What the case revealed about female sex offenders


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Poco Kernsmith, Wayne State University; Erin B. Comartin, Wayne State University, and Sheryl Kubiak, Wayne State University

(THE CONVERSATION) British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell has been convicted of her role in luring and preparing girls sexually assaulted by American financier Jeffrey Epstein.

In a Lower Manhattan court, Maxwell – a close friend of Epstein’s – was convicted of five counts, including sex trafficking of a minor. She now faces a maximum sentence of 65 years behind bars.


The verdict comes more than two years after Epstein committed suicide while in prison awaiting trial on charges including conspiracy to traffic underage girls for sexual purposes.

Maxwell’s trial allowed victims of Epstein and Maxwell to testify in court about the abuse they suffered. The case also highlights the importance of understanding sexual offenses perpetrated by women.

Maxwell was convicted of trafficking a minor for sexual purposes and conspiring to transport a person under the age of 17 across state lines for the purpose of engaging in unlawful sexual activity. To date, Maxwell is the only person to stand trial for the mistreatment of these girls.

We have studied women who have been convicted of sexual assault, abuse and human trafficking, as well as public attitudes towards sex offenders. Our research, and that of others, shows the similarities and differences between male and female sex offenders.

How common are sexual offense charges against women?

The majority of sex offenders are believed to be men. Charges against women can include child sexual abuse, but often involve grooming or trafficking girls without engaging in the act of sexually abusing the child.

Estimates of the proportion of sexual abuse committed by women range from 1% based on conviction rates to 40%, according to some surveys of survivors of sexual abuse.

But arrest and conviction rates may under-represent the actual number of female sex offenders, because those who have been assaulted by a woman are less likely to report the abuse. This is believed to result from social norms that define sexual assault as perpetrated by men and rape myths that say boys should always have sex or could not be overpowered by a woman.

Women offenders are also less likely than men to be arrested and convicted. And, if found guilty, they typically receive shorter sentences than male offenders.

Women as co-offenders

Women who commit sexual offenses differ from offenders in several ways. Women offenders are more likely to commit offenses in a caregiving role, such as babysitter, teacher, parent or guardian of the victim.

Victims of female offenders are often younger than those of male offenders, and female offenders are also likely to commit offenses against female and male victims.

However, the most striking difference is that female offenders are six times more likely than male offenders to have a co-offender, meaning that two or more people are involved in the abuse of the same victim.

The elements of this profile of a female offender correspond to what we now know about Maxwell. She participated with Epstein, a male co-offender several years her senior. In court, victims described Maxwell as someone they initially thought they could trust, seeing her as a friend or older sister.

In testimonies and interviews, Epstein’s victims report that Maxwell’s presence before and during the assaults made them feel safe. Victims questioned their feeling that what was happening was in fact rape or sexual assault. They report ignoring the red flags because they believed that if Maxwell was acting like the situation was normal, they must be wrong for feeling violated.

Maxwell, a “sophisticated predator”

Research shows that women can be involved in recruiting and manipulating victims in dangerous situations and helping to provide victims with a sense of security. They may coerce or manipulate the victim, or behave in a sexually abusive manner in front of or at the same time as the male abuser.

Epstein’s victims said the financier’s co-offenders – including Maxwell – engaged in all of these forms of abuse.

In the Maxwell trial, the court heard how she coaxed victims into sex acts with Epstein, talked to girls about sex, and sexually touched victims.

Women co-offend for many reasons. Some may abuse victims for reasons similar to male offenders – for example, to gain power, to retaliate against someone, or because of sexual deviance.

However, many are coerced or coerced by the male co-offender.

During final argument in Maxwell’s trial, these two photos of the sex offender were presented. Assistant U.S. Attorney Alison Moe called Maxwell a “sophisticated predator who knew exactly what she was doing.” “She ran the same playbook over and over again,” Moe said.

Defense lawyer Laura Menninger called Maxwell a victim of Epstein’s manipulation, saying: “It was clear that Epstein was a manipulator of everyone around him. Someone like Jeffrey Epstein always tries to control the people around him – uses his position to manipulate people and pit them against each other.

What should be done?

If there is one positive result of Maxwell’s high-profile trial, it’s that it showed that perpetrators of sexual abuse can be women.

In our experience, many sexual violence prevention programs, public service material and announcements universally describe abusers as men only. This not only teaches children to fear men, but can also make potential victims more likely to trust a woman, even when her behavior is coercive, manipulative, or abusive.

Prevention programs can be designed to specifically treat women as potential abusers in order to prevent abuse, such as that alleged in the Maxwell case.

This is an updated version of an article originally published on September 24, 2019.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article here: https://theconversation.com/ghislaine-maxwell-guilty-in-epstein-sex-trafficking-trial-what-the-case-revealed-about-female-sex-offenders-174150.


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