New Times,
New Thinking.

  1. Comment
5 January 2024

Ghislaine Maxwell’s cynical faux-feminism

Maxwell had her chance to argue she is being punished because she is a woman. The jury didn’t believe it, and neither should we.

By Lucia Osborne-Crowley

In the final weeks of 2021, I spent every day sitting two feet away from Ghislaine Maxwell. As one of only a handful of reporters allowed in the courtroom for the duration of her federal sex trafficking trial, I grew to understand a lot more about her than I imagined, by observing her interactions with her lawyers, her family, and even with me. I don’t believe we should be drawn in by her lawyers’ comments – made in response to the newly unsealed files naming many high-profile associates of the sex offender Jeffrey Epstein – that this case is “all about men abusing women for a long period of time… and it’s only one person in jail – a woman”.

Maxwell tried to make this argument – that she is being punished for the sexual crimes of men – in front of a federal jury, and they didn’t buy it: she was found guilty of multiple charges of child sex trafficking. There is some underlying truth in the idea that women who engage in sexual offences committed primarily by men are disproportionately demonised by society. We have a long history of being more punitive towards women who commit or enable male violence than the men who, much more frequently, personally commit these crimes. It’s also factually correct that in an enormous sex trafficking ring which, based on my investigations, involved trafficking minors to a large group of men, the only person who has been jailed is the woman who arranged the trafficking and participated in some elements of it. 

Maxwell was convicted of four counts of engaging in a conspiracy to traffic underage girls – but no one has been convicted for their abuse. Epstein, of course, evaded justice when he died in jail in 2019, and no other male clients of the trafficking ring have been prosecuted. This, as a plain fact, is confounding and must ultimately be corrected by holding those clients to account in a court of law. But that doesn’t mean, as Maxwell’s lawyer is trying to suggest, that this is why she has been punished. 

“Ever since Eve was tempting Adam with the apple, women have been blamed for the bad behaviour of men, and women are often villainised and punished more than the men ever are.” This was the very first sentence of the opening statement given by Maxwell’s defence lawyer, Bobbi Sternheim, on the first day of Maxwell’s trial. On the last day, prosecutor Alison Moe countered with the following: “In her opening statement, defence counsel said something to you about Maxwell being blamed for something a man did.” 

“Let me be very clear,” Moe continued. I can remember this moment vividly. From my seat in the press gallery, Moe looked emotional. “The evidence at this trial showed you that Ghislaine Maxwell made her own choices. She committed crimes hand-in-hand with Jeffrey Epstein. She was a grown woman who knew exactly what she was doing.”

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via saturdayread.substack.com The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via morningcall.substack.com
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how Progressive Media Investments may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
THANK YOU

Ultimately, the jury sided with Moe. After hearing both these statements in courtroom 318 in December 2021, the jury returned a unanimous verdict: Ghislaine Maxwell is guilty. They didn’t believe Maxwell when she said she was a scapegoat for the crimes of men – because they saw what I saw: several weeks of hard evidence that she was guilty of the sex trafficking of minors. A conviction for which she is now serving a 20-year sentence.

In her sentencing remarks, in the same courtroom six months later, Judge Nathan made this point extremely clear: “Ghislaine Maxwell is not being punished as a proxy, but for the role that she played in the scheme.” Nathan paused after the words “she played”, letting them hang in the room. 

I know that women are often blamed for the crimes of men. Female victims are blamed in headlines when killed by their male partners or ex-partners. Women who engage in sex crimes are routinely the subject of more sordid fascination than the men who represent the overwhelming majority of perpetrators. All of that is true. But this is not why Ghislaine Maxwell was punished. Her decision to continue to use this argument when it has been rejected by a federal jury shows it for what it is: a cynical attempt to manage her reputation post-conviction. 

[See also: Pax Americana’s last gasp]

Content from our partners
Peatlands are nature's unsung climate warriors
How the apprenticeship levy helps small businesses to transform their workforce
How to reform the apprenticeship levy

Topics in this article : , ,