Sarah Ransome, Jeffrey Epstein, Ghislaine Maxwell, and Sex Trafficking: “You’re a decent writer,” Maxwell told Ransome.

From a New York Times review by Alexandra Jacobs of the book Silenced No More by Sarah Ramsome:

To the heinous charges of sex trafficking and conspiracy for which the English socialite Ghislaine Maxwell is currently standing federal trial, add one more: impersonating an editorial coach.

“You’re a decent writer,” Maxwell praised Sarah Ransome, in the latter’s bitter telling, after reviewing her hopeful drafts of an application essay to the Fashion Institute of Technology. “Well done, you.”

This feels a particularly cruel class flex: Maxwell, the daughter of a newspaper mogul, who attended Oxford, spoke the Queen’s English and mingled with royalty, acting as literary arbiter to Ransome, a young woman of broken home and reduced circumstances who had bounced from South Africa to Scotland to early-aughts New York with visions of “Sex and the City” dancing in her head….

Ransome would soon find herself on the very opposite of Fantasy Island: Little St. James in the U.S. Virgin Islands, a.k.a. Hades. Her host was the high-flying, pedophiliac financier Jeffrey Epstein. Maxwell was the program director, or so many have alleged. And they would not be collecting seashells.

In her early 20s when she entered into a nine-month rotation of coerced massages and far worse on the island and back in Manhattan, Ransome was older than many of Epstein’s victims — ensnared, she theorizes in her new memoir, to help paint a veneer of adult consensuality over his serial sexual offenses. A decade after her escape, emboldened by other legal action against Epstein and Maxwell, the author sued them, receiving an undisclosed settlement in 2018. (She is among those questioning that his death in prison a year later was suicide.) She has called her book, which helps fill out a rapidly growing body of published literature and documentaries about Epstein’s crimes, “my day in court.” It’s also her afternoon on the analyst’s couch: identifying the psychological roots that she believes made her more susceptible to abuse.

Ransome identifies some eerie commonalities with her surviving antagonist. Her maternal grandfather was a Scottish baron and contemporary of Maxwell’s father, whose own mysterious death made international news. Both families had adolescent sons who were incapacitated in road accidents and succumbed to their injuries years later. But the Maxwells’ emotional hardships were cushioned by money and proximity to power. Ransome’s parents, who worked in advertising and lived under apartheid, argued endlessly until they split up.

Her mother descended into alcoholism, once passing out with her legs protruding from the dog kennel, and was intermittently homeless. One of her lovers raped Sarah when she was only 11, she writes, and she was raped again at 14, by an older neighborhood boy who was accused but faced no consequence. “Trauma has an odor,” Ransome believes, and Epstein and his emissaries picked up the scent like bloodhounds….

Now in recovery, Ransome describes bouts of her own drinking and drug use; desperate to make ends meet and get through college, she also worked unhappily as an exotic dancer and escort. Epstein, to whom she was introduced by a young female recruiter she met in a nightclub, seemed to offer a more refined form of patronage, though Ransome got an inkling that not all was well when she observed him and a girlfriend having sex in full view of other passengers on his private plane, nicknamed the “Lolita Express.”

As if anxious to lend it credence and weight, Ransome pads her account liberally and maybe unnecessarily with quotations from poetry, psychology books and the press. More powerful are jarring first-person anecdotes of Frédéric Fekkai cutting her hair and Sergey Brin, the Google founder, showing up at dinner with his then-fiancé, Anne Wojcicki. That even powerful people failed to blow the whistle on a clearly depraved scene is a puzzle of group behavior that maybe only literature can begin to address.

Maxwell looms most menacingly over the narrative, characterized by turns as Mary Poppins, the Loch Ness Monster and Glinda the Good Witch. Mrs. Danvers and Mommie Dearest also come to mind. Ransome recalls being held to an impossible feminine standard by her tormentor, called “heifer” and “piglet” and scolded that she had no hope of admission to F.I.T. until she reached the oddly precise body weight of 114 pounds….

Indeed, the story of Epstein’s underworld is so sordid and shocking in the plain telling that some of Ransome’s rhetorical flourishes feel unnecessary, even distracting….Her mother’s “addiction grabbed hold of her throat and would not stop squeezing.” Word of her sex work spreads through Edinburgh “like clotted cream on scones fresh out of the oven.”

I wish Ransome a lifetime of clotted cream, scones and open pasture, and absolutely no more cucumbers. I also wish for a more complete overview of the Epstein-Maxwell saga than any one injured party could possibly offer. But Ransome is to be commended for lending her voice to the swelling chorus at the courthouse.

Alexandra Jacobs is a book critic for The Times and the author of “Still Here: The Madcap, Nervy, Singular Life of Elaine Stritch.”


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