Maxwell jurors hear expert testimony about sexual predators


In this courtroom sketch, Ghislaine Maxwell is seated at the defense table while watching testimony of witnesses during her trial, Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021, in New York. (Elizabeth Williams via AP)

NEW YORK (AP) — Jurors at Ghislaine Maxwell’s trial got a psychologist’s overview Thursday of how sexual predators gradually lure and ensnare child victims, a view that defense lawyers tried to keep out of the British socialite’s sex trafficking trial.

“Child sexual abuse is a process,” Lisa Rocchio testified, providing expert perspective but no particulars about the accusers in the case against Maxwell. She is charged with helping to recruit underage teenage girls into sexual abuse by the late financier Jeffrey Epstein.

Maxwell, 59, denies the allegations, and her lawyers say prosecutors are going after her because they can’t try Epstein. He killed himself in 2019 while jailed on sex trafficking charges.

Maxwell was Epstein’s onetime girlfriend and, later, employee. Prosecutors said she took the girls on shopping trips and movie outings, talked to them about their lives and encouraged them to accept financial help from him.

The government also says she also helped to create a sexualized atmosphere by talking with the girls about sex and encouraging them to give Epstein massages, and one accuser testified this week that she had sexual interactions with Epstein at age 14 with Maxwell in the room and sometimes participating. Maxwell’s lawyers pointed to FBI documents that said the now-adult woman, who testified under a pseudonym, gave the government a different account in 2019; she questioned the documents’ accuracy.

Rocchio she had evaluated hundreds of child sexual abuse victims, though she has never interviewed any of Maxwell’s accusers.

The psychologist told the jury that abusers often groom their victims in a progression that includes giving presents, building a sense of trust and gradually introducing more sexualized talk and touching. Victims often don’t come forward right away, she said.

Before the trial, Maxwell’s lawyers tried unsuccessfully to block Rocchio’s testimony, saying it didn’t have enough scientific grounding.

After she took the stand, defense lawyer Jeffrey Pagliuca suggested that some things she described as grooming — such as giving gifts, taking children to special places or paying them attention — could also be innocuous.

He recalled, for example, his grandfather taking him to the Bronx Zoo as a child.

“I’m assuming he wasn’t taking you there for sexual abuse,” Rocchio retorted.

Simply being nice to someone isn’t grooming, she said, “in the context of a healthy and normal relationship.”

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