An abuse of power
Whatever the truth of allegations against Andrew Windsor, the Jeffrey Epstein case paints a grim picture of the top of society, reckons Paul Demarty
A group of anarchists published, for a time, an intermittently amusing parody Trotskyist paper, called The Fucking Left Rag. A short item from the 11th issue was probably its high point:
Channel 4 has announced it will continue an adaptation of David Peace’s acclaimed novel GB12 for another series. The show, which has been described as “horrific” and “irredeemable” for its plotlines involving corrupt police, media paedophiles and racism, will return in 2013 … and cause sane people to cry out ‘What the f**k!’ at their televisions.1
Your correspondent is also a fan of Peace, whose high-modernist historical crime fiction seemed almost camply over-stuffed with horror and violence at first glance, but has - if anything - been outdone in absurdity by the actual course of events. What was once an exaggeration for effect has become rather tame. Yes, dear reader: they really did give Jimmy Savile the keys to Broadmoor (the now-infamous sexual psychopath seems to have been almost in charge of the country at times, such was his access to establishment circles).
Since the exposure of Savile’s crimes, accusations have multiplied against rich and/or powerful men, of a more or less similar nature. There have even been allegations of sexually motivated ritual murder levied at former MPs unknown.
This is part of the context in which the fallout from Jeffrey Epstein’s token conviction must be viewed. For, although Epstein, an extremely wealthy financier, first faced accusations of soliciting underage sex in 2005, and was convicted in 2008, it must be said that the public has been primed for some of the more - shall we say - striking subsequent allegations by the irrefutable facts of the Savile and related cases.
Epstein was described widely as a Jay Gatsby character - the eponymous figure of F Scott Fitzgerald’s The great Gatsby was a penniless ex-soldier who remade himself as an apparently fabulously wealthy linchpin of New York high society; and so Epstein - a scion of a Brooklyn Jewish family, in that borough’s rougher days - rose to financial aristocracy, revelling in the Bacchanalian lifestyle his wealth made possible. In 2005, the darker side of his indulgences first came to light, when the mother of a Floridian 14-year-old reported to police the apparent use of her daughter for sexual favours. Further such allegations piled up.
In the event, Epstein’s lawyers - who included the celebrity criminal defender and Zionist ideologue, Alan Dershowitz, and ironically Kenneth Starr, who prosecuted Bill Clinton over the Monica Lewinsky affair - managed to negotiate a plea bargain that put him away for 18 months on one charge of solicitation, of which he served 13. On release, he was registered as a sex offender, which he denied was the same as being a predator: “It’s the difference between a murderer and a person who steals a bagel.”
This was not good enough for many victims, who opened civil proceedings against Epstein - many settled, other claims were dismissed. A different tack is being taken by the plaintiffs in the lawsuit that has caused all this most recent fuss: they are suing the United States under the Crime Victims’ Rights act, alleging that by accepting such a weak-tea plea bargain, the US effectively denied these women access to justice.
Two women - Jane Doe 1 and Jane Doe 2 - began the proceedings, and the allegations of sexual abuse against both Dershowitz and Andrew Windsor - or the Duke of York, as the media prefer to call him - come from a court document asking for two further women, Jane Doe 3 and 4, to be included in the action.
It is, of course, those allegations that have garnered the most column inches. British princes are celebrities in this day and age, at home and abroad; thus this peculiar tale of life at the top has had an extra frisson of sensation that could not be provided by the misdeeds of a financier alone. Jane Doe 3, who alleges sexual abuse at the hands of Andrew, has been named by the Daily Mail as Virginia Roberts; indeed, faced with such a blend of royalty, celebrity and ‘paedophilia’, we suspect that titillated Mail columnists barely know where to look.
We put ‘paedophilia’ in scare quotes because there is a reason for the official medical definition - sexual attraction to pre-pubescents. Nothing like that is alleged against Epstein or his friends. Sex between adults and teenagers has been taboo only relatively recently - in this country, the age of consent was 13 until 1885. (We find it faintly amusing that when an adolescent reads The hunger games, she is a ‘young adult’; when she has sex, she is a ‘child’.)
What is at issue here is rather the commodification of female sexuality - allegations against Epstein, proven and unproven, return repeatedly to his insistence that his ‘conquests’ be paid; and the present accusations against prince Andrew hinge on Epstein’s effective assertion of ownership over the women.
The significance of this distinction lies in the fact that the problem is not the violation of a hypostatised image of ‘the child’, in a definition that includes the first stages of sexual maturity, but the sources of power, and the effects of power inequality on human individuals at both ends of the scale. Epstein’s aperçu on his sex offender status is apposite - to him, these women were basically bagels, inanimate wodges of organic matter with holes in them, fit to be bought, sold and consumed. (In this, he aligns with the wider history of sexual relationships between adult men and adolescent women, in that it typically represents in class society a property relationship between fathers and daughters.)
In the Communist manifesto, Marx and Engels ridicule the “virtuous indignation” of the bourgeoisie when they contemplate the “community of women” demanded by the communists - community of women has “existed almost from time immemorial”, and besides, it reaches an absurd form in capitalist society, where the “bourgeois[ie], not content with having wives and daughters of their proletarians at their disposal, not to speak of common prostitutes, take the greatest pleasure in seducing each other’s wives”.
Marx’s and Engels’ point is that, while property in women is an important feature of pre-capitalist societies, the unique contribution of capitalism to the matter is to render this a thoroughly ordinary affair - women are not privileged objects of exchange, as they were between feudal aristocratic families, but “mere instruments of production”. Hence the sheer vulgarity of the picture painted by the four Jane Does - a dissolute Wall Street man accumulating a harem of young women, and passing them around at lavish parties like grams of cocaine.
That is not the only thing thoroughly commodified by capitalism - also pertinent in this affair is the fungibility of justice. If, in Epstein’s world, money could buy the sexuality of young women, it could buy favourable legal outcomes even more so. Try to imagine a poor black man fighting allegations of the same nature in Florida getting off with 18 months on a plea bargain. You will have to try hard.
Money buys lawyers: lawyers of the calibre of Dershowitz, provided he can be distracted from enthusiastically advocating torture long enough to show up for a day in court. Empirical studies find - surprise, surprise - that the hourly rate of your lawyers correlates roughly with the likelihood of a favourable outcome in court. Put money in; and, within reason, get justice out.
It also attracts powerful friends. All papers have faithfully reproduced Buckingham Palace’s “categorical denials” on the matter of Andrew’s alleged sexual contact with Virginia Roberts. The more insidious allegation is that he lobbied on behalf of Epstein, urging leniency. We know well enough that even after his conviction and release, the prince did not ditch his old friend - then News of the World journalist Mazher Mahmood caught the two together, leading to Andrew’s ‘dismissal’ from his pseudo-job as UK trade envoy. Dershowitz, a friend as well as advocate of Epstein, is also accused of such lobbying. There are suggestions from the women’s lawyers that terms of the plea bargain guaranteed confidentiality as to the entreaties of Epstein’s many influential friends.
Dershowitz’s rage about all this is thus not just about sexual accusations against him. He is potentially on the hook for this: he was party to a plea bargain that could be found to be illegal by US statute - all in a most noble cause: to protect the right of his super-rich fund manager friend to exploit young women, or even coerce them into sex. Andrew Windsor is the same gormless twerp he has always been - but let the abiding image of this case be a spluttering, enraged Alan Dershowitz. For that is the very image of the bourgeois legal system: for all the hypocritical pretence at propriety, laughably easily seduced by those with a bit of money.