This article was originally submitted on the 17th March
On the 15th of February, Prince Andrew settled the sexual assault lawsuit filed against him by Virginia Giuffre out of court, for an undisclosed sum. Prince Andrew, the Duke of York was sued by Virginia Giuffre, alleging that he sexually abused her while she was under the age of 18. The settlement was agreed weeks before a deposition was arranged to take place, during which time, Giuffre’s lawyers would have questioned the Duke under oath. The settlement means that the case will not continue to trial. As the settlement includes no admission of liability on the part of the Duke of York, many are viewing this as a disappointing result. While it does not imply that Prince Andrew is guilty of anything, the fact that Giuffre has received such a large settlement from a member of such a powerful institution leaves a lot of unanswered questions.
The case against Prince Andrew was a civil case, meaning he was sued by Giuffre for the wrongful action of sexual assault, with the end goal of receiving compensation from the defendant. This means that the primary outcome of the case was always going to be a financial one, with there being no possibility of a criminal conviction. Despite this, however, the civil case could have included a settlement where the Duke accepted liability for his actions, as civil cases have a lower threshold of proof.
Although the case did not involve an admission of guilt, the fact that Giuffre was able to receive such a large settlement against the Duke who, in an interview with Newsnight, denied having any memory of ever meeting her, and claiming that her account of the assault “didn’t happen”, is key. Many have highlighted Giuffre’s courage in the face of such a powerful institution. Lawyer and Author, Lucia Osborn-Crowley, when speaking to Refinery, highlighted the significance of Giuffre’s victory against ‘one of the most powerful people in the world – from someone who seemingly previously considered himself above the law’. While the case did not involve any criminal charges, Dominic Casciani, the BBC’s home and legal correspondent, comments on the significance of the wording: “the prince does not repeat his oft-repeated insistence that he did nothing wrong.” This is key, as although the case did not require him to be declared guilty, the implicit suggestion has changed from denial.
The Student spoke to a University of Edinburgh student who has experienced sexual assault herself, about her thoughts regarding Giuffre’s case, and the out-of-court settlement. She began by commending Virginia’s bravery in speaking out against an institution of such power and commended her for receiving this settlement. She expressed that, as a victim herself, an out-of-court settlement feels like a “partial win”, as the perpetrator can walk away with merely a financial encumbrance, while “victims are often dealing with the trauma for the rest of their lives”. She believes this case to be highly representative of the way that men can be institutionally protected through networks of power, meaning it is incredibly difficult for victims to speak out, and highlights the way that rape culture prevails through powerful institutions, beginning at the level of private schools. She highlighted the lack of comment from the Royal family, who have removed Andrew’s titles, but not openly spoken on the issue or condemned his behaviour. She believes that this is again representative of a lack of accountability and repercussions stemming from a culture of protection for men in powerful positions. She believes that the trauma following assault is “not something that can be quantified into a financial amount”, and that “no amount of money can offset the trauma caused”. She questions the intentions of the Duke in paying such an alleged large sum of money to someone he claimed in 2019 to have “never met”. She finally expressed, however, that justice has a completely different meaning to each individual victim, and must be respected in whatever form it takes. With this in mind, Giuffre’s case can be seen as a personal win, while still being representative of the power structures in society that often discourage victims from reporting sexual offences.
Speaking out against sexual assault is a hugely personal issue, and a win of any form, whether it be a criminal case or financial compensation, should be celebrated. Osborne-Crowley calls out the victim-blaming that has taken place with regards to the case, echoing the message expressed by the University of Edinburgh student, that justice is different for everyone and “every survivor deserves control over their own fate”.
Image via Max Pixel