Virginia Giuffre is Prince Andrew’s accuser. She’s fought some of the most powerful people in the world – and, amazingly, she’s won.
claudia williams, narrating:
Hello, I’m Claudia and this is the Sensemaker.
One story, every day, to make sense of the world.
Virginia Roberts Giuffre… the woman who could bring down a Prince
And just a quick warning – today’s episode contains descriptions of sexual abuse.
There’s the one really famous picture of Virginia Roberts Giuffre. I’m looking at it now.
At first glance it’s nothing special. Just three people looking into the camera and smiling, and a bit of a reflected flash slightly spoiling the image.
But this photo is really important. It’s taken in 2001 upstairs in a house in Belgravia, London. In the middle is Virginia – a 17-year-old with long blonde hair.
And next to her is Prince Andrew, the Queen’s second son. He has his arm wrapped tightly around the teenage Virginia’s waist.
Behind them, leaning against the wall, is Ghislaine Maxwell. Now a convicted child sex trafficker.
And taking the photo? Virginia recalls handing her camera over to another convicted sex offender, Jeffrey Epstein, who committed suicide in 2019 before he was brought to trial.
Looking at that photo now it’s pretty obvious that of the four people present, Virginia Roberts Giuffre was the one with the least power.
So how has she ended up the strongest in 2022?
Virginia was born in Sacramento, California, in 1983. Her family moved to Palm Beach in Florida when she was four.
By all accounts, she lived a relatively happy childhood.
That was until she was 12, when she was molested by a family friend.
A year later things started going wrong. She ran away from home and ended up on the streets of Miami.
“At seven I started getting abused by a family member. My childhood was stolen from me. I just started imploding. I would run away, I’d be on the streets for days at a time.”Virginia Giuffre
Virginia says she was picked up by a sex trafficker called Ron Eppinger who abused her, until the FBI intervened.
It was a traumatic few years. But Virginia was determined to get her life back on track.
Her dad helped her to get a job at Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach. Everything was looking up, until she met Ghislaine Maxwell.
Remember – she’s the other woman in that picture from 2001. She offered Virginia a job. The chance to become a massage therapist for Jeffrey Epstein.
Virginia thought it was her big break. Instead – things got a lot worse.
“They said, take off your clothes. I had these little-girl undies on – like, little hearts on them, I remember. And they were laughing at that because they liked that. The younger you looked, the better it is. It turned very sexual, and it was abuse straight away from both of them. I got paid $200, and the butler drove me home.”Virginia Giuffre
Virginia says she became one of many young and vulnerable women who Ghislaine Maxwell and Jeffrey Epstein sexually abused and trafficked around the world on the infamous private jet – the “Lolita Express”.
That’s how Virginia says she ended up in London in 2001, and in that photograph with Prince Andrew.
“Ghislaine is right behind me and says: You’re going to have to do to him what you do to Jeffrey… Right after that photo was taken I was sexually abused by Prince Andrew for the first time.”Virginia Giuffre
Virginia alleges that Prince Andrew sexually abused her in that house in Belgravia – just a short walk from Buckingham Palace.
She alleges that further abuse happened in Jeffrey Epstein’s New York mansion and his private island in the US Virgin Islands.
Prince Andrew has always denied these allegations. You might remember his disastrous Newsnight interview back in 2019, where he claimed alibis in his defence including that he was incapable of sweating and that he was at a branch of Pizza Express on one of the key dates.
“I can absolutely categorically tell you it never happened.”Prince Andrew, Newsnight, 2019
But in August last year, Virginia brought a civil case against the prince. And that case is really interesting, because it helps to understand how the balance of power has shifted.
Prince Andrew’s lawyers have tried to get the case thrown out of court in New York. But their attempts have failed.
He’ll either have to settle, or start sharing documents with Virginia’s team.
At the same time, Ghislaine Maxwell was found guilty of child sex trafficking and conspiracy in the same court district of New York. Her conviction shows that courts are increasingly willing to listen to victims. That being rich and powerful might not be enough to protect you.
Last week Prince Andrew was stripped of all his royal patronages and military titles by the Queen. That means he’s now facing this case as a private citizen.
And if the case goes to court, he’ll have to give evidence under oath.
It’s pretty much the worst-case scenario for Prince Andrew and the rest of the royal family. But what does Virginia want? Might she agree to settle the case to avoid a trial?
This is our colleague Alexi Mostrous, who is our Investigations Editor here at Tortoise:
Alexi Mostrous, Investigations Editor, Tortoise: “In general in terms of a settlement 99 out of 100 cases like this will be settled settlement is kind of the presumption.
But the one sticking point that I can see is that Virginia’s lawyer, who’s a guy called David Boies, has said that she will consider settlement, but just the financial settlement isn’t likely to be good enough. And that raises the question of whether she wants something else does she want Andrew to sign a statement saying that he apologises for his behaviour?
I think the fact that she has chosen not to be anonymous is a pretty clear sign that she wants something more than just financial compensation. There are plenty of victims of Jeffrey Epstein who have got some money from his estate or from other individuals like Ghislaine Maxwell, and who have kept their anonymity. But Virginia has chosen not to be anonymous. And I think that that does suggest that she wants something else. She wants a level of accountability that goes beyond the financial.”
20 years later it looks like the ball is in Virginia’s court.
“I really hope that the authorities continue to put pressure on him. He needs to be held accountable we need to show the world that the rich and the mighty can fall too. I think there needs to be a new change”Virginia Giuffre
Whatever happens, the girl in the photo is the one with the power now.
Today’s story was written by Phoebe Davis and produced by Imy Harper.
Twenty years ago, Prince Andrew’s attacks on Virginia Roberts Giuffre’s credibility may have proved fatal to her case. Now, the power has shifted