Understanding the Ghislaine Maxwell Child Sex Trafficking Verdict
On December 29th, Ghislaine Maxwell was convicted on 5 of 6 counts: sex trafficking of a minor, enticing a minor to travel to engage in criminal sexual activity, transporting a minor with the intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, and three counts of conspiracy.
The Maxwell trial was one of the most high profile criminal trials in recent memory. Ghislaine Maxwell now faces 65 possible years in prison. The trial exploded the worlds of Maxwell and her close associate Jeffrey Epstein, and left the public poring over the fragments of a life of money and power most people could not dream of accessing.
Maxwell was convicted on all three conspiracy counts: sex trafficking of a minor, conspiracy to entice a minor to travel to engage in criminal sexual activity and conspiracy to transport a minor with the intent to engage in criminal sexual activity. She was acquitted of the charge of enticing a minor to engage in criminal sexual activity.
A “Pattern” of Abuse, and Conspiracy to Commit Abuse
The jury heard that the Ghislaine Maxwell child sex abuse accusations were part of a years’ long pattern in which victims described Maxwell introducing them to Epstein and befriending and grooming them. Separated by space and time, the 4 witnesses had to show the jury that their abuse by Epstein and Maxwell was not a series of random events, but part of a deliberate pattern in which Maxwell participated with full knowledge of what she was doing.
The defense claimed that Maxwell was being scapegoated for the crimes of Jeffrey Epstein, who died by suicide in his cell in 2019 after he was indicted on federal sex trafficking charges. The defense also questioned the memories of the victims, many of whom spoke to law enforcement in an earlier case against Epstein for procuring child prostitutes. Maxwell’s murky personal relationship with Jeffrey Epstein as his one-time girlfriend and then friend was important to define in the light of the victims’ testimony. Was it business or was it personal? The prosecution wanted to show that Maxwell played a deliberate role in trafficking young girls for Jeffrey Epstein. The defense wanted to show that Maxwell had an informal relationship with Epstein and was swept along with his crimes.
The abuse that the victims described took place over a period of time between 1994 and 2004. The jury was instructed that some of the events the victims recounted couldn’t be related to the more serious charges. This was either because the victims were over the age of consent, or the events could not be defined as criminal sexual activity. However, the jury was allowed to consider this testimony as part of a pattern related to the conspiracy charges. When conspiracy to commit a crime is charged, the person does not have to execute the crime to be convicted. Because of this, the jury saw a broader sweep of evidence related to these charges and heard from more of the witnesses. Ghislaine Maxwell faced 3 charges of conspiracy, each of which carried a penalty of 5 years. She was convicted on all 3 counts.
The Most Serious Charge: Sex Trafficking a Minor
Key to the prosecution’s case against Ghislaine Maxwell was the testimony of “Carolyn,” who has now come forward as Carolyn Andriano. Andriano testified that Maxwell would leave $300 in cash for her on the bathroom sink after performing massages on Epstein during which sexual abuse took place. Andriano was 14 at the time. The connection between the sexual acts Andriano was asked to perform and the cash gave the jury the green light to convict for the charge of sex trafficking a minor.
Sex trafficking a minor is one of the most serious criminal charges that can be brought. Penalties can stretch from ten years to a maximum life sentence of 40 years. Sex trafficking a minor involves a minor under the age of 18 who is knowingly persuaded, coerced or facilitated to engage in a commercial sex act.
A closer look at the charge of sex trafficking a minor reveals how serious and wide-ranging this charge can be. First of all, “for commercial purposes” can mean exchanging anything of value, whether it be money, goods, personal benefit or in kind favors in return for sexual activity with a minor.
There are a few other reasons why it is easier to convict for a charge of sex trafficking a minor than sex trafficking an adult. Many people associate sex trafficking with transporting someone across state lines or internationally for the purposes of commercial sexual activity. Sex trafficking an adult is a federal crime if it involves interstate commerce and travel. Sex trafficking a minor however does not require proof that the victim or defendant crossed state or international borders. When it involves a minor, sex trafficking is automatically a federal crime.
If the victim is a minor, it doesn’t have to be proved that force, threats of force, fraud or coercion were used to cause the minor to engage in a commercial sex act.
The minor can be an American citizen or resident or an international citizen or resident. The severity of the sentencing depends on the age of the minor and other factors.
What’s Next for Ghislaine Maxwell?
Maxwell faces a perjury charge from 2016, related to a former sentence Epstein served for procuring a child for prostitution. In addition, Maxwell’s attorneys have asked for a retrial, after it emerged that one of the members of the jury experienced sexual abuse as a child and discussed this during jury deliberations. Maxwell’s attorneys say they believe at least 3 of the members of the jury did not disclose their experiences with sexual abuse. If the jury member in question did not disclose his sexual abuse on the form he could face criminal charges. However, it’s possible that the sexual abuse was disclosed on the form and not deemed relevant to the proceedings.
Prosecutors have offered to dismiss Maxwell’s perjury charges in exchange for dissuading Maxwell and her attorneys from pursuing a retrial. The prosecution’s reason for this was to spare the victims the trauma of testifying again.
Maxwell faces up to 65 years in prison. Even if her sentence is less than this, it’s possible she will spend the rest of her life in prison.
The government treated Ghislaine Maxwell’s charges with the utmost seriousness, and the prosecution was careful to directly connect the victims’ testimony with the charges, so the jury would have clear grounds to convict.
It’s a life-changing event to be accused of sex-trafficking a minor, and any crime involving the illegal sexual activity of minors and children. The prosecution will push to convict for all charges and for the most serious punishments. The accused can face significant time or even life in prison, in addition to the lifelong stigma associated with these crimes.
If you are have been charged with sex trafficking of a minor, enticing a minor to travel to engage in criminal sexual activity, transporting a minor with the intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, or any similar charges. The attorneys at Dhar Law LLP can help you with your sex trafficking case. Please contact us today at (617) 880-6155.