Who Is Ghislaine Maxwell, Accused of Helping Jeffrey Epstein Groom Underage Girls for Sex Abuse?

Prosecutors allege Ghislaine Maxwell sometimes participated in Jeffrey Epstein's sex abuse

A New York prosecutor detailed Thursday how Ghislaine Maxwell allegedly helped her longtime companion Jeffrey Epstein groom girls as young as 14 for sexual abuse — and said Maxwell sometimes "participated in the abuse herself."

At a press conference, Audrey Strauss, acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced the multiple charges Maxwell faces, covering a period from at least 1994 to 1997.

According to Strauss, Maxwell, a British socialite and heiress who is Epstein's former girlfriend, helped Epstein "identify, befriend and groom minor victims of abuse."

The pair "had a method," Strauss alleged, involving befriending girls by "asking them questions about their lives and pretending to be taking an interest in them."

Strauss alleged the pair "would take them to the movies and treat them to shopping trips. Maxwell would encourage these young girls to accept offers from Epstein to pay for their travel and their education, making these young victims feel indebted to Jeffrey Epstein."

Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwel
Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell in 2005. Joe Schildhorn/Patrick McMullan via Getty

"After developing a rapport with the victims, Maxwell then tried to normalize sexual abuse with a minor victim through a process known as grooming," Strauss added, alleging that Maxwell would discuss sexual topics with the girls, undress in front of them and be present for sex acts involving the girls and Epstein.

"She pretended to be a woman they could trust," Strauss said. "All the while she was setting them up to be sexually abused."

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Strauss alleged the sexual contact with victims often began with "sexualized massages, during which the minor victims were fully or partially nude." She alleged these encounters "developed into sexual encounters, where Maxwell was sometimes present and participated."

Ghislaine Maxwell
Ghislaine Maxwell. Laura Cavanaugh/Getty

Strauss also alleged Maxwell helped Epstein transport girls to his homes in New York City, Palm Beach, Fla., and Santa Fe, N.M. Strauss added that some alleged abuse took place at Maxwell's home in London.

Charges against Maxwell include conspiracy to entice minors to engage in illegal sex acts, conspiracy to entice minors to engage in illegal sex acts, transportation of a minor to engage in illegal sex acts and perjury.

She was arrested Thursday in Bedford, N.H., and is scheduled to appear in federal court in New Hampshire later on Thursday.

Maxwell has long denied wrongdoing. Jeffrey S. Pagliuca, who has served as Maxwell's lawyer, did not respond to PEOPLE's request for comment.

Jeffrey Epstein
Jeffrey Epstein. Uncredited/AP/Shutterstock

FBI New York Assistant Director in Charge Bill Sweeney said at Thursday's press conference that authorities "had been discreetly keeping tabs on Maxwell's whereabouts, and recently we learned she had slithered away to a gorgeous property in New Hampshire, continuing to live a life of privilege while her victims live with the trauma inflicted upon them years ago."

Sweeney said Maxwell was arrested without incident.

He praised the alleged victims, saying, "They persevered against the rich and connected, and they did so without a badge, a gun or a subpoena, and they stood together."

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