What Ghislaine Maxwell's conviction means for women's rights in other countries

Women's rights advocates say it illustrates the gulf with other legal systems.

January 04, 2022, 11:01 AM

Ghislaine Maxwell's sex trafficking conviction is resonating beyond the borders of the U.S. and the U.K. where the high-profile figures connected to the case reside.

Women's rights activists in France, Iran and Turkey told ABC News it has ignited hope for many victims that they might be able find justice as well. In particular, they hoped the conviction of the longtime associate of Jeffrey Epstein would help raise the profile of survivors and their stories, as happened in Maxwell's trial, and and would be a step towards diminishing victim-shaming in their countries.

Maxwell had tried to distance herself from Epstein and his alleged sex crimes with underage girls, but prosecutors argued she was key to facilitating the alleged crimes. She was convicted on five of six counts connected to the abuse, but her family continues to claim her innocence and vowed to appeal.

Marylie Breuil, of France’s NousToutes -- a French feminist collective dedicated to fighting violence against women -- believes that the court case was followed closely in her country not just because Maxwell was born there, but also because a verdict like this “creates a certain model” for protecting and elevating victims in the legal system.

The new “model," she believes, will take the burden off the survivors' shoulders both in the public minds and in the legal system. Instead of blaming, survivors must be listened to, a switch of focus that has already started from #MeToo.

“It gives a lot of hope to all the victims of very influential people who have a lot of money,” she added.

Breuil said that “all those complicit in sexual violence can now feel in danger and no longer remain in total impunity.”

However, the verdict resonates differently with Ghoncheh Ghavami, a women's rights activist in Iran, a country with an Islamic sharia-based legal system.

Ghavami is the founder of the Harasswatch website, which has become a forum for public dialogue on sexual violence and harassment against women and other marginalized groups.

PHOTO: Women from the group NousToutes protest against sexual violence and patriarchy, Nov. 21, 2021, in Toulouse, France.
Women from the group NousToutes protest against sexual violence and patriarchy, Nov. 21, 2021, in Toulouse, France.
NurPhoto via Getty Images

While Ghavami feels “satisfied” after survivors in the Maxwell case got some relief after the conviction, but she says bigger changes are needed in legal systems around the world.

"I consider these rulings to be minor victories. A favorable number of votes does not make me forget the repressive and violent nature of the criminal justice system,” she said, calling for fundamental changes she believes are necessary globally to come over gender-based discrimination.

To Ghavami and another Iranian women's rights activists, the local circumstances and context is the major factor along with the international women's rights movement landmarks.

Iranian women had their #MeToo moment last year by taking over social media and sharing their personal accounts of being harassed, a few years after the global wave of the movement.

The movement was so strong that the conservative legal system had to react and at least one alleged serial rapist was arrested by the police .

It is the case that Ghavami and so many others have their eyes on.

“The eyes are now on the result of the case of K. E. [the alleged serial rapist. It is a verdict of great importance to some Iranians,” Ghavami said.

PHOTO: A member of the Muslim feminist group Havle attends a demonstration to protest Turkish president's contentious withdrawal of the 2011 Istanbul Convention, a treaty combating gender-based violence, in Istanbul, March 25, 2021.
A member of the Muslim feminist group Havle attends a demonstration to protest Turkish president's contentious withdrawal of the 2011 Istanbul Convention, a treaty combating gender-based violence, in Istanbul, March 25, 2021.
Ozan Kose/AFP via Getty Images, FILE

In neighboring Turkey, women's rights activists have been very vocal in the past few years in their fight against harassment and violence against women.

“I feel relieved and would like to be hopeful for the future,” Dr. Feyza Akınerdem, sociologist and woman's rights defender, told ABC News about how she personally feels about the conviction verdict. She is a member of Havle Women's Association, the first Muslim feminist women's organization in Turkey.

“Court cases against women's killers, predators, and their allies have been one of the most important agendas of the women's movement in Turkey,” she said.

“I am sure Maxwell's case will empower survivors of sexual abuse all over the world and encourage them to speak up,” she added.

To her, this verdict is a prime example of how feminism can pave the way for encouraging women and silenced survivors of harassment and violence to speak up.

“Majority of the victims and survivors of sexual abuse and gendered violence are silenced… We shouldn't wait for them to get strong enough to face the predators,” Akınerdem said.

“Feminist intervention is really important to stop violence and abuse which are normalized due to socio-economic and gendered privileges,” she said.

Additional reporting by Ibtissem Guenfoud.

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