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- Jeffrey Epstein's ex-girlfriend and accused "madam," Ghislaine Maxwell, has become the focus of his conspiracy case in the weeks since the disgraced financier died by suicide while awaiting trial on sex-trafficking charges.
- In lawsuits and victim testimonies, Maxwell has been accused of being instrumental in setting up a network of victims and other employees who found underage girls.
- Maxwell is far from the first woman to be accused of helping run a sex-trafficking ring. While the majority of traffickers are men, it's estimated that 38% of traffickers are women, according to a 2015 study from the United Nations.
- But because many female offenders in sex-trafficking operations are also former victims, prosecution can be difficult.
- Visit INSIDER's homepage for more stories.
In the weeks since Jeffrey Epstein's August 10 death, eyes have turned toward the disgraced financier's ex-girlfriend and alleged "madam," Ghislaine Maxwell.
British-born Maxwell was not named in the recent indictment of Epstein, has denied any wrongdoing, and has never been criminally charged. But Epstein's accusers have said she played a large role in his alleged sex-trafficking ring.
In lawsuits and victim testimonies, Maxwell has been accused of coaching young girls for sexual abuse, working as Epstein's top accomplice, and being instrumental in setting up a network of victims and other employees who found underage girls.
Joe Schildhorn/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images
Maxwell is far from the first woman to be accused of helping run a sex-trafficking ring. Due to the secret nature of sex trafficking, numbers surrounding the criminal activity are often unreliable, but it's estimated that globally, some 62% of suspected traffickers are men, while 38% are women, according to a 2015 study from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
The number of women suspects is noteworthy — on average globally, the share of women suspected of any crime is 18%, the study said.
The NXIVM sex cult, a massage parlor human-trafficking ring, and Epstein's 'sexual pyramid scheme': Victims have said women played large roles in recruiting for all three operations
In February, a Florida prostitution sting led to the arrest of several women who were accused of running a sex trafficking ring through massage parlors. New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft was entangled in the bust after he was charged with soliciting one of the sex workers.
In June, Keith Raniere, the former leader of a self-help-group-turned sex-cult NXIVM was convicted on charges centering around what prosecutors called a society of "sex slaves" within the community. Several women have pleaded guilty in the case, admitting to detaining sex slaves, branding women, and recruiting women to join the operation.
Read more: After Jeffrey Epstein's suicide, Ghislaine Maxwell may have taken his place as the 'kingpin' prosecutors are looking to take down. But experts say don't expect criminal charges anytime soon.
Kristen Houser, chief public affairs officer for the National Sexual Violence Resource Center's Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape, told Insider that one of the most common pathways for a woman to become involved in the inner workings of a sex-trafficking operation is to have been a victim herself, often from a young age.
"As their abusers break them down, indoctrinate them, and convince them to go along with all the things involved in that lifestyle — I really want to keep the responsibility on the abusers — I think it can be seen as a way out," Houser told Insider. "If you want a way out of that, making yourself more valuable as a moneymaker, as a broker … you try to climb out if you can."
In the case of NXIVM, prosecutors said women, including "Smallville" actress Allison Mack, recruited and groomed women into being sexual partners for Raniere. In April, Mack pleaded guilty to charges of racketeering and racketeering conspiracy in relation to her role in NXIVM's alleged sex trafficking.
AP Photo/Frank Franklin II
Federal authorities arrested Clare Bronfman, Nancy Salzman, Lauren Salzman, and Kathy Russell, accusing them of using "harassment, coercion and abusive litigation to intimidate and attack perceived enemies and critics," according to the indictment, published by The Daily Beast.
In allegations against Epstein, Joseph Recarey, the lead Palm Beach detective on the case, said the financier was essentially operating a "sexual pyramid scheme," in which girls would recruit other underage girls into the trafficking ring. In an investigative report published last year, The Miami Herald's Julie Brown identified about 80 women who say they were molested or otherwise sexually abused by Epstein.
Power can be weaponized by abusers, and their behavior can become 'normalized'
Houser told Insider that sex-trafficking operations aren't confined to one particular demographic — they hit all levels of social and economic strata, and power can be weaponized by abusers at any level.
"I think it's fair to guess that in lots of situations like this, the person is often manipulated into doing some things they weren't comfortable with when it all started," Houser said. "It becomes normalized."
In sex-trafficking operations, women may be used to transport victims, manage and handle victims, and find places to set up operations, like brothels, clubs and massage parlors. As a 2015 report from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime notes, women frequently play the role of recruiter, because women are more likely to trust other women and traffickers know to exploit that trust.
Because many female offenders in sex-trafficking operations are also former victims, prosecution can be difficult.
According to the 2012 Urban Institute study Identifying Challenges to Improve the Investigation and Prosecution of State and Local Human Trafficking Cases, female sex trafficking suspects are 16% less likely to be arrested for human trafficking and 16% less likely to be prosecuted than male suspects. When prosecuted, however, women are 11% more likely to be found guilty.
Women can "teach and train them about the job," according to a 2014 report from the Regional Academy of the United Nations.
"Often, a relation of confidence and even more a relation of friendship might develop between the victims and their offenders," the study said. "Subsequently, the line between offender, adviser, and friend gets blurred for the victim."
- Read more:
- 6 real-life scandals Hollywood is making into movies and TV shows — from Epstein to Theranos to Nxivm
- The will Jeffrey Epstein signed 2 days before his death may make it harder for accusers to collect money
- Jeffrey Epstein was accused of sex trafficking young girls on his mysterious private island. Over 40 years ago, a different millionaire escaped justice in a stunningly similar case.
- We visited alleged Epstein 'madam' Ghislaine Maxwell's upscale house in London's Belgravia, where the superrich live, and got a taste of her lifestyle before she disappeared