Let’s start by saying this: Ghislaine Maxwell deserves every last day of the 20 years she will spend behind bars for procuring young girls for her rich financier boyfriend Jeffrey Epstein to molest in massage rooms.
She is a monster in every sense of the word, and even more so, it could be argued, than Epstein himself. The sexual abuse he visited upon his victims is as horrific as anything you might imagine. It can’t be minimised or mitigated, and nor should it be. Ever.
But the horror of Maxwell’s own role in his crimes is amplified further simply by virtue of the fact she was a woman who betrayed young women who had every right to believe in her, by failing to protect them.
She has been vilified has a traitor to her gender. Somehow, that doesn’t seem to quite cover the scale of her atrocities.
Since swapping her little black Versace numbers for an orange jumpsuit, she has used her prison calls to make a wheedling appearance on primetime TV, moaning about her treatment in her federal hotel, sharing gossamer-thin regret at ever having met Epstein, and distributing theories about his death like Minnie Mouse throwing Twinkies at a Disneyland parade.
Just as no one mourned her ex-boyfriend’s jail cell death as he awaited trial for his crimes in 2019, few will shed a tear if the last breath she ever draws in this life is the dank air of confinement.
Ghislaine Maxwell is the monster in designer clothes.
But you know what – and bear with me here, because I realise this is potentially explosive – we also need to understand that she, too, is a victim.
Nothing I write here should be interpreted in any way as an excuse for what she did. I am not offering even a whiff of mitigation for those crimes. I hope, in what has been written so far, I have left no room for misunderstanding when it comes to my feelings about her.
But here’s the thing. No one is born a monster. Like Frankenstein’s, monsters are created. They are assembled, usually in childhood, through violence, neglect, and abuse – sexual, physical. or emotional. Abuse is all the bad things that happen to you, neglect is all the good things that don’t happen to you.
They are fed a diet of shame and guilt and fear that can ultimately spawn a rage and terror so fierce and so destructive that it eventually erases every remaining vestige of goodness.
When abuse and trauma is unbearable it can create a complete narcissistic defence which not only shuts off the abuse and horror, but also severs the individual from themselves and from others.
In this way others are ‘othered’ – rather than being seen as people with feelings they are instead dehumanised and distilled into nothing more vending machines for the predator to feed from. The unholy blend of sociopathic ‘shutdown’ and the inability to contain that rage and terror means it gets acted out on others. Usually vulnerable others, because predators have an uncanny knack for detecting vulnerability.
Ghislaine Maxwell is the apparently cherished favourite daughter of the late media tycoon Robert Maxwell, who died when he fell overboard during a trip on his luxury yacht, the Lady Ghislaine in 1991.
Maxwell himself was another breed of monster. A suspected spy, fraudster and former MP, the tales of his cruelty, oppression and bombastic bullying are legion, as are the tales of his random sackings, urinating off the top of the Daily Mirror building, leaving the door to his office washroom open whilst he evacuated his bowels.
His sons, Ian and Kevin were complicit in the £480m hole in the Mirror Group’s pension fund – a hole their father had begun digging years earlier.
In a home environment that might be described as being at best schizophrenic, punctuated by their father’s seemingly erratic and equally schizophrenic behaviour – one moment loving father, the next red-faced bully – time made short work of Maxwell’s children emotionally.
By the age of 3, Ghislaine herself was believed by her Mother to be suffering from anorexia, and the production lines in the Maxwell monster factory were suddenly up and running at full speed.
Ultimately, then, Ghislaine Maxwell is like every other monster: monstered as a child, she was almost fated to project her inner ugliness on others and seek the company of another monster.
Research yields example after example of monsters who were monstered as children.
The Yorkshire Ripper, Peter Sutcliffe – abused by his alcoholic father through physical attacks and belt whippings. Ditto Adolf Hitler. Alcohol and abandonment featured heavily in the upbringing of Moors murderer Myra Hindley, while the oft-absent father of Ronnie and Reggie Kray also had a fondness for heavy drinking.
According to co-funded research by Public Health Wales and Bangor University in 2019, it’s estimated that 80 percent of all male prisoners in the UK suffered an Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) which left them traumatised.
That’s not to say all criminals are monsters, of course. Nor is it true that all children who have adverse experiences are left traumatised – in fact in some contexts living through and overcoming adverse experiences can have a positive effect on resilience and assertiveness.
But it’s certainly true to say that traumatic experiences in childhood can leave a defining print on us that may then shape our behaviours in later life.
Apart from having at least one parent in a bad relationship with alcohol, there is another common theme links the childhoods of history’s most infamous real-life monsters – one that is part of the very DNA of all trauma experienced at a very young age: an unmet need for approval or validation.
During the 1970s John Wayne Gacy, nicknamed the Killer Clown killed 33 young men and boys. As a child he was routinely beaten with a leather strap by an abusive alcoholic father he adored, but for whom he was, in his own words, never good enough.
Jeffrey Dahmer, dubbed the Milwaukee Cannibal, killed and dismembered 17 young men after surviving a childhood in which he endured abandonment by parents he loved but could never please.
The list is endless – Ted Bundy (abandonment), Charles Manson (alcoholic mother whom he could never please), Max Clifford (absent alcoholic father with a weapons grade gambling habit) – and so the beat goes on, one generation pounding it’s insanity into the next.
So, there is overwhelming evidence to show that the origin of most monsters is in being monstered themselves. Yet the monster inside cannot live unaided.
For it to thrive, the trauma experienced in childhood needs to be left unaddressed.
It’s difficult to overestimate the impact of unaddressed childhood trauma.
There’s the obvious negative impact on mental health, of course – the absence of any ability to process what has happened or to pour water on the emotional fire inside – but there are other consequences, too.
Childhood trauma can also result in physical health difficulties such persistent pain, migraines, digestive disorders, and heart disease. It can have an impact on an adult’s ability to create and sustain healthy relationships.
Survivors of trauma may struggle with trust, intimacy, and communication, which can cause issues in personal and professional relationships.
Many victims of trauma have been so completely shattered that they may never recover, while others go on to live incredibly enriching lives where help and support others.
The latter are perhaps the cycle breakers who say this ends with me, and go onto live healthy lives with loving relationships and consciously choosing to parent their children in a way that is the healthy opposite of what was done to them
And then there are those who are monstered as children and avoid becoming monsters themselves, but instead become attracted to monsters struggling to extract themselves from abusive trauma bonds.
This subconscious has a need to resolve what was unsatisfactory by replicating the problem or relationship until the outcome becomes satisfactory, e.g. it can choose a partner because the wounds smell like home. This is called repetition compulsion and is notoriously difficult to change, but possible with the right support and hard work.
You could say that Ghislaine Maxwell was double monstered: monstered by her father, and again by Epstein. When her father fell, he left a monster-shaped hole in her life which Epstein slotted into perfectly.
Beyond the negative – and, in the case of Ghislaine Maxwell and the rest, criminal – impact and influence on the lives of others, trauma can also lead to the development of harmful coping mechanisms such as substance misuse, self-harm, and eating disorders.
Trauma only goes partway to explaining the horrific acts that some people are capable of committing; it certainly doesn’t excuse them.
But it’s important to understand that monsters only occupy the darkness that is created for them by other monsters.