Header image retrieved from NBCNews.com. Portions of this post were originally reported by The Associated Press and NBC News.
On December 29th, the British former “socialite” Ghislaine Maxwell was convicted of sex trafficking by way of luring teenage girls to be sexually abused by millionaire financier Jeffrey Epstein, AP News reports.
The verdict capped a monthlong trial featuring shocking accounts of the sexual exploitation of girls as young as 14, told by four women who described being abused as teens in the 1990s and early 2000s at Epstein’s mansions in Florida, New York, and New Mexico.
Maxwell was found guilty of five of the six federal counts she was charged with and faces up to 65 years in prison, NBC News reports. The judge has not set a sentencing date.
- Conspiracy to entice a minor to travel to engage in illegal sex acts
- Conspiracy to transport a minor with the intent to engage in criminal sexual activity
- Transporting a minor with the intent to engage in criminal sexual activity
- Conspiracy to commit sex trafficking of minors
- Sex trafficking of minors
She was not found guilty of enticing a minor to travel to engage in illegal sex acts, which carried a five-year sentence.
With the maximum prison terms for each charge ranging from five to 40 years in prison, reports say Maxwell faces the likelihood of years behind bars—an outcome long sought by survivors and advocates who spent years fighting in civil courts to hold her accountable for her role in recruiting and grooming Epstein’s teenage victims and sometimes joining in the sexual abuse.
One of the trafficking survivors, Annie Farmer, said she was grateful the jury recognized Maxwell’s “pattern of predatory behavior.”
“She has caused hurt to many more women than the few of us who had the chance to testify in the courtroom,” she said in a prepared statement. “I hope that this verdict brings solace to all who need it and demonstrates that no one is above the law. Even those with great power and privilege will be held accountable when they sexually abuse and exploit the young.”
U.S. Attorney Damian Williams praised the survivors who testified against Maxwell after experiencing what he called “one of the worst crimes imaginable.”
“I want to commend the bravery of the girls—now grown women—who stepped out of the shadows and into the courtroom. Their courage and willingness to face their abuser made this case, and today’s result, possible,” he said in a statement.
Maxwell’s case shines light on the often-overlooked fact that traffickers can come from a variety of backgrounds and don’t fit any one profile.
A bit of review: who was Epstein, and how is he relevant to this case?
This case has been building against Maxwell for years, with dozens of trafficking and sexual abuse survivors speaking out about her participation in Epstein’s reported child sex trafficking network.
Epstein, a convicted sex offender, was found dead by apparent suicide in his cell in federal custody in New York in August 2019, where he was awaiting trial just over a month after his arrest on multiple charges of sex trafficking girls as young as 14.
Federal prosecutors in New York unsealed a criminal indictment in July of 2019 charging billionaire Jeffrey Epstein with having operated a sex trafficking ring in which he sexually abused dozens of underage girls, allegations that have circulated around the businessman for years, reports CNN.
According to that indictment, between 2002 and 2005, 66-year-old Epstein ran a trafficking enterprise alongside Maxwell in which he paid hundreds of dollars in cash to rape girls as young as 14 at his Upper East Side home and his estate in Palm Beach, worked with employees and associates to lure the girls to his residences, and paid some of his victims to recruit other girls for him to abuse.
“In this way, Epstein created a vast network of underage victims for him to sexually exploit, often on a daily basis,” Manhattan US Attorney Geoffrey Berman said in a statement at the time of his arrest in July 2019.
Epstein had been jailed since early July, when he pleaded not guilty to charges by New York federal prosecutors after an indictment accused him of sex trafficking dozens of underage girls, some as young as 14 years old.
News of Epstein’s death came a day after hundreds of pages of court documents were unsealed in New York federal court, alleging new details of sexual abuse claims against Epstein and several associates.
Debunking child sex trafficking myths to fight this global issue
In fact, during the fiscal year 2020 alone, the FBI opened 664 human trafficking investigations across the U.S. and arrest 473 human traffickers. As of November 2020, the agency still had 1,800 open trafficking investigations—including child sex trafficking cases.
So how can we help make a dent on such a complex, devastating, and growing global issue?
Learning about how trafficking really happens can help put conspiracies and myths to rest and help society see how child trafficking usually happens.
For example, one common misconception is that children are kidnapped by strangers. However, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children—a global organization that’s aided the investigation and recovery of thousands of missing kids—reports just the opposite.
According to NCMEC, less than 1% of missing children cases reported in the US in 2020 were non-family abductions. In fact, in a recent Virginia operation where NCMEC helped recover 27 missing children, none of the cases involved a child getting abducted by someone they didn’t know.
The Polaris Project is another excellent resource for learning about other common child sex trafficking myths.
Understanding the realities of what child trafficking is, how it happens, and who is involved is vital when it comes to recovering victims, preventing these crimes, and reporting suspicious behavior when you notice it.
Porn’s role in child sex trafficking
Truly seeing the issue of child sex trafficking includes not turning a blind eye to the role pornography plays in sex trafficking and exploitation.
From normalizing abuse and sexualizing children to being used as a tool to groom victims, research and survivor accounts show that porn is interwoven in virtually every facet of sex trafficking, and vice versa.
Often what consumers believe to be a harmless fantasy on a screen is actually the documented abuse of a real sex trafficking victim—a dark secret the porn industry doesn’t want consumers to know about. And the more consumers click, stream, and download porn, the more the demand for sex trafficking—including the exploitation of children—is fueled.
Sure, not all porn is nonconsensual, but some is. And there’s no way for someone browsing on a mainstream porn site to tell the difference. The fight against sex trafficking and the fight against porn are truly one and the same.
While child sex trafficking is a complex issue, the role porn plays in it is undeniable. What many consumers view as a passive, private act can actually contribute to the exploitation of real people—even real kids.
It’s a harsh reality, but a reality still the same. And when you refuse to click, you can help stop the demand for sexual exploitation.