The imbalance of power between sexual abuse victim and perpetrator has been starkly highlighted again in the last few days following Jane Doe 3’s legal move which named Prince Andrew as one of the people she was “forced to have sexual relations with when she was a minor”. Prince Andrew (who presumably would be referred to as Andrew Albert Christian Edward in court – a theoretical point) was quickly able to utilise Buckingham Palace’s and his US business contacts media power to outnumber Jane Doe 3 in the press. The co-accused Harvard law professor and criminal defence attorney who advised convicted paedophile Jeffrey Epstein on how to respond to the FBI’s investigation, Alan Dershowitz, tells the public via the mainstream media that accusations against himself were “totally false and made up…this person has made this up out of cloth, maliciously and knowingly in order to extort money from Mr Epstein” and in reference to Prince Andrew “if she’s lied about me, which I know to an absolute certainty she has, she should not be believed about anyone else.” Dershowitz even threatened the lawyers who filed Jane Doe 3’s “carefully investigated” lawsuit with legal action to disbar them. Jane Doe 3’s response: “These types of aggressive attacks on me are exactly the reason why sexual abuse victims typically remain silent and the reason why I did for a long time. That trend should change. I’m not going to be bullied back into silence.”
Abusers have a number of advantages over their victims. An abuser in a position of power will have more as a result of their wealth, access to the media and the fact people tend to see them as part of the fabric of society. The general public will find it very difficult to believe that criminality might have occurred when the accused is the son of the woman they’ve watched deliver an annual message to her subjects at 3pm every Christmas Day since 1952. You could cut the cognitive dissonance with a knife.
A list of some of the perpetrator’s powers is set out below, but also some of the positive changes which I think/hope are happening now to gradually shift the balance of power from perpetrator to victim. Some of the powers are applicable to abusers in general, some more so to abusers in positions of power.
The perpetrator’s power
- An abuser in a position of power will have huge financial and legal power (far outweighing those of the victim) to:
- Explore all possible legal routes to avoid or minimise justice, e.g. plea bargaining.
- Pay for the ‘best’ lawyers who are prepared to aggressively cross-question the accuser and exploit all weaknesses of the court system to the benefit of the perpetrator. E.g., because the brain processes trauma in a disjointed way, abuse survivors can display behaviour which might appear erratic to people who have not experienced abuse (or received coaching to understand these factors) – this can result in juries misinterpreting statements, evidence and answers as being untruthful, especially after direction from a ruthless lawyer. Victims often need to be prepared for trial to minimise the secondary trauma of giving evidence – this can lead to a ‘rehearsed’ feel to statements and answers which again can be exploited by the perpetrators defence.
- Move financial resources out of reach of the prosecuting authority should a conviction be achieved. This doesn’t prevent conviction but does ensure no long term damage once a jail sentence is completed and it may prevent adequate compensation being paid to the victims, or at least the need for further litigation to secure compensation.
- Pay for private investigators to dig up ‘dirt’ on the victims to discredit them in court.
- Pay for PR companies to boost their public image and encourage the public (and jury members) to think that the accusations couldn’t be true.
- An abuser in a position of power may have cultural power, g. people will finder it harder to believe that criminality might have occurred when the accused is the son of the woman they’ve watched deliver an annual message to her subjects at 3pm every Christmas Day since 1952.
- The well-connected perpetrator is likely to have media power, e.g. they can get messages out quickly to a wide audience, sometimes through an organisation, such as Buckingham Palace, to add extra weight to their denials. The accused and their organisation may historically have something the mainstream media want, such as photographs of Royal trips, which the media outlets are content to surrender objectivity in exchange for.
- An abuse ring involving Establishment-level abusers is likely to be able to stop police and journalist investigations at an early stage. This protects all members of the ring. The Establishment ring has the power to silence victims and potential whistle-blowers if necessary. (While particular individuals and organisations may hold evidence of the abuse for blackmail purposes, this does not help the victim).
- In general, the victim will often be from a group susceptible to othering – perpetrators often choose victims on this basis. These biases affect the general public’s view and therefore potentially the jury’s view should the case reach court. Juries are often unreliable as they reflect the biases and prejudices inherent within society. These biases and prejudices have a disproportionately negative affect on women, economically disadvantaged people, children etc.
- Our cultural values mean we tend not to believe children because they (apparently) make things up. We take the adults side by default.
- The criminal justice system has a poor track record of bringing sexual offences cases to court and, ultimately, achieving convictions.
- Despite occurrences of false reporting being extremely low there is a public perception that they are prevalent, in part due to these cases being relatively over-reported by the media. This fact can be exploited to the abuser’s advantage.
- Children (although not exclusively children) don’t always have the necessary vocabulary to articulate what has happened to them (e.g. they are less likely to know words to describe genitalia) or understand that boundaries have been crossed and that they have actually been abused as defined in law. Many individuals and organisations are against the sex and relationship education in schools which would mitigate this under the mistaken belief that it sexualises children.
- Family loyalty can often override the desire to report abuse because children don’t want parents/guardians (either those carrying out the abuse or those related to the abuser/s) to get into trouble or for family units to be broken up. ‘Family’ doesn’t have to be biological.
Some positive changes happening now which are hopefully starting to shift the balance of power towards the victim
- Increased public awareness of the level of child sexual abuse and exploitation within our society.
- Increased public awareness of the level of corruption within the Establishment and the failings that can occur as a result of individual biases and prejudices, e.g. within police forces.
- Increasing pressure from the public on the political arm of the Establishment to uncover Establishment-level sexual abusers of children and bring them to justice. Some members of the political establishment have led the call for a national inquiry (not without strong resistance from some, and minimal action from most).
- Some high profile prosecutions (although only from the media/entertainment world to date).
- Partly due to social media, information is shared more quickly and widely now than with traditional media channels in the past. Survivors, campaigners and concerned members of the public are able to connect on their own terms and organise.
- Emergence of new media outlets not constrained by traditional commercial media models, e.g. Exaro.
- Better support for victims (although still nowhere near enough).
- Wider availability of specialist legal support.