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Can allegations of sex crimes extend beyond the perpetrator?

Allegations of sex crimes usually entail an alleged victim accusing a perpetrator of a crime. The victim may accuse the perpetrator of assault, exploitation, abuse, or other state or federal sex crimes. Although this is what we are most accustomed to seeing when it comes to these types of allegations, it is not the only way these cases can unfold. Sometimes, an alleged victim could go further and accuse others who were not directly connected with the purported assault itself.

What criminal charges and potential penalties can apply in these situations?

One example of how these cases can unfold is currently all over the media – the case against British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell. Multiple young women have come forward to claim that Ms. Maxwell would initiate friendships in order to introduce the young women to Jeffrey Epstein. Epstein, a convicted sex offender, apparently killed himself while awaiting his own sex-trafficking trial related to these allegations.

The prosecution has used the allegations of these young women, along with other direct and circumstantial evidence, to accuse Ms. Maxwell of psychologically manipulating young girls to prepare them, or “groom” them, for abuse. Ms. Maxwell has maintained her innocence.

Ms. Maxwell faces six criminal charges. The first is a count of enticement of a minor to engage in illegal sex acts. This allegedly occurred when Ms. Maxwell coerced a girl to travel from Florida to New York to see Mr. Epstein. If convicted, this crime carries a prison sentence of up to five years. Another criminal charge is for transportation of a minor with intent to engage in illegal sex acts, also punishable by five years imprisonment. The third count is for sex trafficking of a minor. This crime can come with 15 years to life in prison if the child is under 14 years old and 10 years to life if the child is 14 to 17 years of age. The last three charges are for conspiracy of the aforementioned crimes.

The potential for prison time is not the end of the possible penalties that can follow these accusations. When looking at sentencing options, federal judges can also require that the accused compensate victims for any expenses that result from the crime. Those expenses can include medical bills, therapy charges, attorney fees and other related expenses.

What can others who face similar accusations learn from this case?

Although defense strategies will vary depending on the details of each case, this case does provide a clear example of some common strategies. The defense in the Maxwell case appears to be focused on the previous testimony of witnesses, to investigate and exploit any inconsistencies or discrepancies. Any inconsistencies could signal inaccurate memories or potential exaggerations and/or fabrications.

Of course, the defense is also questioning the motives of the prosecution. In this situation, the prosecution is unable to prosecute the man the alleged victims claim was responsible for the abuse, Mr. Epstein. It is therefore reasonable to argue that the prosecution is looking for a scapegoat. The defense can credibly argue that the prosecution is desperate to hold someone responsible, so targeting house manager Ms. Maxwell for acts in which she never participated.

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