Above the law

January 7, 2015

In the epidemic of abuse scandals in Britain, there was ample evidence of the crimes, but no action taken, writes Estelle Cooch, in an article for the rs21 website.

FEW COULD have predicted the whirlwind of abuse allegations that would follow when those against Jimmy Savile started to surface in October 2012. Since that point, the breadth and scale of child sexual abuse in the upper echelons of British society has been almost beyond belief. But despite the increasing variety of VIP abusers, one feature seems to unite each of the scandals: Everybody seemed to know, but nothing was done.

Scandal after scandal has sucked in media tycoons, politicians and celebrities, so much so that Home Secretary Theresa May's attempts to launch an independent inquiry into allegations of a Westminster abuse ring found itself in pieces again after she scrapped the panel last month. It has been virtually impossible for May to find someone willing to head up the inquiry who hasn't in some way been associated with those it was required to investigate.

This week, fresh accusations surfaced against Prince Andrew relating to his links to billionaire investor Jeffrey Epstein. The document that has named Prince Andrew as having had sexual relations on a number of occasions with "Jane Doe 3"--who was 17 years old at the time--is part of a long-running lawsuit by two other women alleging that they were sexually exploited by Epstein over a several-year period. The various meetings were allegedly facilitated by Ghislaine Maxwell, daughter of disgraced media tycoon Robert Maxwell.

Prince Andrew
Prince Andrew (Aaron McCracken)

Epstein, once one of the wealthiest investment managers in the world, was first accused of recruiting young girls for his sexual pleasure in March 2005. Florida police began investigating the claims. But as the case progressed, state attorney Barry Krischer, who also ran Florida's crimes against children unit, became increasingly reluctant to mount a prosecution. He said the local victims were not credible witnesses.

Rather than charging Epstein, Krischer took the bizarre step of referring the case to a grand jury. America remains one of few countries in the world to still use grand juries to decide whether to prosecute a case. Two recently decided against indicting police officers who killed Mike Brown and Eric Garner. There is no judge presiding over a grand jury--instead, prosecuting attorneys, typically with close working relationships with the police, instruct the jury on the law. These attorneys hold a great deal of sway over the final results.

It is no surprise, therefore, that the rich and powerful are keen for cases against them to go to a grand jury, where the prosecuting attorney, whom they may personally know, is able to "advise" the jury on what legal decision it should take.

Who was it who flew in to Florida to advise Krischer on referring the case to a grand jury? None other than lawyer Alan Dershowitz, who now faces allegations of sexual abuse himself, and has been defending Prince Andrew in the past week. The Daily Beast reported in 2010 that "according to Detective Joe Recarey's report, Dershowitz began sending the detective Facebook and MySpace posts to demonstrate that some of these girls were no angels."

CLAIMS AGAINST Epstein mounted in the following years, but he was able to settle many outside of court. The latest allegations paint a picture of a man who believed (with good reason) that he was untouchable.

One particularly shocking claim was that Epstein was presented with three 12-year-old girls from France for his birthday one year. They were molested and flown home the next day. In a range of civil complaints settled out of court, young girls from South America, Europe and the former Soviet republics, few of whom spoke English, were recruited to service Epstein.

Eventually, in June 2008, Epstein pleaded guilty to one charge of soliciting a prostitute. He was encouraged by his lawyers to agree to a plea deal to avoid heavier charges. After serving 13 of an 18-month sentence, Epstein left Palm Beach county jail from a side entrance. He later moved back to his New York mansion and, according to the New York Post, celebrated his homecoming with Prince Andrew.

The prince's four-day stay with Epstein in New York landed him in trouble. He was forced to resign from his post as UK trade envoy after it was reported that Epstein had given Prince Andrew's former wife Sarah Ferguson £15,000 to help her with debt problems.

The current court case against Epstein involve challenges to his plea bargains. Two women have brought a lawsuit arguing that federal prosecutors violated their rights as victims by not consulting them over the secret deals. They were joined in their lawsuit this week by two more women, one of whom has named three instances of sexual abuse by Prince Andrew. Ghislaine Maxwell, Prince Andrew and Alan Dershowitz all deny the allegations against them.

What's astonishing in these and other cases is the apparent total awareness of those around sexual abusers about what was going on--and their inability or disinclination to stop what was happening. In all the recent cases, not only did those around the abuser know and tolerate what was going on, they often helped to facilitate it.

Jimmy Savile had his own set of keys to the female wards at Broadmoor hospital. But he is not the only abuser to have such direct access to his victims. Cyril Smith, the former Liberal MP for Rochdale, who died in 2010, also had a set of keys and conducted "medical examinations" on young boys at the Cambridge House children's home.

The allegations that Ghislaine Maxwell acted as a go-between to procure young women for Epstein have similar echoes of hiding abuse in plain sight. They remind us that while the vast majority of abuse is committed by men against women, things do not always fall on such clear-cut gender lines.

ALL THREE cases--Savile, Smith and the ongoing allegations against Epstein--make us ask why abuse is so easily ignored. Fear of VIP abusers plays a role here. The report into Savile's abuse at Broadmoor stated that he was "very manipulative, and many staff were convinced that he had close connections in high places and had the power to have them dismissed."

Simon Danczuk's book on the Cyril Smith details how Smith's rise from mayor to MP gave him connections that ensured anyone who raised concerns about his behavior would lose their job. Similarly, the women who worked as full-time masseuses for Epstein would have found their contracts swiftly ended had they spoken about the abuse they witnessed at the time it was happening.

But these instances of abuse cannot be solely explained by the ability of the rich to threaten and buy their way out of justice. Another important element is the way the abused are portrayed.

What is clear from the Epstein case is that contemporary capitalism perpetuates a culture in which men are encouraged to feel "entitled," while women are portrayed as "available." The women Epstein is alleged to have exploited say they were loaned out to other dignitaries, with Epstein using them as sexual fodder to gain potential blackmail material on other rich and powerful people.

According to the document relating to Prince Andrew, "Epstein instructed Jane Doe 3 that she was to give the Prince whatever he demanded, and required Jane Doe 3 to report back to him on the details of the sexual abuse."

This culture of entitlement is compounded by other elements of neoliberal ideology, such as "personal responsibility" and "choice." The effect is that blame for sexual abuse falls upon the victim. Sociologists Patricia Martin and Marlene Powell described the perverse responses that survivors face from the police, media and justice systems as amounting to "a second assault."

The reaction to the allegations by Jane Doe 3 seems to bear this out. Women and men who are brave enough to come forward and speak out about abuse are often dismissed as untrustworthy precisely because they are composed enough to articulate their experiences.

Of course, sexual abuse is by no means the preserve of the ruling class. The vast majority of abuse happens behind closed doors, often committed by family members or family friends. Often, this abuse lasts for many years because victims can be threatened with reprisal if they choose to disclose what has gone on.

But for the very rich and powerful there is clearly another element at play. They are protected not only by the fear of victims in coming forward, but also by the state. The public image of Jimmy Savile or Cyril Smith as loveable eccentrics also helped keep their sexually abusive behavior under wraps.

Amid the horror that each new scandal brings, we can but hope that other victims feel more able to come forwards. What is certain is that the Pandora's box that Savile's death opened up cannot be shut again--and nor should it.

First published at rs21.

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