Previously sealed documents and testimony from a 2017 defamation lawsuit against Ghislaine Maxwell are now public. Ava DeSantis writes on the debate over whether denial is defamation and further evidence of Epstein’s sexual abuse of minors.
In May 2017, Virginia Giuffre settled her defamation lawsuit against Ghislaine Maxwell, saying she was “pleased” with the result of her case. On Thursday, the court released court documents and arguments from the case to the public. The court’s decision to release the documents was in respect of the press’ “vital role in ensuring the public right of access.” The judge, however, warned news outlets to “exercise restraint in covering potentially defamatory allegations” and urged the public to “read such accounts with discernment.”
Exhibit A in Giuffre’s case against Maxwell is a March 2011 interview with Daily Mail, in which Giuffre described the details of the abuse she suffered. Evidence of this abuse would become the basis of her 2017 claim.
In the interview, Giuffre described suffering from extreme poverty and homelessness before being hired at the Mar-a-Lago country club. “I told [Maxwell] I wanted to become a masseuse, and she said she worked for a very wealthy gentleman who was looking for a traveling masseuse,” Giuffre told the Daily Mail. Giuffre was hired soon after this meeting, and on her first day, she gave Epstein a massage at Maxwell’s direction. The massage quickly became a sexual encounter, and when it ended Giuffre was handed $200 in cash and told to return the next day. Giuffre was a minor during this encounter, and, for three of the four years, she was employed by Epstein.
“Basically, I was training to be a prostitute for him and his friends who shared his interest in young girls,” said Giuffre. “After about two years, he started to ask me to ‘entertain’ his friends.” Maxwell, Giuffre alleged, prepared her for one of these meetings, with Prince Andrew, by instructing her to be “smiley” and “bubbly” with the Prince. For this trip, Giuffre received $15,000.
Giuffre escaped Epstein and Maxwell after they asked her to have a child with Jeffrey, calling this moment a “wake-up call.”
Economic, emotional, and psychological suffering
The specific statements cited in the defamation suit are Maxwell’s public statements that Giuffre’s sworn allegations “against Ghislaine Maxwell are untrue,” and other iterations of the same claim. Therefore, Giuffre is thus entitled to damages for “economic damage, psychological pain, and suffering, mental anguish and emotional distress, and other direct and consequential damages and losses.” Giuffre claims she was damaged economically by Maxwell’s denial of her abuse allegations because she works for a non-profit which aims to help victims of sex trafficking and Maxwell’s statements discredit her experience with sexual abuse.
Additionally, Giuffre’s team argued that punitive damages are “necessary in this case” to deter Maxwell and others from “wantonly and maliciously using a campaign of lies to discredit Giuffre and other victims of sex trafficking.” The punishment, to accomplish this goal, should be in excess of the $75,000 jurisdictional requirement in New York State. Neither party disclosed the number of damages awarded in the settlement, but both sides said they were satisfied with the result.
A failed motion to dismiss
Giuffre alleged “defendant Maxwell not only facilitated [sexual abuse by Epstein and his friends] but, most recently, wrongfully subjected Giuffre to public ridicule, contempt, and disgrace by, among other things, calling Giuffre a liar in published statements with the malicious intent of discrediting and further damaging Giuffre worldwide,” in the 2017 defamation suit.
Not all evidence raised in Giuffre v. Maxwell is open to the public, as both parties agreed to keep confidential all information which “implicates common law and statutory privacy interests” of Maxwell or Giuffre. However, Maxwell’s motion to dismiss the case outright and the ensuing back-and-forth made public allows readers to picture the arguments of each side and shows some additional evidence towards the guilt of Epstein and Maxwell.
Maxwell’s defense argued that Giuffre’s claims of sexual assault were inaccurate and thus defamation of Maxwell, granting her the privilege to respond to the claims without legal repercussions. “Because Ms. Maxwell’s denials were proportionate, relevant and not excessively publicized replies to Plaintiff’s claims, rendered without malice, she is entitled to the privilege of self-defense,” wrote Maxwell’s attorneys.
Giuffre’s case relied on the allegation that her own claims of sexual abuse were accurate, an argument her attorneys explicitly cited multiple times. If the defendant, Maxwell, did indeed facilitate Epstein’s sexual abuse of Giuffre, the complaint alleges, denial of this fact is defamation. In rebutting the claim that the defamation suit should be dismissed because Maxwell had the legal privilege to respond to a defamatory statement made about her, Giuffre’s attorneys wrote that Maxwell can never prove that Giuffre’s statements were defamatory because “the allegations of sexual abuse are true.”
According to Giuffre’s team, Green v. Cosby confirms that denial of sexual abuse claims can be defamatory because it could expose the accuser to “scorn or ridicule.” In Green v. Cosby, television personality Bill Cosby was accused of defamation for saying publicly that his victim “intentionally lied about being sexually assaulted.”
While the defense argues that Maxwell’s denials were not substantially unique to the “general denials” made by others Giuffre accused, including Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz and Prince Andrew, it is important to note that Giuffre filed a consistent defamation suit against Dershowitz.
The defense dedicated the majority of its case for dismissal to procedural complaints, alleging that Giuffre’s complaint failed to describe damages in detail and that Giuffre did not support the claim that Maxwell’s statements were made with “malice” or “ill will,” a standard of defamation.
The Plaintiff’s emphasis on her sexual abuse story drew criticism from the Defendant in the motion but created a now public record of interviews with Maxwell’s domestic workers and fellow victims who recount the details of at least 50 possible victims within the Palm Beach property alone.
Giuffre’s attorneys brought into the record an interview with Juan Alessi in the 2009 case against Epstein. Alessi worked as Epstein’s part-time maintenance worker beginning in 1969, becoming full-time in the early 1990s.
Alessi described nude photographs decorating Epstein’s house, most of which “were taken by Ms. Maxwell,” stored at “her desk,” and in a “big album” she kept. He also confirmed that many of the women who visited Epstein were minors, although he did not “check [their] i.d.” Alessi recalled between 50 and 100 different people coming to the Epstein house in Palm Beach, Florida, for the purpose of a massage. Police reports from the 2009 Florida case against Epstein for soliciting prostitution and soliciting prostitution from a minor show multiple victims told Epstein and Maxwell they were not trained masseuses, this did not terminate their employment as ‘masseuses.’
In his testimony, Alessi also recounted seeing “[massage] tables for every room of the house,” in the “blue room,” “red room,” on the balcony, and in Epstein’s bathroom. Alessi, when he was hired full-time, became responsible for cleaning massage rooms after Epstein left. He usually observed two vibrators in the room after the massages. This account is consistent with a 2006 police report, filed after a Palm Beach detective interviewed one of Epstein’s ‘masseuses.’ The girl described being instructed to wear only “boy shorts lace panties,” while Epstein “rubbed the vibrator on her vagina area.”
Regardless of the many similar stories contained in police reports, sworn testimony, and Giuffre’s interview, the Defendant’s motion to dismiss the defamation charges begins, “Giuffre’s fantastical claims, contained in news stories and press-releases masquerading as legal pleadings over the last five years have been well-crafted with the assistance of high-priced attorneys to facilitate Giuffre’s media exposure, to enhance her marketability, to extract financial gain for herself and her family, and to promote her sham non-profit, Victims Refuse Silence, Inc.”
Maxwell’s legal team accused Giuffre of “[fabricating] a story of abuse at the hands of Ms. Maxwell in exchange for hundreds of thousands of dollars from British tabloids with a motive for selling papers and advertisements and without regard for truth, veracity or substantiation.” Giuffre, the motion continues, “filed this defamation action against Ms. Maxwell for financial and media gain and for her 15 minutes of fame.”
The motion for dismissal failed, allowing the case to move forward before it was settled on the eve of its court date.
The Southern District Court of New York filed charges which are consistent with Giuffre’s allegations in June of this year, arresting Maxwell in Brooklyn on suspicion of having “assisted, facilitated, and contributed to Jeffrey Epstein’s abuse of minor girls by, among other things, helping Epstein to recruit, groom, and ultimately abuse victims.”