How Prince Andrew’s legal defence has prompted accusations of victim-blaming and gaslighting

Legal team's tactics ‘worst forms of victim-blaming in sex offence cases’, leading human rights lawyer tells Maya Oppenheim

Tuesday 18 January 2022 17:05
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<p>Prince Andrew is set to face a civil case over allegations he sexually assaulted Giuffre in 2001 when she was only 17-years-old</p>

Prince Andrew is set to face a civil case over allegations he sexually assaulted Giuffre in 2001 when she was only 17-years-old

Details of Prince Andrew’s planned defence of the sexual assault lawsuit brought by Virginia Giuffre have led to accusations of “victim blaming” and “gaslighting” after his lawyers requested his accuser’s mental health records - including confidential notes penned from her counselling sessions.

Last week it emerged the royal is set to face a civil case over allegations he sexually assaulted Ms Giuffre in 2001 when she was only 17-years-old. The prince vehemently denies all the allegations and any wrongdoing.

Dr Charlotte Proudman, a lawyer who initially accused Prince Andrew of victim-blaming in an interview with Sky News on Sunday, told The Independent: “Using the most intimate and personal mental health or medical records is victim blaming and victim shaming.

“Why does the accused have the right to intrude into their entire lives? Why is the court allowing this? This is an abusive process. This isn’t a fair hearing, this is a very unfair hearing for victims of trauma.

“Many victims won’t come forward to report rape or abuse because they fear that their counselling or medical records will be accessed by the accused. Everything they told a professional in a confidential setting is then poured over by the accused to find inconsistencies.”

After a judge rebuffed Prince Andrew’s bid to have the lawsuit thrown out, the royal alleged Ms Guiffre “may be suffering from false memories” in court documents.

Dr Proudman, an award-winning family law lawyer, argued suggesting victims have false memories is “highly abusive in my opinion” - adding that it constitutes “gaslighting by saying that their version of reality, their memories are distorted, so their whole sense of self is questioned”.

“We don’t say to the accused that they have false memories and that’s why they cannot remember sexually assaulting the complainant? Perhaps we should,” the prominent human rights barrister added.

American judge Lewis Kaplan rebuffed Andrew’s bid to have the sexual assault lawsuit against him dismissed – meaning the prince will face a civil sex case trial later this year.

Ms Giuffre, a campaigner who helps sex trafficking victims, accuses Prince Andrew of “sexual assault and battery” against her when she was only 17, as well as alleging she was trafficked by Jeffrey Epstein, the late disgraced billionaire financier, to have sex with the royal when she was that age.

Harriet Wistrich, founding director of the Centre for Women’s Justice and award-winning human rights lawyer, told The Independent the tactics employed by Prince Andrews’ lawyers epitomise the “worst forms of victim-blaming in sex offence cases”.

She added: “Which move beyond the legitimate investigation of evidence that may cast doubt on the accuracy and credibility of the victim’s allegations, to a wholesale attack on her character”.

Ms Wistrich said it was especially worrying Prince Andrew’s legal team appear to be venturing “down the false memory route” - warning it is a “highly controversial and largely discredited approach”.

She argued it appears to be a “somewhat desperate” bid to distract from their “own uphill task of providing evidence to support claims made by Prince Andrew in the Newsnight interview, that he doesn’t sweat and was at Pizza Express in Woking when allegedly with Victoria Guiffre.”

Andrew’s lawyers have argued Ms Giuffre, previously known as Virginia Roberts, relinquished her right to sue him due to agreeing to a $500,000 settlement agreement with Epstein.

Jayne Butler, chief executive of Rape Crisis England and Wales, said: “Counselling plays an important part of a victim and survivor’s ability to deal with the trauma they have faced and granting access to very personal counselling notes is not only intrusive but can be re-traumatising.

“Counselling and therapy is based around feelings, thoughts, and not facts, therefore we believe this information almost never holds relevance to a criminal case. Requests for counselling notes or medical records serve only to discredit and undermine victims and survivors, focussing on their credibility.”

She noted Rape Crisis England and Wales have previously stated counselling and therapy notes are non-disclosable - adding that this “would afford counsellors the same confidentiality privileges as found in the legal profession”.

Meanwhile, Andrea Simon, director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, argued all survivors of sexual violence should have the right to receive “life-changing and often life-saving therapy” in the aftermath of the attack.

“But much like the rest of the world, in the UK our justice system focuses on rape survivors’ ‘credibility’ in making decisions in rape and sexual abuse cases,” she added. “Survivors’ private therapy notes are commonly used to discredit survivors in court, one of many ways our legal system is stacked against survivors and why so few see justice.”

Ms Simon warned the criminal justice system often grapples with institutionalised victim-blaming, which leads to the grave infringement of survivor’s “rights to privacy”.

“Scrutinising therapy notes in a courtroom strips them of their context and sends a message loud and clear that it is survivors who are on trial, rather than the men who raped them,” she added.

“The impacts of this go far beyond the courtroom - causing significant additional trauma to women and girls going through the criminal justice process and potentially discouraging survivors from accessing vital therapeutic support at all.”

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