There isn’t much that Ghislaine Maxwell’s attorney can do in Maxwell’s child sex-trafficking trial except to put her accusers on trial.
Maxwell’s attorney Bobby C. Sternheim received permission from U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan to call as an expert witness in Maxwell’s trial Elizabeth Loftus, a psychologist and “false memory” expert. Technically, Judge Nathan denied the government’s motion to block Loftus’ testimony.
According to the Los Angeles Times, Loftus has been an expert witness in more than 300 trials involving sexual misconduct and murder, including those of disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, serial killer Ted Bundy and alleged pedophile Michael Jackson. She typically testifies that victims’ memories are unreliable and can be affected by the media or crass commercial concerns. She is a distinguished professor of Criminology, Law and Society at the University of California, Irving.
Loftus may be Maxwell’s only hope of creating a reasonable doubt in the minds of jurors and securing either a mistrial or acquittal.
A parade of women are expected to say that Maxwell, now 59, befriended them when they were young girls (some as young as 14), took them shopping and made them feel special, and groomed them for sexual assault by financier and convicted child molester Jeffrey Epstein.
Maxwell, a British socialite, once dated Epstein and later managed his affairs. She is charged with sex trafficking of a minor, enticing and transporting minors to engage in illegal sex acts and three counts of conspiracy. She faces up to 70 years in prison.
More than 80 women accused Harvey Weinstein of sexual harassment, assault or rape over a period of several decades. Weinstein was convicted after a trial on two counts of sexual assault and sentenced in 2020 to 23 years in prison.
Is it within the realm of possibility that Loftus believes Weinstein’s victims had faulty memories? Maybe one or two but 80+?
It was grueling to see Weinstein’s victims testify about the worst moments of their lives. Some testified they were assaulted after going to his hotel room for a meeting. Another said she was raped in his son’s bedroom while wearing a tampon.
The victims were cast into an unrelenting international spotlight in which their actions were scrutinized, dissected and commented upon, often in unflattering ways.
Typically, an expert witness like Loftus does not talk to the victims prior to testifying. How does Loftus know whether Maxwell’s victims memories are faulty? She is simply there to create doubt.
Is it fair to fault Loftus, who undoubtedly charges an expert witness fee of tens of thousands of dollars, for using her reputation and education like this? Surely a distinguished professor at a major public university who has already testified in hundreds of criminal trials does not need the money. Is this an “anything for a buck” situation?
The more important question, of course, is whether putting the victim on trial is an effective way to encourage women to report the crime of sexual assault and to go to court on behalf of the government to ensure the criminal prosecution of the assaulter? All women owe a debt to victims of sexual assault who have the courage and tenacity to seek justice from a perpetrator. Because if they don’t do that, another woman may pay the price.
Epstein killed himself in August 2019 in jail awaiting trial.