AS I SEE IT
BY MARIANNE HERON
THE conviction of socialite Ghislaine Maxwell in the dying days of last year suggests that the balance in the outcomes of sex crime trials has shifted in favour of abused women and girls. And so in one sense it has. Maxwell faces up to 65 years in jail for trafficking girls for abuse by the late Jeffrey Epstein, her former boyfriend.
The usual defence ploy of discrediting the complainants so that the victims rather than the perpetrator are to blame didn’t work for the defence on this occasion. Perhaps it didn’t pay off due to altered attitudes thanks to the #metoo campaign which has called out sexual abuse by men.
Blaming women is an approach that is as old as the hills when it comes to deciding who to believe, in rape and other sex crimes. The bias against women is spelt out in phrases like ‘she was asking for it’, ‘she is no better than she ought to be,’ ‘she is only in it for the money’.
Destroying the alleged victim’s credibility has certainly worked in the past. Remember the infamous 2011 trial of Dominique Strauss -Khan, at the time head of the International Monetary Fund who was accused of sexual assault and the attempted rape of maid Nafissutou Diallo in a New York hotel. Initially, Strauss Khan was indicted by a grand jury. Immediately a private detective, hot-shot lawyers and PR people were hired for the influential Straus-Khan. The case was dismissed barely a month later when the prosecution ‘reviewed’ their evidence due to ‘lack of credibility’ on the part of the 32-year-old migrant from Guinea. Put it another way, and the defence were ready to say that she couldn’t be believed.
Wind back to another occasion, the so-called rugby rape in Belfast three years ago. Two members of the Irish rugby team, Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding, were accused of raping a 19-year-old girl at Jackson’s home and two other players were accused of lesser offences.
The trial last nine weeks, was sexually explicit with derogatory sexual messages by the players on social media made public, and the case divided Ireland into pro-victim and pro-player camps. In the end the jury returned a unanimous not guilty verdict.
No matter what any of us may think about the case and its outcome the experience of the alleged victim during the trial would make any woman rape victim think twice about seeking justice through the courts. The young woman involved was subjected to eight days of tough cross-examination by male barristers and her underwear – a thong – was handed to the jury as evidence. To many it seemed the score was rugby players one, victim nil.
Sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein hanged himself in jail in 2019, Maxwell stood alone to take the rap for the procurement that fed billionaire Epstein’s appetite, and that of some of his associates, for underage girls. Although Epstein’s sex trafficking was known about for years he had only served 13 months in a county jail for lesser offences up until 2018.
Then a new investigation into his activities came about but only due to an investigative journalism series in the Miami Herald which revealed that the evidence of 50 of his victims had been set aside due to pressures from the influential Epstein’s legal team. He was arrested a year later and took his own life rather than face conviction.
No other men, none among those high fliers who enjoyed not only hospitality but engaged in sex with underage girls on offer trafficked by the man who called his private plane the Lolita Express, have yet faced arrest.
Investigation into those other abusers won’t happen. The balance may have shifted in favour of female victims but not so far yet that that the rich and influential will be prosecuted.