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Judge’s ruling that lawsuit can proceed marks first-round victory for the woman who accuses the duke of sexual abuse
Virginia Giuffre was a teenager working as a locker-room assistant at Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida in 2000 when she says she was approached by Ghislaine Maxwell. Maxwell asked her if she wanted to become a massage therapist.
Giuffre had been trying to get her life back on track, and this job was a key part of that plan. She has recounted how she had been sexually abused as a child, found herself moving in and out of foster care homes, and at 14 had been living on the streets suffering yet more abuse.
She has recalled how she initially thought Maxwell and her close friend, Jeffrey Epstein, were “nice people” looking to help her earn some extra money. She had opened up to them about her past. “That was the worst thing I could have told them because now they knew how vulnerable I was,” Giuffre told the BBC in 2019.
Soon, Giuffre says, she was being sexually abused by Epstein, and alleges she was “passed around like a platter of fruit” among his high-profile friends, including Prince Andrew.
Now, after years of fighting to be heard, Giuffre is at the centre of one of the world’s most-watched legal battles, alleging that Andrew sexually abused her when she was 17.
This week, a New York judge refused to throw out Giuffre’s civil case against the prince. The ruling could see Andrew, who strenuously denies the allegations, divulging aspects of his personal life in open court this autumn.
While it may be possible for the duke to reach an out-of-court settlement with Giuffre, possibly costing him millions, there are suggestions she wants her day in court.
Giuffre, who has become a prominent advocate for survivors of sexual misconduct, has said she wants her allegations against the Duke of York and other high-profile men in Epstein’s orbit to be heard.
“It wasn’t just Jeffrey and Ghislaine who participated in this,” Giuffre claimed in an interview with New York magazine earlier this week, speaking from her home in Perth, Australia, where she is raising a family of three children with her husband Robert.
“Justice to me looks like holding all of these people involved in the sex ring, those who greased its wheels, named and shamed.”
Giuffre added that she was “sick of carrying around that shame. That shame doesn’t belong to me.”
Giuffre has said she was somewhat relieved when 60-year-old Maxwell, daughter of late media mogul Robert Maxwell, was convicted of sex trafficking charges in December.
“It’s a bittersweet emotion because I have been fighting for so long,” she told New York magazine. “It doesn’t stop with Maxwell. But it’s definitely a relief to know that she’s off the streets.”
Epstein, a once wealthy and powerful financier, killed himself in a Manhattan jail cell in 2019 while awaiting trial on sex-trafficking charges.
The next stage in Giuffre’s civil lawsuit against Andrew and other men, including Epstein’s lawyer Alan Dershowitz, who is accused of having sex with Giuffre when she was a teenager, may be discovery. Dershowitz denies the allegations.
Andrew would be asked to provide information ahead of a possible deposition at which he is likely to be questioned about Giuffre and his associations with Epstein and Maxwell.
The focus on his personal life could prove embarrassing for the prince. “Lawyers file cases because they know the other side will not want to answer questions and will pay a lot of money to avoid doing that,” says former sex crimes prosecutor Wendy Murphy.
Murphy says she believes Andrew “will try to delay it for years, or he’ll offer a very large amount of money – far more than the case is worth – because he’ll want to prevent himself from answering any questions.”
This week’s decision comes 21 years after Giuffre’s alleged encounter with Andrew at Tramp nightclub, in which she recalls the duke sweating profusely on the dancefloor. In an interview with Newsnight in 2019, Andrew memorably countered this claim, saying he is unable to sweat. Giuffre alleges she was sexually abused by Andrew later that night in Maxwell’s London townhouse. The prince denies the allegations, saying he was at home after a children’s party at Pizza Express in Woking.
Giuffre, then Virginia Roberts, spent four years as Epstein’s personal masseuse, during which she alleges she was trafficked to the financier’s friends and clients. In a 2009 civil lawsuit against Epstein, under the pseudonym “Jane Doe 102”, she alleged that her duties included being “sexually exploited by Epstein’s adult male peers including royalty”. Giuffre reached a $500,000 settlement with Epstein in that case before it went to trial.
She also sued and settled for an undisclosed sum with Maxwell in a 2015 defamation suit. Giuffre filed the current civil lawsuit against the duke for sexual abuse, battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress just five days short of the closing of a window in New York’s Child’s Sex Act that had been opened to clear a backlog of claims against religious institutions.
In the civil case, the decision this week marked a first-round victory against the duke’s effort to have the case dismissed on the grounds that her agreement with Epstein covered all “potential defendants”. Kaplan ruled that the the case could proceed.
There are still many legal steps in the process before a potential trial. The duke’s lawyers are likely to argue that Judge Lewis Kaplan’s court is the wrong venue to air Giuffre’s claims because neither party resides in the United States.
If such a challenge came down in the duke’s favor, however, Giuffre is highly unlikely to end her pursuit.
“I think it takes time to heal, and this justice is part of the process,” Giuffre told New York magazine before the decision this week. “Now I can start really working past Maxwell and thinking about the others who need to be held accountable.”
She added: “No matter how rich or how connected you are.”