Ghislaine Maxwell, a name that has recently garnered media attention, is a former girlfriend and employee of notorious billionaire/sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.
In the wake of Epstein’s jail suicide, federal prosecutors have either leveled or plan to level multiple charges of human sex trafficking of minors.
Maxwell is slated for trial in July of 2021 to determine her guilt, but her defense is already being crafted.
It is undeniable that Epstein abused many people, and Maxwell’s defense team may consider arguing that she was also one of his victims. This kind of defense strategy could have serious implications for her trial.
Human Trafficking: A Federal Offense
In the U.S., most sex offenses are state crimes, with charges and penalties set according to the state in which the offense occurred. However, while sex trafficking is also a state crime, it is more often investigated and prosecuted by the federal government.
Human trafficking is considered a heinous crime in the U.S., and trafficking a person for sexual purposes is its own federal felony offense.
Maxwell stands accused of multiple counts of sex trafficking. Specifically, she has been charged with the following:
- One count of enticing a minor to travel to engage in illegal sex acts;
- One count of conspiracy to entice a minor to travel to engage in illegal sex acts;
- One count of transporting a minor with the intent to engage in criminal sexual activity;
- One count of conspiracy to transport a minor with the intent to engage in criminal sexual activity.
All of these charges are federal crimes, and they all specifically involve minors. As a result, each of these charges violates the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act.
The Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act
This Act makes it illegal to coerce, entice, or aid a minor to cross state or national borders for sexual acts. The Act specifically defines “criminal” and “illegal” forms of sexual activity.
However, it should be noted that it is illegal for adults to perform sexual acts with minors in nearly every situation. As a result, outside of extremely specific circumstances, any reason for taking a minor across state lines for sexual activities is likely to fall under this Act.
Federal Penalties for Sex Trafficking
Each charge Maxwell faces carries a potential prison sentence.
The charges of enticing a minor, conspiracy to entice a minor, and conspiracy to transport a minor carries a potential five-year prison term for each offense. The charge of actually transporting a minor can lead to up to ten years in prison on its own.
Additionally, these charges can also lead to a fine of up to $250,000 and a mandatory supervision period of at least five years.
Finally, a judge may order that convicted people pay restitution to the victims and confiscate any property the convicted used to commit the offense.
The Difference Between a Perpetrator and a Fellow Victim
What would happen, though, if Maxwell’s chosen defense is the argument that she was not in fact one of the perpetrators of these crimes? Instead, she and her legal team were to argue that she was another victim of Epstein.
There is a significant difference between a trafficker and a victim of trafficking; however, the distinction is blurred.
Was Maxwell Coerced?
The important difference is whether coercion was involved. In order for someone to commit certain crimes, they must have criminal intent. Trafficking is one of these crimes.
If someone is being coerced to commit a crime by an abuser, then that coercion may negate or mitigate the offender’s responsibility for the behavior.
In fact, in some cases, recruiting new victims is a sign that a person may have been coerced.
According to the organization known as Human Trafficking and the State Courts Collaborative, prostitution and recruiting are two of the signs that a person may be a victim of a human trafficker.
What Was Ghislaine Maxwell’s Intent?
This defense strategy offers a benefit in the Maxwell case. When criminal intent is an element of the offense and coercion is used as a defense, the burden of proof falls on prosecutors.
Since criminal intent is a necessary part of the trafficking charge, the prosecutors in her case must prove that she was not coerced. If that cannot be done beyond a reasonable doubt, then it is unlikely that she will be convicted.
Without a doubt, Jeffrey Epstein committed horrible abuses. The question in Maxwell’s trial will be whether she was an accomplice or another victim. Sex trafficking is a serious violation, but many supposed perpetrators are in truth victims themselves.
If you have been accused of sex trafficking, you should reach out to an experienced attorney to help you argue your case.