Survivors of abuse have long had to stand the tallest in the face of their own injustice. Virginia Giuffre’s settlement with Prince Andrew is a powerful demonstration that justice is possible. Some have questioned why she would settle and aggressively argued that she should’ve gone through with the trial, but a settlement is not a compromise of justice.
Although the carefully worded settlement — in which Andrew, who has denied the allegations, admits only an unfortunate association with Jeffrey Epstein and pledged to support the victims of sex trafficking as part of demonstrating his regret — does not admit any guilt, it is a strong statement that sends a message to survivors that it is possible to hold people accountable.
The settlement between Giuffre and Andrew is more than just about the money.
Giuffre’s years of fighting for herself now pave a way, other than a trial, for more survivors to fight and win against everyone who benefited from their exploitation and abuse. Interactions with their exploiter or abuser leave many survivors re-traumatized, and the experience of having their victimization examined and judged can amplify that trauma and fear.
For many survivors, trials mean reliving a time in their lives when they were severely abused. Thus, some never come forward or only do so years after their abuse. Giuffre was willing to stand up to three of the people she accused of exploiting her and expose herself to public scrutiny over and over again for years.
At 17, she was taken by Epstein to London where she alleges she was sexually abused multiple times by Andrew. According Giuffre, Andrew was among many who sexually abused her during that time. She is also one of the dozens of young women and girls allegedly lured by Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell, who has been convicted of being his accomplice, into the world of sex trafficking.
In 2015, Giuffre filed a defamation lawsuit against Maxwell. In it, she alleged that while she was a minor, she “was forced to have sexual relations” with Andrew “in three separate geographical locations.” That suit was settled in 2017.
In 2021, Giuffre filed her lawsuit against Andrew. He had attempted to throw her case out and pushed for an early dismissal. In a statement that was released on the same day of the settlement news, he stated that he “regrets his relationship with Jeffrey Epstein.”
Of course he does. This is a high-profile case that rightfully brought horrific allegations about people to light, and he was one of them. But in all of the frenzy, we should remember that sex trafficking, like all forms of human trafficking, also exists outside of high-profile circles. And it exists because there is a demand. Regardless of their social status, all perpetrators must be held accountable if we are to truly see justice for survivors like Giuffre.
The money, fame and media attention associated with the Epstein case can distract from the reality that human trafficking is based on exploiting another person because of the victim’s vulnerability. Many of Epstein’s victims and so many survivors who work to advance survivor justice at the nonprofit I lead, Karana Rising, faced myriad vulnerabilities — such as homelessness, prior sexual abuse and domestic violence — that were used against them.
Giuffre’s years of fighting for herself now pave a way, other than a trial, for more survivors to fight and win against everyone who benefited from their exploitation and abuse.
Giuffre has been open about her experiences. She has said that after she was sexually abused by a family member at age 7, she ran away from home and was on the streets at age 14. Her first trafficker, Ronald Eppinger, was raided by the FBI and Giuffre was sent to live with her father, who worked as a maintenance manager at the Mar-a-Lago property owned by Donald Trump. Giuffre herself began to work there and was soon approached by Maxwell, who offered her a job as a traveling masseuse for Epstein. Soon, she was trapped in his sex trafficking ring and was sexually abused by him and a number of his male associates from 2000 to 2002.
At the core, the exploitation that Giuffre and so many more victims experience is the same. They were lured with false promises of love or a better life, abused and then sold and exploited for profit.
Her efforts to obtain justice reach further than just herself. It also goes further than that of the dozens of alleged victims of Epstein’s sex trafficking network. There are thousands of survivors of sex trafficking and sexual exploitation who also deserve justice.
Injustice for survivors often goes deeper than the abuse of trafficking. After exiting their trafficking situation, many survivors experience disbelief that leads to a lifetime of shame and even future abuse. Many are fearful of courts because they have been wronged by the very system that is meant to protect them, including being arrested for things that directly result from their own trafficking. This is coupled with a fear of facing exploiters whose abuse often includes threats of future harm to them or people they love if they come forward.
The settlement between Giuffre and Andrew is more than just about the money. Regardless of the motive, his acknowledgment that she has suffered “both as an established victim of abuse and as a result of unfair public attacks” is powerful for all survivors whose stories have never been believed or heard.
When people criticize victims for settling out of court, it ignores the fact that many survivors never receive this kind of justice and the people who sexually abused them continue with their lives. Yet, those tides are turning. Efforts to change society’s perceptions of what justice should look like for survivors and to hold everyone who exploited them accountable are commendable, brave and necessary if we are going to ensure every survivor has access to justice. Guiffre’s settlement is not just her win, but also a win for all survivors.