We have to stop treating the abuse of Epstein’s victims as a ‘grey area’

Kate Townshend
The Duke of York with his accuser, Virginia Roberts Giuffre when she was around 17-years-old: Virginia Roberts Giuffre

It’s been a week of shocking royal revelations – and shocking attempts to justify them.

But on Good Morning Britain on Monday morning, Lady Colin Campbell raised the bar on defending Prince Andrew’s part in the Jeffrey Epstein scandal. Primarily by making some pretty questionable claims that soliciting sex from minors doesn’t count as paedophilia and is therefore perhaps a different issue.

It's not often I find myself agreeing with Piers Morgan, but his dismissal of these comments as “nonsense” sounds pretty spot on to me... to suggest anything else is linguistic semantics designed to dull the shocking edges of these crimes.

But viewing young teenagers as if they inhabit some sort of “hinterland” where rape and other forms of sexual abuse and harassment are grey areas is actually depressingly prevalent.

In my very first years at secondary school I would walk up to my mum's work when the school day finished, baffled by cat calling from adult men when boys of my own age didn't give me a second glance.

And if it happened to me, a school girl from Coventry with questionable taste in scrunchies, then of course it's utterly unsurprising that it happens routinely to other young girls both in and out of the public eye. Who can forget the hideously creepy countdowns in The Sun for the birthdays of celebrities like Charlotte Church and Emma Watson?

Of course, you can’t split this attitude to young girls out from the sexism that informs it: predators have a vested interest in suggesting that teens and pre-teens are somehow complicit in their own objectification whether through what they wear, say or even simply the extent to which they “look” like adults – as if this is something fully under any young person’s control.

“Look at her,” the argument sometimes goes. “Look at her with her thigh high skirt and face full of make-up and her vodka redbull. How was he supposed to know she was underage?” It’s a different version of the same arguments people use when it comes to sex workers who are being exploited. “How was I supposed to know?” Well perhaps you should have checked. Complacency is no excuse.

It’s also the case that assertions like Campbell’s – “it was prostitution, not paedophillia” – further push blame back onto the victims of these crimes. Yet by definition, underage girls are not sex workers. They cannot give consent.

Obviously publishing horrid, misogynistic little articles, or pushing down any uneasiness about the young-looking girl your friend is kissing, or even making sexual comments to school uniform wearing children on the streets are not the same thing as trafficking underage girls… but let's not pretend that they don't inhabit different sections of the same grubby little space. It's why we have to be absolutely clear when it comes to the boundaries of what is and isn't acceptable. Ironically, the law is pretty clear cut on this... it's society's moral compass that needs to be reset.

The prince’s car crash Newsnight interview with Emily Maitlis gave a pretty clear impression of just how completely he has failed to grasp the gravity of the situation and its impact on Epstein’s victims. Talking about his “friend” as if he was guilty merely of some sort of social faux pas makes it clear how seriously (or not) he takes the whole thing. Child abuse is no social faux pas and no amount of second chance interviews can express your remorse with the force and conviction required if you don’t grasp this truth at the heart of the matter.

But perhaps Prince Andrew shouldn’t worry too much. He’s apparently stepping back from his public duties in the light of the “disruption” the whole thing has caused. But at least Boris Johnson has his back. The monarchy is “beyond reproach”, Johnson claimed in Wednesday's ITV debate, a laughably tone deaf comment under the circumstances but also one which offers some insight into how often these things go on.

The truth is, nobody, no individual, no organisation is “beyond reproach.” And nobody should be. No matter how much money or power they have.

Read more

Andrew ‘preparing for subpoena’ to force him to testify over Epstein