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Mercy is for the remorseful - Ghislaine Maxwell deserves her sentence | Sean O'Grady

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"The quality of mercy is not strained. / It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven / Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest: / It blesseth him that gives and him that takes."

As it turned out, the judge who sentenced Ghislaine Maxwell to 20 years in prison for helping Jeffrey Epstein abuse young girls wasn't much in the mood for mercy. Judge Alison Nathan had a point. Mercy has to have something to do with remorse, and Maxwell was singularly defiant during the course of her trial.

Her lawyers and her family have made pleas in mitigation about how awful her home life was, though she was famously spoiled by her billionaire father, Robert Maxwell. She mixed, via his connections, with the most rarefied strata of society, lived in a stately home and wanted for nothing.

Maxwell did take his own life, probably, but at any rate, was the author of his own destruction. He left his favourite child (he died falling from his yacht, the Lady Ghislaine, named after her) bereft; yet many children have much harsher upbringing such and do not end up abetting a paedophile sex offender such as Jeffrey Epstein.

There ain't much in the way of mitigation in the story of Ghislaine and Jeffrey. She spent about a decade as alternately his lover and his pimp, "recruiting" young women, girls really, who trusted her more than they might any old bloke, wealthy or not. She did this not out of love so much, or loyalty, or as a result of some psychological trauma. Manipulating young women to gratify Epstein and his associates was something she did for the benefit of herself and the extravagant luxury lifestyle she felt so entitled to. Sexual exploitation was her career, and it ended badly.

Such elite abusers as Maxwell need to pay for their crimes. Her lawyers argued that she was being scapegoated because Epstein cheated justice by completing suicide in 2019 - an echo of her father's possible cause of death in 1991. She was, so the argument went, herself manipulated and unwitting. Yet it is perfectly clear from what arose at trial that she was quite self-possessed, quite at liberty, and knew exactly what she was doing.

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Indeed, the witness accounts suggested that when she induced her victims into giving Epstein his special massages, and more, she took some personal pleasure in her activities. For her, being an accomplice and an abuser was a comfortable way to make a living.

The world has moved on from those days, thanks to the #MeToo movement and the bravery of women such as Virginia Giuffre, whose story is sadly all too familiar. But there will always be people like Maxwell and Epstein.

One sure way to make sure they are at least somewhat constrained and deterred is through such exemplary punishment as Maxwell has received. She showed little mercy towards her young prey.

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