprise shopping trip had suddenly turned into this, a “massage room” painted to look like the Sistine Chapel, and a guy old enough to be her father disrobing in front of her. Picture the relief of realizing another woman was in the room, and the nausea of realizing that didn’t matter after all.

Monica Hesse is a columnist writing about gender and its impact on society. For more visit