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‘There is no question Maxwell knew what exactly she was getting these girls into – and she did it with joy’

A victim of paedophile Jeffrey Epstein who was groomed by Ghislaine Maxwell tells her story

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‘It’s clear Maxwell (left with Jeffrey Epstein) still doesn’t accept responsibility for her crimes,’ says lawyer Sigrid McCawley

‘It’s clear Maxwell (left with Jeffrey Epstein) still doesn’t accept responsibility for her crimes,’ says lawyer Sigrid McCawley

‘It’s clear Maxwell (left with Jeffrey Epstein) still doesn’t accept responsibility for her crimes,’ says lawyer Sigrid McCawley

Gretchen Rhodes was working at a spa when Ghislaine Maxwell first came in to recruit her as a private masseuse in 2001.

The 24-year-old Rhodes told her to make arrangements through the receptionist, but Maxwell persisted.

“No, no, no, I don’t want to do that, I want you to come and work for me,” she urged, handing over her card.

That was the first of several visits she made to get Rhodes to acquiesce, repeatedly “trying to upsell” the prospect.

“Like this is something super fancy,” says Rhodes.

“We pick you up in a boat, bring you back in a boat, you know, it’s like the lifestyles of the rich and famous.”

Working to support her ambition of becoming a singer, and worn down by weeks of the “well-coiffed” Maxwell’s visits, Rhodes eventually returned her call.

The first time she stepped foot on the island, the socialite warned her “that this is a ‘speak when spoken to’ situation”. “Don’t ask questions,” Maxwell told her. “If you see anything, you’re going to keep it to yourself.”

Rhodes has never before spoken publicly about what happened at Little St James, the private Caribbean island on which Maxwell and her one-time boyfriend, paedophile financier Jeffrey Epstein, spent over a decade trafficking and abusing girls and women.

In Ghislaine Maxwell: the Making of a Monster, a three-part documentary beginning this week on Channel 4, the former managers of Epstein’s Caribbean estate explain that Maxwell had been given the task of finding him a never-ending conveyor belt of massage therapists – “the younger the better”.

Maxwell “just made sure that he got his massages”, they recall. “Come hell or high water, she made sure he was happy.”

For the first few months, Rhodes massaged Maxwell.

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Then, having apparently passed muster, she was taken to Epstein. Maxwell walked her to his room, repeating again that “whatever happens during the massage, you keep to yourself”.

Inside, Maxwell stripped, reclothed herself, and then left – after which Rhodes massaged Epstein. Following that bizarre introduction, the session passed quite normally, she remembers. In fact, he wanted to help her.

He told Rhodes that enabling people to achieve their dreams was “kind of my thing”, adding that he would fly her to New York to meet record label executives. He duly did and, when they returned to the Caribbean, she gave him another massage. This time, she was made to rub his nipples as he masturbated.

Rhodes struggles now to talk about what went on, still “taken aback” by the first in a series of such encounters, and wonders why she couldn’t “just jump off” the rollercoaster Maxwell set her on. Being sworn to secrecy worked as an effective isolation tool, leaving her too fearful to seek help, and believing that she had done something wrong to be treated in that way.

Now 20 years on, aged 45, she can see that “because of [Maxwell], I was abused by him. She was calculated and manipulative every step of the way.” There is no question, she says, that Maxwell “knew exactly what she was getting all these women – girls – into, and she did it with joy; with the joy of what that power brings to her. And that’s just disgusting.”

It is evident how raw the abuse has left her, prompting a silence that lasted until two summers ago, when she saw a documentary about Epstein’s “paedophile island” on Netflix. She was staying with her family in the Midwest, and told them what had happened. Then, another two weeks down the line, she told her husband.

“I felt such shame, and embarrassment of myself, never really having dealt with it at that point. And never having had anybody say, ‘this wasn’t your fault, you didn’t do this, because these were predators."

Rhodes, who went on to tour with Fleetwood Mac, is “tired of living in fear”, speaking out now only because “I want to make this my story, not have this story own me.”

It’s a mentality lawyer Sigrid McCawley has heard repeated many times in the eight years since she first began representing Epstein’s victims, several of whom were in the courthouse in New York last Tuesday as the 20-year prison sentence for Maxwell’s role in a high-society sex-trafficking ring was announced.

“I don’t think for survivors of abuse, there’s ever much closure,” she says. “But I do think there’s relief in knowing that they fought the fight.”

McCawley, who appears in the documentary and also litigated in Virginia Giuffre’s civil suit against Prince Andrew, says her clients have “got a lot of peace from the fact that Ghislaine will be in prison for the rest of her life”.

She believes that, regardless of privilege, the ruling “sends a message – that if you engage in that kind of conduct, you will be held responsible”. Still, it is not over: the lawyer says the US authorities must “do more work” to bring others involved in the Maxwell trafficking ring to justice.

In court, the 60-year-old daughter of disgraced media tycoon Robert Maxwell was always “obstructionist” – half-answering questions with “an air of entitlement” that suggested, “I know presidents, I know princes. And I should not be bothered with these kinds of allegations,” according to McCawley.

“Even now, it’s very clear to me that she does not accept responsibility for her crimes. She never apologised directly for what she did,” something McCawley believes will count against Maxwell if she appeals against her sentence, which she will “without question”.

For Rhodes, resolution is further off. On first hearing Maxwell’s sentence, she says she “felt sick to my stomach. It’s not like a good, solid 65 or 55 or 45 [years].

"I feel like she got off very lightly.” As for the prospect of Maxwell trying to reduce her sentence through the courts, Rhodes is horrified. “You’re in jail, for so many reasons... and you still think you’re right?” she says, incredulous. “Go to hell.”

It will take time for the wounds to heal, if they ever do, and for Rhodes to feel ready to talk to other victims. And to tell her 11-year-old daughter what she has been through.

Rhodes now both sings and teaches singing, beginning and ending sessions with each group of children chanting the same mantra three times: “I’m worthy, I’m confident and I love myself.” This way, she believes, she is safe in that knowledge that they will “have that to fall back on for the rest of their lives”, If she can instil that bravery in them, “I’m winning,” she says.

Ghislaine Maxwell: The Making of a Monster begins
on Channel 4 tomorrow at 10pm


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