Ghislaine Maxwell
Photo: Getty

When sex trafficking charges against Jeffrey Epstein started making headlines in July, Ghislaine Maxwell frequently appeared in the press as a “friend,” “girlfriend,” “longtime associate,” and “socialite.” Soon, though, Maxwell was cast more darkly as an enabler, someone standing on the sidelines of abuse. The gradual trickle of information—including unsealed court documents released earlier this month—painted an increasingly grim picture: one of an alleged co-abuser, an active participant. Today, the New York Times has an in-depth report that should should finally and thoroughly undo not only that initial one-dimensional vision of Maxwell as a “girlfriend” and “socialite,” but also as a mere enabler. The allegations portray Maxwell as an active participant and abuser, a woman who allegedly massaged the chest of a topless 16-year-old and sought out underage girls for Epstein whom she referred to as “nubiles.”

The Times’ story details the allegations of sisters Maria and Annie Farmer against both Epstein and Maxwell. The claims against Epstein—including inappropriate touching and requests for massages—are now sadly familiar, as are the sisters’ recruitment allegations against Maxwell. But the Farmers also accuses Maxwell of “violent” groping and making a seeming death threat after they shared their story with a national magazine. The Times report comes as another stark reminder that women are capable of perpetrating abuse.

Maria Farmer says that 24 years ago, at the age of 25, Epstein “offered to help her painting career,” reports the Times. She “was introduced to Mr. Epstein’s odd life, with girls and young women coming through [his house] for what she recalled Ms. Maxwell describing as modeling auditions for the lingerie retailer Victoria’s Secret.” Maxwell, she says, played a crucial role in finding those girls and young women:

Ms. Maxwell was charming and friendly, Ms. Farmer said, and as Mr. Epstein’s companion, she offered young women a level of assurance that they were safe in his presence. But she also seemed to play an important role in bringing young women in, Ms. Farmer said, recalling that Ms. Maxwell would leave the house saying, “I’ve got to go get girls for Jeffrey.”

Ms. Maxwell would refer to the girls she was looking for as “nubiles,” Ms. Farmer said. “They had a driver, and he would be driving along, and Ghislaine would say, ‘Get that girl,’” she said. “And they’d stop, and she’d run out and get the girl and talk to her.”

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Soon, Epstein turned his attention to Maria’s sister, Annie, who was then 16 years old. Annie tells the Times that she went to see a movie with Epstein during which he “began rubbing Annie’s hand, and then her lower leg.” She says she was later flown to Epstein’s New Mexico ranch for a weekend, under the impression that other students would be there, and that Maxwell would play chaperone, but it ended up being just her, Epstein, and Maxwell, she says.

Annie alleges that Maxwell encouraged her to “give Mr. Epstein a foot massage” and gave “pointers as she performed it.” She recalls watching “another movie, where Mr. Epstein continued another round of his petting touches,” and details Epstein crawling into bed with her one morning to “cuddle.” Here is where the allegations against Maxwell take another disturbing turn:

Ms. Farmer also recalled Ms. Maxwell repeatedly asking whether she wanted a massage. Eventually relenting, Ms. Farmer followed directions by taking off her clothes and bra and getting under a sheet on a massage table. Ms. Maxwell performed the massage, at one point having Ms. Farmer lie on her back as Ms. Maxwell pulled down the sheet to massage her chest.

“I don’t think there was any reason for her to be touching me that way,” Ms. Farmer said.

Mr. Epstein didn’t participate, but Ms. Farmer said she could sense that he was in the area and possibly watching.

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Similarly, Maria went to Epstein’s house in Ohio to work on her paintings, alone, but says she was visited by Epstein and Maxwell. Maria alleges she was asked to give Epstein a foot massage, during which he allegedly “groaned with what seemed like exaggerated pleasure, followed by a yelp of pain.” She was then invited to join him and Maxwell on a bed, she says, where both “began groping Ms. Farmer over her clothes, rubbing her body, commenting on her features, and twisting her nipples to the point of bruising.” Previously, Maria reportedly described this as sexual assault. The Times continues:

She said they did so in unison, mirroring each other’s movements. Fearing that she was about to be raped, Ms. Farmer eventually fled the room and barricaded herself in another part of the house.

She soon discovered that three nude photographs she had kept in a storage box were missing. The photos were of Annie and a third Farmer sister, who was 12, modeling for Maria’s figurative paintings.

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She then phoned her dad in such a panic, she says, that he drove to Ohio from Kentucky to pick her up. Soon, Maria says, Maxwell called and threatened to burn her art and ruin her career. After learning of her sister’s experience, she reported her own experience to the New York Police Department, as well as to the F.B.I., she says, but as the Times notes, nothing came of the reports. After the sisters shared their story with Vanity Fair, which declined to publish their story, “word got out,” reports the Times. That’s when Maxwell allegedly called to say, as Maria put it, “‘Better be careful and watch your back,’” she told the Times. “She said, ‘I know you go to the West Side Highway all the time. While you’re out there, just be really careful because there are a lot of ways to die there.’”

Women are capable of perpetrating abuse. Women are capable of perpetrating abuse. What an insanely obvious statement, and yet it is apparently necessary to keep saying, even amid the evidence of it. Previously, Maxwell was accused by Virginia Roberts Giuffre of recruiting her at the age of 16, helping Epstein to force her into sexual activity, providing instructions on “how to give Jeffrey what he wants,” and taking sexually explicit photos of her. The reality is that even as these details have emerged alleging that Maxwell had not only facilitated but also perpetrated abuse herself, she was still frequently referred to lightly as a “procuress,” “madam,” and “the socialite on Epstein’s arm.” The allegations in the Times report call much different words to mind.