What the Prince Andrew debacle teaches us about how powerful men view sexual abuse

As Prince Andrew retires from royal duties ‘for the foreseeable future’, Olivia Foster asks why did it take him so long to acknowledge Jeffrey Epstein’s victims?

Words by Olivia Foster

It’s a story that’s gripped the nation and reportedly forced the Queen to ‘sack’ her own son. First the catastrophic Newsnight interview in which Prince Andrew discussed his friendship with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein and the accusations that he had once engaged in forced sex with a then 17-year-old Virginia Roberts – something which he denies.  While some had predicted it wouldn’t go well – Andrew’s own PR advisor quit just two weeks prior to taping – no one could have expected the car crash that followed.

Amid a storm of criticism, the Prince was forced to announce that he was stepping down from his royal duties indefinitely. In a statement released by Buckingham Palace he revealed his decision had come with the blessing of his mother, the Queen. This followed a week in which the stories regarding his conduct have not stopped rolling. We saw his claims that he never indulges in PDA torn apart by the release of pictures of him all over various women and we’ve seen major companies keen to distance themselves from him, with KPMG, Cisco and Standard Chartered all revealing that they will no longer be working with his Pitch@Palace initiative.

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Elsewhere on social media we saw joke-upon-joke about Prince Andrew’s claims that he can’t sweat and that he couldn’t have been with Virginia Roberts at Tramp nightclub on the night she alleged because he was actually at home after going to Pizza Express in Woking. But, as the memes begin to die down, we have to focus on one question. Why, after an hour-long interview, in which the Prince was given ample opportunity, did he only to choose to address Epstein’s victims four days later? And what does it say about the way powerful men view the severity of what the victims of sexual abuse experience?

Speaking with Marie Claire, Lizzy Dening, founder of Survivor Stories, a platform aimed at sharing stories from sexual abuse survivors in their own words, explained, ‘From a legal standpoint we can’t say how far involved he is in all of it but I think what was clear from the interview is that he is not a man who seems to put women first.’ Dening continues, ‘[The interview] was evidence of what happens when you have complete power and privilege from a young age which is that the whole world becomes about him and how events had affected him and his family and his career. It was shocking and yet at the same time not surprising, because we’ve seen this, it’s a common theme with the men who are quite rightly getting pulled up for Me Too. He had plenty of opportunities, it was a very long interview, it was prime time television, he could have used that platform to do some good for someone other than himself.’

Indeed, if we cast our eye back over the Me Too movement then it’s easy to reflect that the main people spearheading the conversation are women. The ones who have come forward and the ones who have supported them, we think of Tarana Burke, Rose McGowan, Gwyneth Paltrow – it was meant to be a wake-up call for men but their voices of support have been distinctly lacking. But while Prince Andrew is a nuanced example – most men do not have his power or privilege – how CAN men support the movement in a positive manner? Lizzy explains that in the realms of every day discourse, those people whose mother’s aren’t the Queen, it’s about men learning to listen and women being open about how we feel they can help.

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‘The main thing we can do is in small ways, it’s a thousand small ways, it’s pulling up stereotypes around victim blaming, it is questioning in an open way when your friend says something inadvertently victim blamey – and we all do it – it is engrained in society and it’s just having a little bit of self-awareness goes a long way.’ She adds, ‘A lot of it is listening to people and questioning one’s own beliefs; is that right? Should I be saying that? Is there a trickle-down effect that language like that can have on someone who is in a vulnerable position?’

As for Prince Andrew whether this week will fundamentally change the way he operates is yet to be seen. Earlier this week Jane Doe 15 came forward to claim that Jeffrey Epstein had committed a, ‘vicious prolonged sexual assault on her,’ and called for Prince Andrew to voluntarily meet with the FBI. In his statement last night the Prince said he was, ‘willing to help any appropriate law enforcement agency with their investigations.’ Whether he will come good on this claim, only time will tell. Let’s hope so, for his sake and Epstein’s victims.

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