The story of Prince Andrew and the sexual abuse allegations against him have been fairly quiet on the news. I caught a quick glimpse of the announcement that Prince Andrew had settled with his accuser, Virginia Giuffre for 12 million pounds. In his settlement, Prince Andrew does not admit any wrongdoing and still vehemently denies guilt. So how does a person with so much notoriety slip under the radar avoiding huge media coverage? I am no expert on this case, but this case tells very clearly why sexual abuse survivors stay silent.
Context of Prince Andrew and Virginia Giuffre
For those who are not familiar with the story, it is a part of an even bigger story with Jeffrey Epstein and Gislaine Maxwell. Virginia Giuffre who grew up in Florida had a rough upbringing. She was sexually abused at age seven and then spent many years in and out of the foster care system to then later live on the streets. By her early teens, she was already being trafficked by a man in Florida. At 16, she was introduced to Jeffrey Epstein and groomed by Gislaine Maxwell becoming one of their many trafficking victims. At 17, Epstein and Maxwell introduced her to Prince Andrew with whom she was asked to give the same treatment that she would give Epstein. Giuffre says this happened on three different occasions.
In court, an acquaintance of Giuffre testified that Giuffre told her at the time of the events that she had multiple sexual encounters with Prince Andrew. Her one differing detail was that Giuffre seemed excited about her connection to the Prince and she didn’t feel that she was forced against her will. This angle of the story opens up criticism of Giuffre. Considering Giuffre’s background and vulnerability at such a young age, her ability to fully understand the full implications of sex trafficking as a teenager, seems very unlikely.
Why Is This Story Important?
This story is so important because it shows how from the top down in society, sexual abuse is silenced.
There is no doubt that this story is complex. There is still so much unknown to the public about the details of Maxwell and Epstein’s sex trafficking circle. In addition to Maxwell and Epstein’s leadership are all of those who willingly and actively participated in the abuse of so many girls and young women.
This story is so important because it shows how from the top down in society, sexual abuse is silenced. In some reports, Prince Andrew was encouraged to quickly settle and quiet the allegations in order to protect Her Majesty’s dignity during her Platinum Jubilee year.
Why Do We Silence Sexual Abuse?
Sexual abuse is not a new problem, nor is it an uncommon problem, so why do we silence it? The story of Prince Andrew answers this question very clearly. We silence sexual abuse because of the stigma.
For survivors, speaking up about sexual abuse means putting yourself out there in what can feel like a battle in the Roman Colosseum. You are faced with spectators who inspect and judge every detail of your story. The public can be cruel in their comments and their take on your story. Your life is on display and people often don’t remember each other’s humanity.
For some, making their story public means the battle of actually facing their perpetrator–a battle often full of fear, shame, and uncertainty. That alone is a huge hurdle to overcome.
On top of it all, is the stigma. Will my friends and family think differently of me? What will others say about me? Will others only focus on what happened to me instead of who I am as a person?
For perpetrators, admitting to sexual abuse means risking their status, their jobs, their families, and their image. In the case of Prince Andrew, even if he felt some remorse for what he did, his role in the royal family makes it very difficult for him to come free and admit wrongdoing. The image of his family depends on him denying the accusations. While comparing survivors’ and perpetrators’ experiences is not my intention, it is valuable to understand how the stigma of sexual abuse is created and upheld on all sides.
How Do We Work Through the Stigma?
Cultural norms strongly influence the conversations we have around sexual abuse. Despite different cultural norms, the stigma of sexual abuse worldwide is very similar. Here are a few things that we can do on a small scale to begin to make a big change in the way we handle sexual abuse as a society.
- Listen to the stories – Not everyone wants to tell their story and each person’s story is theirs to tell if and when they choose to. For those wanting to share their story, listen and make space for their story. Celebrate their bravery and strength to speak up.
- Teach our children about sexual abuse – Teaching our children at a young age about appropriate touch is essential for protecting them from predators when they are young. Explicit teaching (at the appropriate time and age) on the different types of sexual abuse can help increase awareness, prevention, and produce future advocates.
- Acknowledge that sexual abuse is an epidemic – The lack of knowledge of how prevalent sexual assault is, victims often feel alone in their experiences. Bring awareness to the fact that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be a victim of sexual abuse. It is important to know the true scale of the problem so that it can be properly addressed in our communities.
- Create an environment of trust in your home – Building a home where there is trust to talk about even the most difficult situations is so important to break the weight of fear and shame that comes with abuse.
- Normalize trauma therapy – Working through the trauma of sexual abuse with a licensed therapist is so important for healing and prevention for the next generation.
The troubling story of Prince Andrew and Giuffre is a reminder that sexual abuse knows no line of culture, economic status, or influential level. I have to be honest, this type of story in particular makes me so upset. it makes me so angry when I see or hear of celebrities, people in authority of high influence given a pass or an exception to the law in regards to abuse. If we can’t hold those held highest in society accountable, how do we expect to hold anyone else accountable?
The stigma of sexual abuse can be changed through listening, educating, and advocating. The silence around the topic of sexual abuse only stands because we allow it to. If we can start holding the people at the top accountable, the standard naturally should trickle down to the rest of society. Until we do start doing this, there is no expectation for others to take the law seriously in this area.
What do you think about this? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
Related reading: To read how I told my husband about the abuse I faced as a child, click here.