For a woman known around the world, who has been the focus of documentaries, podcasts and endless news coverage, Ghislaine Maxwell still remains an enigma. 

She has said very little publicly in the two decades since sexual abuse allegations about her friend Jeffrey Epstein began to surface.

We do not know how Maxwell met the late financier and paedophile, what the true nature of their relationship was, or how she funded her extravagant lifestyle.

Today, Maxwell will go on trial in New York accused of sexual offences, including that she conspired to entice girls as young as 14 to engage in illegal sex acts with Epstein from 1994 to 1997 at his homes in New York City, Florida, and New Mexico – and at her residence in London.

She denies the charges and has pleaded not guilty, but if convicted on all counts she will likely spend the rest of her life in jail.

It is finally time for Maxwell to tell her side of the story.

The defence

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Maxwell’s lawyers may argue that she too was a victim of Epstein. Others employed by the financier and convicted sex offender have used the same defence.

It is highly likely Maxwell’s lawyers will claim she is being punished for Epstein’s crimes. They may say that prosecutors failed to convict him, failed to keep him alive, and now need someone else to blame for their own shortcomings.

Maxwell’s brother Ian has voiced another likely defence argument: that the “tremendous weight of negative publicity” means he is “fearful” a fair trial is not possible.

The defence team are expected to try to undermine the credibility of the four alleged victims by claiming some are motivated by money.

Over $125m (£94m) from Epstein’s estate has been distributed to around 150 victims.

As the alleged offences were committed between 17 and 27 years ago, an expert witness on “false memories” will be called to give evidence.

Professor Elizabeth Loftus will likely argue that media coverage and contact with other victims can lead to them forming incorrect memories of abuse.

Maxwell’s lawyers will also return to arguments around consent that were a feature of pre-trial hearings.

The third alleged victim in this trial was 17 years old when prosecutors say she was abused in London. However, the age of consent in the UK is 18.

The decision over whether Maxwell takes the stand and testifies is likely to be made late on in the trial, once the prosecution has rested its case. But it has its dangers.

“A defendant testifying is always risky,” said defence attorney Dmitriy Shakhnevich.

“Because the defendant will open him or herself up to cross-examination, to examination as to prior bad acts to prior criminal conduct to prior, possibly even immoral conduct.”

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Who is Ghislaine Maxwell?

The prosecution

The testimonies of the four alleged victims will be at the heart of the prosecution case, with only one, Annie Farmer, waiving her anonymity.

Ms Farmer claims she was abused by Epstein at his New Mexico ranch in 1996.

In an interview with CBS in 2019 she said: “Maxwell was a really important part of the grooming process… They worked together as a team.”

Virginia Roberts Giuffre, the most prominent of Epstein’s accusers, is not expected to be part of the trial.

Supporting witnesses will be called. There may be significant but yet-to-be-revealed people who have agreed to co-operate with the government and provide testimony.

An expert witness on grooming, Dr Lisa Rocchio, will give evidence.

In a pre-trial hearing, she told the court that academic studies have concluded there are common strategies in grooming of children: starting with gaining access and isolating a victim, then developing trust, and later desensitising them to physical and sexual contact.

Prosecutors intend to use a “little black book” of contacts, including names and phone numbers of alleged victims, as further evidence.

It is also possible the government will present video footage from the extensive CCTV systems Epstein installed in his homes.

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‘I don’t see her administering black eye to herself’

Epstein’s web

Maxwell’s trial is keenly awaited, not just because the alleged victims have been waiting decades for justice, but because of the web of high society contacts she and Epstein boasted in the worlds of fashion, politics, business and royalty.

The pair were close to Prince Andrew and Donald Trump. In a 2003 magazine profile, Mr Trump infamously said of Epstein: “He likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side.”

Epstein had links to Bill Clinton, Bill Gates and Lex Wexner, the owner of fashion chain Victoria’s Secret.

The chief executive of Barclays, Jes Staley, resigned from the company earlier this month over his contacts with the financier.

Some argue the fact the defendant is female is also significant.

“Given where we are in this moment in time with the #MeToo movement, this is the first time you’ve got a woman so publicly on trial for these kind of crimes,” said Vicky Ward, the investigative journalist who first met Maxwell in the 1990s.

Whatever the verdict in this trial, it may not be the last to involve Epstein’s associates. Many civil cases are also under way between various parties linked to the saga.

Ghislaine Maxwell’s trial will certainly provide answers, but it is unlikely to solve all the mysteries surrounding the case. The Epstein/Maxwell jigsaw puzzle is far from complete.