Jurors at Ghislaine Maxwell's trial got a psychologist's overview on Thursday of how sexual predators gradually lure and ensnare child victims, a view that defence lawyers tried to keep out of the British socialite's sex trafficking trial.
“Child sexual abuse is a process,” Lisa Rocchio testified, providing expert perspective but no particulars about the accusers in the case against Maxwell. She is charged with helping to recruit underage teenage girls into sexual abuse by the late financier Jeffrey Epstein.
Maxwell (59) denies the allegations, and her lawyers say prosecutors are going after her because they can't try Epstein. He killed himself in 2019 while jailed on sex trafficking charges.
Maxwell was Epstein's onetime girlfriend and, later, employee. Prosecutors said she took the girls on shopping trips and movie outings, talked to them about their lives and encouraged them to accept financial help from him.
The government also says she also helped to create a sexualized atmosphere by talking with the girls about sex and encouraging them to give Epstein massages, and one accuser testified this week that she had sexual interactions with Epstein at age 14 with Maxwell in the room and sometimes participating. Maxwell's lawyers pointed to FBI documents that said the now-adult woman, who testified under a pseudonym, gave the government a different account in 2019; she questioned the documents' accuracy.
Rocchio she had evaluated hundreds of child sexual abuse victims, though she has never interviewed any of Maxwell's accusers.
The psychologist told the jury that abusers often groom their victims in a progression that includes giving presents, building a sense of trust and gradually introducing more sexualized talk and touching. Victims often don't come forward right away, she said.
Before the trial, Maxwell's lawyers tried unsuccessfully to block Rocchio's testimony, saying it didn't have enough scientific grounding.
After she took the stand, defence lawyer Jeffrey Pagliuca suggested that some things she described as grooming — such as giving gifts, taking children to special places or paying them attention — could also be innocuous.
He recalled, for example, his grandfather taking him to the Bronx Zoo as a child.
“I'm assuming he wasn’t taking you there for sexual abuse,” Rocchio retorted.
Simply being nice to someone isn't grooming, she said, “in the context of a healthy and normal relationship.”
The fourth day of Ghislaine Maxwell's sex abuse trial kicked off on Thursday with testimony from an official at a school that a Maxwell accuser said now-deceased financier Jeffrey Epstein paid for her to attend.
The woman, known by the pseudonym Jane, accused Maxwell of setting her up for abuse by Epstein when she was 14, and sometimes participating in the encounters.
She was the first of four accusers expected to testify against the British socialite in federal court in Manhattan during the projected six-week trial.
The government's first witness on Thursday was Paul Kane, the director of finance at the Professional Children's School in New York. Jane testified this week that she attended the school in the 1990s, and that Epstein paid for her tuition.
The globetrotting former math teacher killed himself in a Manhattan jail cell in 2019 at age 66 while awaiting trial on sex abuse charges.
Maxwell, a daughter of late British media baron Robert Maxwell, was employed by Epstein to manage his numerous personal properties. The pair dated in the 1990s.
Jane, an actress, testified that Epstein presented himself as a patron of the arts who could use his contacts to help her career. She said she met Britain's Prince Andrew and former U.S. President Donald Trump through Epstein while still a teenager.
Neither Prince Andrew nor Trump has been accused of criminal wrongdoing.