Ghislaine Maxwell and Jeffrey Epstein were “partners in crime” in the sexual abuse of teenage girls, a prosecutor in the United States has said, as opening statements were delivered in the British socialite’s highly publicised trial in New York.
Prosecutors say that Maxwell – a former employee and romantic partner of Epstein’s – sent gifts such as lingerie and discussed sexual topics with the girls to win their trust before encouraging them to give Epstein erotic massages, according to the 2021 indictment against her.
“She preyed on vulnerable young girls, manipulated them, and served them up to be sexually abused,” Assistant District Attorney Lara Pomerantz told the court during the prosecution’s opening statement on Monday.
Maxwell is on trial in Manhattan federal court for recruiting and grooming four young girls for Epstein to abuse between 1994 and 2004. Epstein died in jail in 2019 while awaiting trial on sex-abuse charges.
The trial comes in the wake of the MeToo movement, which has encouraged victims of sexual abuse to speak out against powerful men accused of misconduct.
The 59-year-old, who appeared in court on Monday wearing a white face mask amid the COVID-19 pandemic and frequently wrote during the morning’s proceedings, faces up to 80 years in prison if convicted on all counts.
Four accusers are expected to testify as government witnesses during the trial.
Maxwell’s lawyers have said that prosecutors, unable to convict Epstein, are using the daughter of late British media magnate Robert Maxwell as a scapegoat.
They also have indicated that they will question the credibility of the four alleged victims by asking why they waited to come forward and arguing that they have financial incentives to lie or exaggerate.
On Monday, defence lawyer Bobbi Sternheim said Maxwell was a “scapegoat for a man who behaved badly”.
Maxwell, she said, was being blamed for a man’s bad behaviour, just as so many women have before. “She’s not Jeffrey Epstein. She’s not like Jeffrey Epstein” or any of the powerful men, moguls and media giants who abuse women, Sternheim said.
“He’s the proverbial elephant in the room. He is not visible, but he is consuming this entire courtroom and overflow courtrooms where other members of the public are viewing,” she said.
But prosecutors have accused Maxwell of encouraging the girls to massage Epstein while they were fully or partially nude. In some cases, Epstein or Maxwell would pay them cash or offer to pay for their travel or education, and Epstein sometimes masturbated or touched the girls’ genitals during the massages, prosecutors said.
“She was in on it from the start. The defendant and Epstein lured their victims with a promise of a bright future, only to sexually exploit them,” said Pomerantz, the prosecutor, adding that Maxwell “was involved in every detail of Epstein’s life”.
“The defendant was the lady of the house,” she said.
Even after Maxwell and Epstein stopped being romantically involved, the pair “remained the best of friends”, Pomerantz added.