Maxwell's victims head to NYC for sentencing

The decision of whether to appear in person or submit written statements is complicated for victims, said attorney Sigrid McCawley.

Ghislaine Maxwell sits at the defense table during a hearing to discuss which expert witnesses will be able to testify at Maxwell's upcoming sex crimes trial in New York, US, in this courtroom sketch on November 10, 2021. (photo credit: REUTERS/JANE ROSENBERG/FILE PHOTO)
Ghislaine Maxwell sits at the defense table during a hearing to discuss which expert witnesses will be able to testify at Maxwell's upcoming sex crimes trial in New York, US, in this courtroom sketch on November 10, 2021.
(photo credit: REUTERS/JANE ROSENBERG/FILE PHOTO)

Some have come from overseas, some from only a couple of hours away. But their journey can’t be measured in the miles they have traveled. It can be measured in the mental hurdles they have overcome. The suicide attempts they have survived. The nightmares that still awaken them. The relationships that collapsed under the weight of their struggles. The anger and the feelings of hopelessness that have now been joined by some measure of relief and renewal.

They are the victims and survivors of Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell who have come to New York to see Maxwell, 60, be sentenced Tuesday in a federal courthouse for crimes for which many of these women believed she would never be punished.

“We are all in this sorority that none of us asked to join,” said Elizabeth Stein, who said she first met Maxwell in 1994 when Stein was working as a stylist at the high-end retailer Henri Bendel while a student at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology. Stein said she was sexually abused by Maxwell, Epstein and their friends over the next several years.

“There were a lot of times I never thought we would get to this point,” said Annie Farmer, one of four women who testified during Maxwell’s trial late last year. In her testimony, she described how Maxwell’s presence had initially made her more comfortable when she had visited Maxwell and Epstein in 1996 on Epstein’s ranch in New Mexico. But that soon gave way to growing discomfort as Farmer, who was 16 at the time, described how Maxwell touched Farmer’s bare breast during a massage she gave the teenage girl. Epstein later molested Farmer in her bed, which she only escaped by hiding in the bathroom.

They are among the handful who are able to make the trip, standing in for the many victims who cannot.

 Defense lawyer Bobbi Sternheim points toward Ghislaine Maxwell during a pre-trial hearing on charges of sex trafficking, in a courtroom sketch in New York City, U.S., November 23, 2021 (credit: REUTERS/JANE ROSENBERG) Defense lawyer Bobbi Sternheim points toward Ghislaine Maxwell during a pre-trial hearing on charges of sex trafficking, in a courtroom sketch in New York City, U.S., November 23, 2021 (credit: REUTERS/JANE ROSENBERG)

They have spent years trapped in “prison bars in their own mind,” in the words of ‘Kate,’ a woman who testified under a pseudonym about the abuse she suffered at Maxwell and Epstein’s hands starting when she was 17 after Maxwell invited her over for tea in Maxwell’s London home. Kate has requested to speak at Maxwell’s sentencing.

The decision of whether to appear in person or submit written statements is complicated for victims, said Sigrid McCawley, an attorney who represents Farmer and several other women who have accused Epstein and Maxwell of abuse.

“Not only do they have to face their abuser, but they have to face the very public unraveling of their world,” McCawley said. 

“For some of the women that I represented, they have never gone public, they have never wanted everyone to know.”

Attorney Sigrid McCawley

Maxwell's conviction

Maxwell was ultimately convicted last December on five of the six counts she faced, including sex trafficking of a minor. Two of the counts were later dropped for being redundant. The US Probation Office has recommended that Maxwell be sentenced to 20 years in prison, while federal prosecutors have asked for her to be sentenced to between 30 and 55 years in prison. Maxwell’s lawyers have argued she should receive no more than five years and three months.

Maxwell’s lawyers wrote Saturday that she was placed on suicide watch last week despite not being suicidal and said that she had been denied access to her legal materials while on suicide watch, which could necessitate them asking for the sentencing to be delayed.

Prison officials countered that Maxwell was placed on suicide watch after writing an e-mail to the inspector general’s office of the US Bureau of Prisons saying she feared for her safety and had been threatened by staff at the federal prison where she is being kept in custody. Maxwell refused to give more detail about the threat to the psychology staff at the prison, which led the prison’s chief psychologist to conclude that Maxwell, “may be attempting to be transferred to a single cell where she can engage in self-harm.”

Prison staff also indicated that they had given Maxwell access to her legal materials.

Jill Steinberg, a former federal prosecutor and official at the Department of Justice with experience in child exploitation cases, said she believes that statements of victims can affect sentencing in these kinds of cases.

“In this case, because they testified and talked about not just what happened but the impact it had on their lives, it will have an impact,” she said.

Stein journeyed daily from Philadelphia to attend Maxwell’s trial, though she was not one of the four women who testified.

“I went at a great financial cost and physical cost to myself,” she said. “But I had to go through it.”

She was denied access to the courtroom the day the jury returned its verdict, after being told she was not a victim of the charges being adjudicated, which still upsets her.

She has requested to speak at Maxwell’s sentencing — her request is still pending as the court determines whether to allow victims to speak at Tuesday’s sentencing — but she is adamant that she will be in the courtroom regardless of whether she is granted that opportunity.

“I’m not going to not be there,” she said.

Farmer has faced both Epstein and Maxwell in New York courtrooms. She is one of two victims who spoke at a bail hearing for Epstein in 2019, weeks before he was found hanged in his cell while in federal custody.

“There is something about seeing this person in the courtroom that is hard to put into words,” she said. “After leaving the courtroom I was incredibly shaky that day.”

Epstein had been arrested in July 2019 more than a decade after striking a remarkably lenient plea deal with federal prosecutors in the Southern District of Florida that had allowed him to plead guilty to two state solicitation charges, one involving a minor, after the Palm Beach Police Department investigated dozens of cases of Epstein’s alleged sexual abuse involving minors. Epstein would ultimately serve 13 months in a Palm Beach county jail, although he was allowed during the day to work from a nearby office. The Miami Herald investigated the circumstances of Epstein’s deal in the 2018 “Perversion of Justice” series, which led federal prosecutors to reexamine Epstein’s case and bring fresh charges against the financier in 2019. He died in federal custody a month later in what has been ruled a suicide.

Maxwell was arrested in July 2020 on a 58-acre estate in New Hampshire that had been purchased months earlier through a shell company. Maxwell had toured the property using a pseudonym.

When Farmer testified against Maxwell last December, she recalled that she looked directly at Maxwell when she entered the courtroom.

“I had been advised by a friend to try to look at her as soon as I walked in, not to avoid her,” she said. “As a way to remind myself that I had agency, I was choosing to participate.”

Still, the experience of testifying left her emotionally drained.

“I really understand that some people might choose at moments like this not to testify,” she said. “I had a lot of support.”

She will be in New York with her husband ahead of the sentencing. Stein said she is coming to New York with her three best friends and her boyfriend for support.

Farmer plans to speak at Maxwell’s sentencing if the court allows her to do so.

“Because so few of us have that opportunity, it is an opportunity to speak, because she harmed so many,” she said.

For years, Farmer said the only other victim of Epstein and Maxwell she knew was her older sister Maria, who worked for Epstein and was the first victim to report Epstein to law enforcement in 1996. But she has come to know other victims in recent years, and appreciates the community they have formed.

“I feel like I’ve met some of the kindest, most warm people through this,” she said.

Several other victims who can’t make the sentencing submitted impact statements to be part of the court record.

Virginia Roberts Giuffre, who has said that she was recruited by Maxwell when she was a teenage spa attendant at Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club, lives in Australia and isn’t expected to attend. But she addressed Maxwell directly in her submission.

“You joked that you were like a new mother to us,” she wrote. “As a woman, I think you understood the damage you were causing — the price you were making us victims pay. You could have put an end to the rapes, the molestations, the sickening manipulations that you arranged, witnessed and even took part in.”

Giuffre appeared in a notorious photograph with Maxwell and Britain’s Prince Andrew at Maxwell’s London home, where Giuffre said Andrew sexually assaulted her. Giuffre has accused Maxwell and Epstein of abusing her and of directing her to have sex with their high-powered friends, including Andrew. Earlier this year, the prince settled the sex assault suit Giuffre brought against him for a reported 12 million pounds, or roughly $14 million. Giuffre had earlier settled a lawsuit with Maxwell in 2017 and with Epstein eight years earlier.

Michelle Licata, the first woman who discussed her abuse at the hands of Epstein with the Herald, said that she hopes that Maxwell’s prison sentence will give Maxwell time to reflect on the harm she inflicted on all of the victims.

“She was setting the example as a mother figure in the eyes of all the girls she brought to Jeffrey Epstein and played a role in their life, whether she wants to believe that or not,” Licata told the Herald. “I hope she will realize that she hurt and affected the lives of so many little girls that didn’t get to be little girls. These same girls that are now young women have had their past, current and possibly their future relationships hindered because of something that happened to them 18 years ago.”

While Licata is gratified to see Maxwell sentenced, she said she also believes that the federal government owes her and other victims a “real apology” for the initial Epstein deal and for not taking renewed action against Epstein and Maxwell earlier.

For Stein, she sees the potential opportunity to speak Tuesday as both an opportunity to confront her one-time abuser and to encourage other victims of assault to have the strength to speak up and see that there is a path forward.

“I see this for myself as an ending and a beginning,” she said. “I’ve worked really hard to rebuild my life.”