Andrew Windsor, commonly called Prince Andrew or the Duke of York, has been accused of raping a teenager. Even the scandal-loving British press are being relatively reticent about this, avoiding the word “rape” and saying that the allegation involves a woman who says she was “forced to have sex” with him. Perhaps certain newspapers can’t bear to associate the word “rape” with a royal. Or they think that there is some form of forced sex that is not rape. Both attitudes are equally worrying.
I do not, of course, know whether Andrew is guilty of the crime. Like every other accused person, he has a right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. And like every other person making an accusation of rape, his accuser has a right to be taken seriously.
The accusation has surfaced in a case in the US concerning Jeffrey Epstein, who allegedly procured Andrew’s unwilling teenage victim. If there appears to be a strong case against Andrew, he should of course be extradited to the US to stand trial. Even if the case is strong, I very much doubt that this will happen. I find it hard to believe that US authorities will want to ask their usually subservient allies in the UK government to hand over a member of the royal family.
True or not, the pressure is on Andrew, who has so far failed to comment in public and is instead hiding behind a brief statement issued by Buckingham Palace. The Palace declared yesterday that “any suggestion of impropriety with underage minors is categorically untrue”.
The use of the word “impropriety” to refer to something as horrific as rape makes me feel slightly sick.
The BBC keep telling us that it is unusual for the Palace to deny something directly, as they usually simply ignore allegations. This is outrageous. If the rape accusation had been made against a politician, bishop, business leader or celebrity, the person in question would be denying the allegations in front of a camera and facing questions from journalists. But a member of the Windsor family can simply ask his mother’s press office to issue a one-sentence comment, with the expectation that parts of the media will congratulate him for doing even this.
Have we learnt nothing from the horrors of child abuse in the Roman Catholic Church? From the revelations about Jimmy Saville, Rolf Harris and Max Clifford?
Recent months have seen a string of allegations and convictions involving sexual abuse in the Church of England. Oddly, this has made relatively little impact on the secular media. The story a few weeks ago about payouts for sexual abuse in the Scouts disappeared from the media almost as soon as it arrived. Earlier this week, the Guardian revealed systemic sexual abuse in the Army Cadets, yet the Guardian’s editors did not seem to think that the story was worth more than a half-page piece on Page 14.
I am not suggesting that every single allegation made about people within these institutions is true. But a vast number of them are true, as we can tell from the convictions and payouts. It seems clear that publicity about sexual abuse has urged other victims to come forward. In some cases, they have done so years or decades after the abuse in question. They then have to cope with the abuse being described as “historical”, with the implication that it is less important. In other cases, accusations have been made much sooner after the events in question.
With all this going on, we might expect society to be waking up to the dreadful reality of sexual abuse – its frequency, its impact, its horrifying normality in certain institutions. If society is waking up, the establishment and much of the media do not seem to be. So many of these cases involve people using status to abuse someone with less power and to get away with it. Priests, celebrities and army officers all know that their status makes them difficult to challenge. Abusers in churches, the BBC and the Army Cadets all saw their institutions close ranks to protect them.
It should be obvious that sexual abuse is often linked with power. Abuse is more likely when certain individuals are revered or protected by institutions that require people to accept what they’re told without question. Despite the revelations about the Army Cadets, the government is still keen to promote them, talking of the benefits of “military values” in schools. Military values, of course, involve doing what you’re told and not questioning authority. Can we still not be honest about what that leads to?
Apparently not. We now have a rape accusation against one of the most high-status people in the UK. Not only is he sixth in line to the throne, but Andrew has also spent years as a trade ambassador with UK Trade and Investment, a unit of the Department for Business. He has been particularly associated with securing arms deals for multinational companies such as BAE Systems, often with the world’s nastiest regimes. As such, he is complicit in the deaths of thousands, but this does not make the rape allegation any less serious.
With the rape accusation against Andrew Windsor, it is surely time to put an end to our usual practice of doing nothing to hold the Windsor family to account despite the vast influence, wealth and status accorded to them. Andrew’s brother Charles, expected to be head of state within a few years, expresses political opinions on all sorts of things but is never challenged about them on Newsnight or the Today programme.
Britain now faces a test. Either we can show that we take sexual abuse seriously and believe that all people are accountable. Or we can let deference, inequality and brutality win the day again. It’s up to us.