Survivors Of Wartime Rape Are Refusing To Be Silenced

"There's no such thing as a perfect victim," said Sarah Ransome. "What is a perfect victim? A middle-class White girl that goes to a private school? That has the perfect family life?"

Sarah Ransome says the so-called "perfect" female victim is pure, innocent – and doesn't exist. Those who don't fit the bill (including women like herself, with a history of drug use and sex work) are often blamed for their own abuse.

"It's the victim shamers and the victim blamers – they are the reason why I wrote the book," she told correspondent Holly Williams. 

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Ransome's new book, "Silenced No More: Surviving My Journey to Hell and Back" (HarperOne), details her allegations of sexual abuse against Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell. But it begins with a chaotic childhood in her native South Africa; a mother who, Ransome said, struggled with addiction; and a rape in her childhood by a stranger that "disabled" her alarm system. 

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HarperCollins

"I grew up with people hurting me, strangers hurting me. And so, it became my fault – there's something wrong with me," she said. "And it's taken me to about 37-years-old to finally get an ounce of self-respect and self-worth back, that was taken from me."

Williams asked, "You write about your traumatic experiences in childhood almost priming you to be victimized in your adulthood. Can you explain how that works?"

"I think being a victim, a survivor, of sex abuse, it robs you of your self-worth and dignity," Ransome replied.

She said she met Epstein when she was 22, introduced by a young woman she encountered at a New York nightclub who (she later discovered) was paid to recruit her.

Ransome flew to Epstein's private island, Little St. James, thinking she was going on a vacation, she writes: "It sounded so amazing – and then boof, you're on this island, and that's it. Lock and key. There is no escape. There is no one to hear your screams and cries."

It was there she said she first met Maxwell, and alleges she was repeatedly raped by Epstein.

"It was made very clear to me, that first trip, that if I ever went to the authorities, if I told my parents, if I told my friends, if I ever left, Jeffrey said to me, 'I will kill you. I will hunt your mother and father down, and I will kill them.'"

"You were terrified?" asked Williams.

"Yeah, of course I was."

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Sarah Ransome.  CBS News

"And you're frozen?"

"I was frozen, I was petrified."

Now living in a small village in England, Ransome said her book is an attempt to make sense of what kept her in thrall to Epstein and Maxwell for nine months, and why she returned to the island on several more occasions. She concludes she was a victim of "coercive control," an easy target for exploitation using "financial despair" and "fear."

She said, "It became a relationship of, you needed him, but he gave you enough where you would always continue to have that need. On top of that, knowing that you had no way else to escape or run, otherwise you and your entire family will be murdered."

Williams asked, "So, you're saying it's a situation where you are stripped of your ability to act, you're stripped of your own agency?"

"You're effectively, they take your complete ability to function as a human being," she replied.

Ransome believes that Epstein was a "sadist" who propped up his "inflated ego" by "dominating the weak."

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A 2005 photo of Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell. Epstein was found dead in his New York City jail cell after being arrested in 2019. Maxwell is currently on trial. Charges against her include trafficking; transportation of a minor with intent to engage in illegal sex acts; and conspiracy.  Joe Schildhorn/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images

"What role did Ghislaine Maxwell play?" Williams asked.

"She was the organizer," Ransome replied. "She was the engineer. She orchestrated everything."

Ghislaine Maxwell had a privileged upbringing in the United Kingdom. The daughter of a wealthy newspaper tycoon, she reportedly introduced Epstein to the famous and the powerful. But Ransome describes Maxwell as an "aristocratic pimp" who facilitated Epstein's assaults.

"What do you think Ghislaine Maxwell's motivations were?" Williams asked.

"I think Ghislaine is a very sick woman," Ransome said. "Ghislaine enjoyed humiliating us. You could see the enjoyment in her face."

Maxwell has consistently denied all sexual abuse and trafficking allegations against her. 

Finally, in 2007, Ransome said, she escaped. Fearing Epstein would kill her, she flew to the U.K. to join her mother. She sued Epstein and Maxwell in 2017, settling with them the following year for an undisclosed sum.

Williams asked, "Are you still happy with that decision?"

"No."

"You wish you'd had your day in court?"

"Yeah, and that's one of my biggest regrets, that I'll never have my day in court. And it's a decision I thought was right at the time, and I made it to protect my family. And I regret it, and I'll regret it for the rest of my life. But my book is my day in court."

This past week, Ransome flew to New York to be present at Ghislaine Maxwell's trial.

"I have so much respect for the girls that are testifying," she told Williams. "I just want them to know that I'm there for them and I'm rooting for them."

Ransome writes that she "survived hell" – but told us she refuses to be defined by it: "I don't want people to look at me and remember me for being a survivor of Ghislaine and Jeffrey. I'm so much more than that."

Williams asked, "Can trauma make you stronger?"

"You either sink or swim, and I have no intention of sinking," Ransome said. 

     

For more info:

     

Story produced by Erin Lyall. Editor: Ed Givnish. 

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