“The grand old Duke of York, he had 12 million quid. He gave it to someone he’d never met for something he never did.”
This is the rewritten nursery rhyme reportedly composed by palace aides in response to the news on 15 February that Prince Andrew, the Duke of York, had settled with the woman who has been pursuing a civil case against him, alleging that he sexually abused her as a teenager.
The woman in question, Virginia Giuffre, is the most outspoken victim of the sex trafficking ring run by the late Jeffrey Epstein and his former girlfriend Ghislaine Maxwell, who was convicted in December for five sex trafficking-related offences.
Prince Andrew has said he has “no recollection of ever meeting” Giuffre. But there is that infamous photo, allegedly taken inside Maxwell’s house in Belgravia in London, in which the Duke’s arm is wrapped around the bare midriff of a young Giuffre. (The Duke has said it is impossible to verify whether the photo is genuine, and no one seems to know the location of the original image.) Giuffre alleges that it was taken by Epstein, with whom, the Duke says in his settlement statement, he “regrets” having an “association”.
Despite the photo, the Duke’s lawyers had previously insisted that he was ready to go before a jury to fight Giuffre’s claims, with a trial expected later this year. Thus this settlement represents a retreat on his part and, although he does not admit to any wrongdoing, the Duke’s statement concedes that Giuffre has “suffered both as an established victim of abuse and as a result of unfair public attacks”.
There is much speculation about how exactly he is going to pay his settlement with Giuffre. Royal finances are always complicated but, in Prince Andrew’s case, they are particularly so, and also carry a whiff of indecency.
In 2017, he reportedly had a £1.5m loan paid off by a prominent Conservative party donor and – far worse – his ex-wife, Sarah Ferguson, has admitted to accepting £15,000 from Jeffrey Epstein to pay off another debt (she later described this as a “gigantic error of judgement”). When it comes to a multi-million-pound settlement, the pair are not – most royal commentators suggest – good for it. The Queen is therefore expected to bail out the son once believed to be her favourite.
So, all quite embarrassing for Andrew, then. He’s had his military titles and HRH removed. Prince Andrew Way in County Antrim is one of several streets where the residents are considering a name change. And he’s had to go begging to his mother.
But he has never faced any criminal charges. He still enjoys a lifestyle more luxurious and leisured than most people could ever dream of. Is this justice? Well, it depends on what you think the criminal justice system is for.
For Giuffre, this is a relatively good result. She has had her suffering publicly acknowledged and she has been offered a life-changing sum of money. In general, victims of sexual violence rarely achieve as much. Only around 1.5 per cent of rape cases in this country result in a charge or summons, let alone a conviction. The attrition begins at the very start of the process, because most rape victims never go to the police.
Some victims feel that pursuing the case is worthwhile even when there is no realistic expectation of conviction. But it often takes years for a case to come to trial and, unsurprisingly, a lot of victims who are initially determined to have their day in court are demoralised and exhausted by a process that stops them truly moving on. Many withdraw their support for the prosecution before the case reaches trial. The result of all of these system failures is a conviction rate so low that only a spectacularly unlucky rapist will face any legal consequences whatsoever.
Having observed the dismal performance of the criminal justice system, feminists have proposed various alternatives over the years. Germaine Greer once suggested tattooing an “r” on a rapist’s hand, arm or cheek. At the height of #MeToo, there were many attempts at extrajudicial punishment of men accused of sexual misconduct, including the “Shitty Media Men” list, a crowdsourced Google spreadsheet that listed dozens of men in the media industry rumoured to be sexually predatory.
There have also been more formal alternatives developed such as “restorative justice”, which involves a meeting between perpetrator and victim, sometimes with other representatives of the wider community. There is some evidence that the restorative justice process can make victims feel better, but little that it significantly reduces rates of reoffending.
All these options, along with cash settlements, achieve some kind of justice, whether that be punishment, closure for victims or attempted rehabilitation. But none of these methods achieve the goal that is, in my view, the most important of all: the physical separation of dangerous offenders from their potential victims. That is a goal that can only be accomplished by the state, and only through the use of prisons. That such a tiny fraction of perpetrators end up behind bars sends a message about how seriously the justice system takes protecting women.
Giuffre’s dogged commitment to her cause is admirable, and I congratulate her on this win, which will hopefully bring some solace. She has not, yet, seen justice allowed to reach its conclusion. But then, very few victims ever do.
This article appears in the 23 Feb 2022 issue of the New Statesman, Darkness Falls