Ghislaine Maxwell targeted young girls for sexual abuse by Jeffrey Epstein, a US prosecutor said today in her opening statement in the New York trial of the British socialite.

Between 1994 and 2004, Ms Maxwell - a former employee and romantic partner of Mr Epstein's - allegedly sent gifts such as lingerie and discussed sexual topics with the girls to win their trust, before encouraging them to give Mr Epstein erotic massages, according to the 2021 indictment against her.

"She preyed on vulnerable young girls, manipulated them, and served them up to be sexually abused," Assistant District Attorney Lara Pomerantz said in the prosecution's opening statement.

A courtroom sketch of Ghislaine Maxwell

Mr Epstein died in jail in 2019 while awaiting trial on sex-abuse charges.

Ms Maxwell, 59, has pleaded not guilty to eight charges of sex trafficking and other crimes, including two counts of perjury that will be tried at a later date. Ms Maxwell, who appeared in court wearing a white face mask amid the Covid-19 pandemic, faces up to 80 years in prison if convicted on all counts.

Legal experts expect the defence to try to portray Ghislaine Maxwell as a victim of Jeffrey Epstein

Ms Maxwell's trial comes in the wake of the #MeToo movement, which has encouraged victims of sexual abuse to speak out against powerful men such as movie producer Harvey Weinstein and R&B singer R. Kelly accused of misconduct.

Four accusers are expected to testify as government witnesses in the trial.

Ms Maxwell frequently wrote during the morning proceedings, sometimes handing notes to her lawyers.

Prosecutors have said Ms Maxwell encouraged the girls to massage Mr Epstein while they were fully or partially nude. In some cases, Mr Epstein or Ms Maxwell would pay them cash or offer to pay for their travel or education, and Mr Epstein sometimes masturbated or touched the girls' genitals during the massages, prosecutors said.

Read more: Ghislaine Maxwell - from socialite to 'Hannibal Lecter' prison conditions

Ms Maxwell's lawyers have said that prosecutors, unable to convict Mr Epstein, are using the daughter of late British media magnate Robert Maxwell as a scapegoat.

"Left with no fish to attempt to fry, the government belatedly turned to Ms. Maxwell," her lawyers wrote in a 4 February filing.

Ms Maxwell's lawyers have indicated that they will question the credibility of the four alleged victims by asking why they waited to come forward and arguing that they have financial incentives to lie or exaggerate.

"Any accuser who testifies that Ms Maxwell participated in sex abuse or sex trafficking is not telling the truth," Ms Maxwell's lawyers wrote in court papers.