Audrey Strauss, acting US attorney for the Southern District of New York, points to a picture of Ghislaine Maxwell and Jeffrey Epstein
New York (AFP) - The first alleged victim to testify in the sex trafficking trial of Ghislaine Maxwell said in court Tuesday she was 14 when the late US financier Jeffrey Epstein started sexually abusing her, and that the British socialite was sometimes present and even participated.
The woman, identified by the pseudonym “Jane,” explained how the 59-year-old heiress on trial in Manhattan worked with Epstein to befriend her before pressuring her into sex acts, which she recounted in grim detail.
Jane is the first of four alleged victims expected to testify in the trial of Maxwell, who is accused of grooming underage girls to be sexually exploited by Epstein, who committed suicide in a New York prison in August 2019 while awaiting trial.
The 59-year-old heiress has pleaded not guilty to six counts of enticing and transporting minors for sex. If convicted, she faces an effective life sentence.
Under questioning by US prosecutors, Jane said she met Epstein and Maxwell at a summer arts camp in Michigan in 1994, when she was 14 years old.
She said Maxwell and a terrier dog approached her while she was eating ice cream with friends.
After a while, her friends left. Epstein joined.
Jane said the pair told her they were camp benefactors.
The then teenager’s father had died of leukemia nine months earlier, she said. The family was bankrupt and had lost their home in Palm Beach, Florida.
A protestor outside the Manhattan court where Ghislaine Maxwell is standing trial on sex trafficking charges
Epstein and Maxwell told her they also lived in Palm Beach and asked for her phone number. She said she gave them her mother’s landline.
Epstein invited her and her mother to his mansion for tea a few days after she started eighth grade, telling her he likes to mentor young students, she testified.
Jane said she started visiting Epstein’s home alone. Maxwell was often present.
She said her mother was not invited on these visits that featured shopping – including for “basic” underwear at the lingerie chain Victoria’s Secret – movies and poolside hangouts.
She said Maxwell would frequently bring up boyfriends and sex.
“She seemed a little bit odd,” Jane said. “But she was nice.”
Epstein started giving Jane money to give to her mother, and paying for voice lessons.
“From the very beginning, there was a lot of bragging about how they were friends with everyone,” Jane said, which included “name-dropping” to suggest their wealth and connections.
- ‘Felt ashamed’ -
At first, Jane said “I felt special.”
But the visits soon turned abusive, she told jurors.
Her voice cracking at times, Jane said she was 14 when Epstein first initiated sexual contact.
The money manager took her to his pool house and “proceeded to masturbate on me,” she said.
“I was frozen in fear. I’d never seen a penis before,” she said. “I was terrified and felt gross.”
Speaking through tears, Jane said she didn’t tell anyone because she “felt ashamed.”
She said sexual encounters became routine after that.
A combination of pictures shows Ghislaine Maxwell and Jeffrey Epstein
Maxwell was sometimes present, instructing Jane on “how Jeffrey likes to be massaged,” she said.
Other times, Maxwell physically participated, on her own with Epstein or during “orgies” with other women, Jane said.
Maxwell acted “very casual, like it was very normal,” she said.
“It made me feel confused,” Jane said. “It was very embarrassing. You have all these mixed emotions when you’re 14, you don’t know what’s going on.”
Jane said her mother urged her to “be grateful for the attention that I received,” and “seemed very impressed and enamored with the wealth.”
The abuse continued for years, Jane told the jury, and included travel to Epstein’s luxury homes in New York and Santa Fe, New Mexico.
She cut off contact with Epstein in 2002, despite “agitated” voicemails she said he’d leave her.
- ‘Victim shaming’ -
Factfile on Ghislaine Maxwell who was arrested in July 2020 and charged in the United States with sex trafficking minors for late financier Jeffrey Epstein
Maxwell appeared in court Tuesday wearing a beige turtleneck with black slacks, occasionally fidgeting with her hair during the testimony.
As expected, the defense sought to cast Jane’s memory as clouded, questioning why it took her some two decades to speak to law enforcement, and accusing her of monetary interests.
Jane earlier had told prosecutors she feared the truth would damage her career as an actor, “if somebody looks at me and that’s all they see.”
“Victim shaming is still very present.”
The government’s first witness was Epstein’s longtime pilot Lawrence Visoski, who recalled flying Prince Andrew, Bill Clinton, Donald Trump and Kevin Spacey on Epstein’s private planes.
Visoski said he never saw any sexual activity on the planes, though the cockpit door was always closed in flight.
The defense’s questioning of Jane will continue Wednesday.
The trial is expected to last six weeks.