February 26, 2020

Prince Andrew and Ghislaine Maxwell owe it to their accusers to appear in court

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‘Ghislaine Maxwell is both everywhere and nowhere.’ , Virginia Roberts and Maxwell in 2001. Photograph: Rex/Shutterstock

By Gaby Hinsliff From The Guardian

Women who allege sex trafficking and abuse deserve due process, not appearances that turn all into jurors

Where is Ghislaine Maxwell?

In the scandal engulfing her good friend the Duke of York, she is both everywhere and nowhere. Forever hovering just out of reach, rather as she does in that now notorious photograph of the prince with his arm around the bare midriff of a girl little older than his daughter. There have been a few sightings, one supposedly in a Los Angeles fast-food restaurant. Yet for now she remains in hiding, and with her lies the truth.

The former girlfriend of paedophile Jeffrey Epstein may be the only other living person who knows what happened, not just on the night that photograph was taken, when Virginia Giuffre (nee Roberts) says she was compelled to have sex with the Queen’s second son, but on so many other nights when, as she said on Monday night’s Panorama, she was “passed around like a platter of fruit” between Epstein’s friends.

Until there is a trial we are stuck in the unsatisfactory land of the perennially unproven

There has rightly been outrage at Prince Andrew’s failure to drop Epstein once he was convicted of sex offences. But given Maxwell also stands accused, by a number of women in civil actions, of being complicit with her boyfriend in sex trafficking and abuse, it is just as astonishing that the prince was in touch with her as recently as this year. If, as he insists, they didn’t discuss Epstein then it is frankly hard to know why not. Are we to believe he was simply too polite to mention the allegation that his friends had been running a sex-trafficking ring right under his nose?

Maxwell has been a curiously underexamined part of the story. Panorama included old footage from a photoshoot, in which she was seen laughing and asking how her hair looked. This was Maxwell the socialite, the billionaire’s daughter, the magazine cover girl. But in their affidavits and in front of cameras, Epstein’s victims describe someone else entirely. They recall a bully “with a viciousness to her”, in Giuffre’s words, who made sure Epstein got what he wanted; a woman they feared, and have accused not merely of turning a blind eye to his predation but in some cases of being an active participant.

By now, we are almost numb to stories of powerful old men doing terrible things to much younger women. But there is something viscerally dreadful about the idea of a woman – someone a younger girl might look to for rescue and protection – being in any way complicit in abuse. Giuffre told Panorama she felt sick when told to sleep with the prince because she hadn’t expected such behaviour from royalty, but what made her cry was describing Maxwell praising her later for doing a good job.

Allegedy, allegedly, allegedly. For Maxwell denies all this, and Prince Andrew categorically denies the allegations against him. Unless and until there is a trial we are stuck in the unsatisfactory land of the perennially unproven. This case has made jurors of us all, given the only real point of a Panorama with little substantively new to say was to let audiences compare the respective credibility of Prince Andrew and Virginia Giuffre as witnesses. He testified in his defence to Newsnight, and now Panorama has put the case for the prosecution. All that can be said with any certainty is that the prince’s toe-curling claim to have been if anything “too honourable” in his dealings with Epstein looks worse with every passing day.

Where the prince blundered clumsily through his story, Giuffre was fluent and surprisingly composed. But then she must have told this story so many times, to lawyers and journalists and FBI agents: how she was abused from the age of seven, ran away from home, and was just getting her life together with a job at Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago beach club when she encountered Maxwell, who suggested she train as a masseuse.

‘Prince Andrew can’t slink away from this now’ – the TV triumph of Virginia Giuffre

 Read more

Her big mistake, she said bleakly, was to tell Epstein and his girlfriend the story of her damaged childhood: “Now they knew how vulnerable I was.” Panorama spliced her description of dancing with the sweaty prince together with the prince’s wide-eyed claim that it was medically “impossible for him to sweat”, followed by archive footage of him emerging from nightclubs damp-shirted. Five women have testified in the US that he was present when they gave massages to Epstein, despite the prince’s insistence that he never saw anything untoward. The prosecution rests, your honour.Advertisement

But the whole thing made uncomfortable watching. Why is this happening on TV, not in court? Where is the anonymity granted to victims of alleged sex offences during a British trial, the admittedly meagre dignity afforded by a legal process, the requirement for all sides to testify on oath? Without the media these claims wouldn’t have come to light at all, yet justice should not rely on trafficking victims’ willingness to speak out this publicly to remind us how catastrophically the system has failed.

And it is on the courts that the focus must fall. Now that Jeffrey Epstein is dead, there can be no peace for the damaged women he left behind until Ghislaine Maxwell faces their allegations in a court and Prince Andrew testifies under oath. Only then can all those who have suffered in various ways at Epstein’s hands possibly stand a chance of finally breaking free.

• Gaby Hinsliff is a Guardian columnist

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