Ghislaine Maxwell’s twisted sex trap
British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell was "always the most interesting, the most vivacious, the most unusual person in any room".
But she's also been labelled a "vile, evil, sadistic creature" who was "integral" in maintaining the sex trafficking ring of her former boyfriend, the late disgraced financier and paedophile Jeffrey Epstein.
The role the 58-year-old played in helping him "identify, befriend and groom minor victims for abuse" was critical, acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Audrey Strauss, told reporters on Thursday following Maxwell's arrest.
"Starting in 1994 until at least 1997, Maxwell had a personal and professional relationship with Jeffrey Epstein. Maxwell was among Epstein's closest associates and helped him exploit girls who were as young as 14 years old," Ms Strauss said.
Maxwell, who was arrested "without incident" in Bradford, New Hampshire, in the New England region in the US, on Thursday morning, would befriend the young women, encouraging them to accept Epstein's offers of travel.
Then she'd bring them into her twisted world.
According to an indictment filed in a New York court, one victim first met the socialite in 1994 when she was just 14 years old.
Using her and Epstein's "method", Maxwell allegedly groomed the teenager by taking her shopping and to the cinema.
"She also asked her about school, her classes, her family and other aspects of her life," the indictment reads.
After "developing a rapport with the victims", Epstein's "lady of the house" would then try to "normalise sexual abuse with a minor victim through a process known as grooming", Ms Strauss said.
"Ghislaine was key in making me feel safe," Maria Farmer, who was allegedly sexually assaulted by Maxwell and Epstein, told The Guardian last year.
"I trusted her because she is a woman. She would make us trust her, she would make us really care about her. My sister even said that she would feel so special if Ghislaine paid attention to her because she had that way about her, you know, the popular girl in school, she was one of those. She knew everybody."
But, "she was so dangerous and all of it for her is about power and money".
Ms Strauss alleged Ms Maxwell would discuss sexual topics with the women and undress in front of them, helping to put them at ease and leaving them "susceptible to sexual abuse".
This abuse included sexualised messages and sexual encounters which she "sometimes participated in".
"Ghislaine controlled the girls," another of Epstein's alleged victims, Sarah Ransome, told BBC Panorama.
"She would be the one getting the girls in check. She knew what Jeffrey liked … this was very much a joint effort."
Ms Farmer alleges that Maxwell would bring in a steady stream of young girls to the mansion, under the guise of casting for Victoria's Secret, the lingerie company owned by another close friend of Epstein's, Leslie Wexner.
"It was really weird to me. I'm like (the) 'models are so young', and she said: 'Yeah, but they need these models for Victoria's Secret. They go as young as 13 now in modelling.'"
"Every single interesting, pretty, new girl to arrive in New York would end up going for tea with Ghislaine," one of Maxwell's friends, Euan Rellie, told Tatler.
"She was the acceptable face of a rather mysterious billionaire."
Epstein and Maxwell "worked together" to entice victims to travel to Epstein's homes in New York City, Santa Fe, New Mexico and Palm Beach, Florida, Ms Strauss said.
Some of the abuse is also alleged to have taken place at Maxwell's home in London.
When Ms Maxwell found that Ms Farmer had spoken out, she allegedly repeatedly threatened Ms Farmer's life, sending her into hiding "for many years".
"She found out where I was living, and she would send messages to me or I would get a call and I would have to move again. Most of her threats were veiled, like: 'You better look over your shoulder because there's someone coming for you.'"
Virginia Giuffre, nee Roberts, who alleges she was abused by Epstein, Ms Maxwell and Britain's Prince Andrew, condemned Ms Maxwell in March for being "a vile, evil sadistic creature not even worthy of calling a human being" who "victimised me and countless others".
"Maxwell enticed minor girls, got them to trust her and then delivered them into the trap that she and Epstein had set for them," Ms Strauss said.
"She pretended to be a woman they could trust. All the while she was setting them up to be sexually abused by Epstein and in some cases by Maxwell herself."
"From what we know, Ghislaine Maxwell was a principal enabler to Jeffrey Epstein when he was alive," lawyer Dan Kaiser, who represents one of Epstein's victims, told The Guardian.
"Jeffrey Epstein couldn't have done what he did for as long as he did it without the services of somebody like Ghislaine Maxwell. She is as culpable, in my judgment, as Jeffrey Epstein himself."
Originally published as Ghislaine Maxwell's twisted sex trap