Editor’s Note: Kara Alaimo, an associate professor of public relations at Hofstra University, is the author of “Pitch, Tweet, or Engage on the Street: How to Practice Global Public Relations and Strategic Communication.” She was spokesperson for international affairs in the Treasury Department during the Obama administration. Follow her on Twitter @karaalaimo. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author. View more opinion at CNN.
Virginia Giuffre, the woman who alleges she was trafficked by Jeffrey Epstein and forced to have sex with people including Prince Andrew, has reached a settlement with the prince and plans to file for a dismissal of her civil lawsuit against him, according to a court document filed by her attorneys on Tuesday.
In the lawsuit, she had claimed Prince Andrew was aware that she was underage when he sexually abused her multiple times. The prince “denies that he was a co-conspirator of Epstein or that Epstein trafficked girls to him,” according to a filing by his attorneys, but had faced the charges as a private citizen in New York after Buckingham Palace announced that he had been stripped of his military titles.
In a 2019 BBC interview, Prince Andrew expressed regret over the fact that he had stayed in the home of Epstein, who was a convicted sex offender, but said he had “no recollection” of meeting Giuffre. However, a photo widely circulated in the media appears to show Prince Andrew with his arm around Giuffre.
Giuffre is among a number of women who accused Epstein – who died by suicide in prison in 2019 – of abuse.
While we don’t know the amount of the settlement announced on Tuesday, the fact that Prince Andrew has apparently been made to pay reparations is an important outcome, not just for Giuffre, but for all women.
After all, what has happened is extraordinarily unusual. The son of the Queen of the United Kingdom – a man who is royalty – was stripped of his privileges by his own mother after being accused of sexual misconduct and made to account for his behavior in a foreign court, though he ended up settling with Giuffre out of court.
This sends a deafening message to other powerful men: No privileges in the world will enable you to use your power to dodge allegations of sexual abuse. Of course, Prince Andrew was not held fully accountable for Giuffre’s allegations because he was not charged with crimes, despite the fact that Giuffre says she was 17 years old when she was allegedly made to engage in sex acts with him in both the United States and United Kingdom.
Still, the fact that he has essentially faced royal excommunication, a foreign civil trial and has been made to pay a settlement to her can only have put many other men on notice – and signals to other women who have been victims of sexual abuse that their voices will be heard.
This is a far cry from the days before the #MeToo movement, when influential men like Harvey Weinstein long counted on their power to enable them to abuse women without consequences. (Weinstein was found guilty in 2020 of a criminal sexual act and third-degree rape in New York, and last year pleaded not guilty to additional sexual assault charges in California.)
“It is known that Jeffrey Epstein trafficked countless young girls over many years,” acknowledged a letter submitted to federal Judge Lewis Kaplan regarding the settlement. “Prince Andrew regrets his association with Epstein, and commends the bravery of Ms. Giuffre and other survivors in standing up for themselves and others. He pledges to demonstrate his regret for his association with Epstein by supporting the fight against the evils of sex trafficking, and by supporting its victims.”
The letter also states that “Prince Andrew intends to make a substantial donation to Ms. Giuffre’s charity in support of victims’ rights. Prince Andrew has never intended to malign Ms. Giuffre’s character, and he accepts that she has suffered both as an established victim of abuse and as a result of unfair public attacks.”
While it remains striking that Prince Andrew did not take responsibility for harming Giuffre himself, it is especially fitting that the settlement will enable Giuffre to help other victims, as she serves as a strong role model for other women who may be reluctant to come forward with their own accounts of sexual abuse. Her bravery is inspiring, and her interest in helping others is admirable.
Queen Elizabeth’s role in the case is also significant. While the first instinct of a mother can only be to protect her son, her unwillingness to do so sends a message that she recognizes that it is no longer socially acceptable to protect men accused of sexual misconduct – and serves as a strong example to the family members and powerful people who surround other alleged offenders about how they should conduct themselves.
Of course, it’s likely that her hand was forced by concern over her family’s reputation; The Sunday Times in the United Kingdom reported that the Queen’s private estate was underwriting Prince Andrew’s legal bills, and the Daily Beast reported that the Queen sent a message to the media warning them not to take photos of her family on the day Prince Andrew arrived at her Balmoral estate in August. This was widely interpreted as an effort to protect him (the palace said they send such letters routinely, but the fact that it was sent the day Andrew arrived – long after the arrival of the Queen – was noteworthy).
Still, the fact that the Queen realized in the end that she couldn’t protect her son signals an important social shift.
There is an important lesson to be learned about accountability from the way Prince Andrew lost his royal military titles and charities so ignominiously and was made to answer to an accuser in a foreign land. It is a lesson other powerful men around the globe will hopefully take note of.
If you are struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts, please call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. For support outside of the US, a worldwide directory of resources and international hotlines is provided by the International Association for Suicide Prevention. You can also turn to Befrienders Worldwide. If you have information about human trafficking, you can reach out to the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 (TTY: 711) or Text: 233733.