So, Ghislaine Maxwell has finally been dragged out of her salubrious New Hampshire hidey-hole and accused, among other charges, of assisting Jeffrey Epstein’s sexual abuse of minors – recruiting and grooming girls known to be underage. Now it’s all about whether Maxwell (who has previously denied wrongdoing) will choose to “co-operate”, coughing up big names.
Away from legality, one can only wonder, what brought Maxwell here?
There’s usually an element of witch burning whenever a woman is involved, and, with Epstein dead (found hanged in his cell last August), this looks set to be true for Maxwell. Arguably, however, she deserves only as much compassion as she gave the victims. By their accounts, she was a female friend/comforter turned predator. In an echo of how Myra Hindley lured children into cars for Ian Brady, Maxwell’s older female presence would have calmed those brought in to “massage” Epstein. That’s why she kept up the grotesque “motherly” soothing routines (stroking faces and backs) to pacify frightened girls as the sexual situation escalated, sometimes with Maxwell involved, it is alleged.
Same with all that big-sister “concern” about their finances and schooling. This is grooming 101: “It can’t be abuse when I care about you so much.” In truth, it was about as caring as dropping live mice into a snake’s mouth.
Such behaviour is especially revealing alongside Maxwell’s complex attitude to Epstein. She was generally awestruck by powerful men, not least Prince Andrew and her father, the late Daily Mirror proprietor/disgraced embezzler, Robert Maxwell. For someone born into wealth and influence, it’s weird how she grovelled around like a groupie.
There probably isn’t a tape measure short enough to measure her genuine self-esteem, but her craving for status can be glimpsed in that newly unearthed photo of her posing upon Buckingham Palace thrones with the actor Kevin Spacey (accused elsewhere of sexual impropriety). Maxwell looks exultant, but really it’s a pitiful visual representation of the theme of her life: not even the centre of attention, just a very determined plus-one.
Her essential tragedy is that she was scared of Epstein. Not physically, but afraid that she would be cast out of the golden circle of power. Everything about her screams “major daddy issues” . A scream so long and loud that there is little chance that a serial exploiter like Epstein wouldn’t have heard it. This doesn’t make Maxwell another victim – she had more than enough resources to take her issues to a therapist instead of dragging innocents down into the mire. Just let’s not rush to “burn the witch”, when there’s a chance to examine and understand the person. And perhaps tweak that first question: not how does she – but rather, how does anyone – end up here?
Teenagers we can handle, it’s ministers we can’t control
Parents have been issued with the coronavirus-related advice to “control their teenagers”. Good luck with that. In the week that the number of Leicester’s under-19s testing positive for the virus rose from 5% to around 15%, the education secretary, Gavin Williamson, said this had nothing to do with schools returning. He also mused that the school his teenage children attended had more control over them than he has “ever been able to achieve”. It’s very big of Williamson to admit this, and a terrible shame that the Jeremy Kyle Show is no longer around to explore his situation in more depth.
As well as Williamson’s remarks, the deputy chief medical officer for England, Dr Jenny Harries, said that teenagers were probably at lower risk in the “controlled environment” of school but implored parents to “try to control their teenagers in their social interactions outside of school as well”.
Is the education secretary listening? He needs to control his kids. The problem is that, in many cases, it’s near impossible. While some teenagers have coped very well in lockdown, others haven’t. Teenage hormones didn’t take a vacation because of lockdown. Months later, teenagers are understandably bored, restless and frustrated. How could parents be expected to keep “controlling” all that, as lockdown eases?
What might have been helpful is advice that didn’t constantly contradict itself (such as: “The pubs are opening/ This isn’t over!/ My dad is on hols in Greece/ Be sensible!”). Now the government wants to hand all the issues caused by its own incompetent and confused messaging back to parents to deal with. As Williamson may himself admit, it’s not always so simple.
What are men covering up in their rants about masks?
Do we need to coin a new term, “emaskulation”, to describe what’s going on with some men (and it is mainly men), and their problem with wearing face masks? It’s more conspicuous in America, in states such as Texas, but it’s not confined to the US. Some people view face masks as an active affront to their manhood, liberty and dignity.
Going by photos I’ve seen, many of the people who are loudest and angriest about wearing masks are from the far-from-low-risk group of middle-aged, overweight (usually white) men. What could possibly go wrong?
Another disconnect is at play here. Face-mask deniers are so obsessed with their own personal liberty that they don’t seem to realise that in reality (that’s scientific reality) they’re infringing upon other people’s. In that, by refusing to wear face masks, they risk becoming coronavirus “super-spreaders”, endangering the health of everybody they meet, touch or spray with their “this ain’t a communist country!” spittle.
Throughout all this, who has been the emaskulator in chief, if you will? Well, of course, that’s President Trump. Donald, mate, you still don’t get it. It’s not wearing a face mask that makes a world leader look weak. It’s caring so much about what other people think of you wearing a face mask that makes you look like a big ol’ scaredy-cat.
•Barbara Ellen is an Observer columnist