Jeffrey Epstein papers give voice to the women in his sordid world

Depositions that produced no smoking gun shine overdue spotlight on female victims and villains

Thousands of pages of Jeffrey Epstein-related legal documents landed with a disappointing thud when they were at last unsealed over several days this month. The late sex offender’s dealings with some of the planet’s most powerful men, including Bill Gates, Jes Staley and Bill Clinton, had raised hopes of some sort of “smoking gun”. That failed to materialise.

Still, the papers are illuminating for those who have strained for years to grasp the inner workings of the dark world Epstein created and the broken characters who inhabited it. After so many pages of witness depositions, the glamour of private jets and Palm Beach falls away to reveal a fundamental seediness.

The voluminous testimony also shines an overdue spotlight on Epstein’s women. In a saga where powerful men rule, the women finally claim the starring roles – as witnesses, inquisitors, victims and even villains.

Chief among them is Ghislaine Maxwell, Epstein’s long-time companion and accomplice. She was nearly silent at her 2021 criminal trial, where she was convicted of sex trafficking and later sentenced to 20 years in prison. Yet Maxwell’s voice comes through the transcript of her 9½-hour 2016 deposition.


One can hear the grandiosity when she describes her job as Epstein’s house manager as if she were trying to impress attendees at a networking event: it involved hiring architects, co-ordinating construction plans, designers, layouts, materials and so much more, she explains. Finding people to massage Epstein was a very small part of it, she claims.

To this, Sigrid McCawley, the formidable lawyer for one Epstein victim, retorts: “How old was the youngest female you ever hired to work for Jeffrey Epstein?”

Maxwell is haughty. “First of all, I don’t hire girls like that. So let’s be clear,” she snaps at one point.

She can also be droll.

McCawley: “How would you describe sex toys?”

Maxwell: “I wouldn’t describe sex toys.”

At some point, as the examination drags on and the facts accumulate, she appears to realise that her social pedigree and private school confidence will not carry her through. “You don’t ask me questions like that. First of all, you are trying to trap me. I will not be trapped,” she lashes out.

A deliberate obtuseness is a last line of defence: “I don’t understand what you mean by ‘female’.”

Eventually, she buckles. A woman on first-name terms with several world leaders complains that she is a victim of “the system”.

For those who believe Epstein may have been connected to Israeli intelligence through Maxwell’s late father, the press baron Robert Maxwell, Ghislaine suggests otherwise. Epstein did not know her father, she says.

Still, there are suggestions of some sort of espionage. One of Epstein’s underage victims, Virginia Roberts Giuffre, testifies that she was not only supposed to please powerful men but also to report the intimate details to the boss to use as blackmail material.

There are reminders, too, of the servile roles Epstein wanted women to occupy. When he wanted a coffee at his Palm Beach mansion in Florida he would order it via a secretary in New York. His Amazon orders included the book SlaveCraft: Roadmaps for Erotic Servitude.

Beyond the palm trees and the azure seas, the documents paint Epstein’s dystopian private island as a place of depraved monotony – strewn with private cabanas and boxes of condoms.

Girls are cloistered in a bunkhouse and outfitted in free clothing from Victoria’s Secret, the lingerie company owned by Epstein’s friend and patron, Leslie Wexner. They spend their days lounging in a central patio, under Maxwell’s watch, making small talk as they wait to be summoned to service Epstein.

“There was a constant influx of girls. There were so many girls,” recalled Sarah Ransome, another Epstein victim. “It’s like, I’m sure, if you go into a hookers’ brothel and see how they run their business. I mean, it’s just general conversation about who’s going to have sex with who and, you know – what do you talk about when all you do is have sex every day on rotation?”

The court papers are a reminder of the dire circumstances of her and other women who ended up, improbably, in the company of princes and billionaires.

Giuffre, who appeared as a teenager in a now-infamous photograph with Prince Andrew, had a ninth-grade education, lived in foster care and claimed to have been molested as a child by a family friend. She worked briefly at Taco Bell and in the spa at Mar-a-Lago, Donald Trump’s Palm Beach club, where, for $9 an hour, she folded toilet paper into neat triangles after women used the loo.

Her boyfriend ends up facilitating the abuse by driving Giuffre to Epstein’s Palm Beach mansion, and then recruiting other young girls for a fee. He also crashes Giuffre’s car while stealing prescription drugs and is sent to prison.

Giuffre appears eerily detached from it all. Asked at one point to recall a particular sexual encounter, she replies: “I remember the smell of paint.”

Ransome, meanwhile, tells how she grew up in a broken family in Johannesburg and made her way to New York, aged 22, with hopes of becoming a fashion designer. She tries her hand at modelling and ends up working as an escort.

One night she meets an attractive young woman at a nightclub who introduces her to Epstein. Soon he has put her up in an apartment building, along with other girls.

“They were just acquaintances,” Ransome says of the girls she met in Epstein’s world. “You don’t really make friends in New York.” – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2024

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