One consequence of lockdown has been having time to watch some excellent TV programmes.
Netflix’ double ‘Epstein: Filthy Rich’ and ‘Athlete A’ are disturbing documentaries both detailing the sexual exploitation of girls and young women by men of significant power.
Epstein abused his enormous wealth and influence by enticing girls to his mansions around the world only then to sexually abuse them, controlling them with glamorous lifestyles and lavish gifts.
Dr Larry Nasser, the indispensable doctor to USA Gymnastics abused his position of trust (of 29 years) as the team’s osteopathic physician by performing wholly unnecessary vaginal and anal procedures on girls desperate for sporting success. His control was by being the ‘nice guy’ in the prevailing harsh climate of discipline and emotional abuse of USA gymnastics.
Both Epstein and Nasser dodged justice for decades, using their many financial, professional and social resources, to shirk off attempts to out their offences. In both cases, complaints were made which were dealt with inadequately. Blind eyes were turned and coverups happened. In Epstein’s case he was revered even by the police, who passed over many a complaint, usually made by young girls from the poorer community adjacent to Palm Beach where Epstein took his pickings.
In Nasser’s case when ‘Athlete A’ (Maggie Nichols) disclosed, her parents were told everything was in hand, USA Gymnastics were dealing with matters. They did not pass it to the police, allowing Nasser to continue abusing girls in the guise of medical treatment, and Maggie was dubiously dropped from the US team.
Breaking the silence - Criminal prosecution
Over decades Epstein and Nasser abused hundreds of girls before the law finally caught up with them. In Epstein’s case, he evaded the final reckoning in the criminal courts by committing suicide before trial. The victims in Nasser’s case however did get belated justice, Nasser being sentenced for 40 to 125 years in prison, for sexual abuse crimes and for possessing child indecent images.
Civil compensation claims
For Epstein’s victims having been deprived of seeing him being prosecuted and in all likelihood sent to prison, their only redress remains in the civil law – in the form of compensation. For a while even that looked uncertain. Just two days before his prison suicide he signed a will placing his huge assets into a trust fund, making it more difficult for his victims to access.
Only a few days ago however, a Virgin Islands’ judge ruled that Epstein’s victims can now claim compensation from his estate, valued at $630 million. A special compensation fund has been set up, and there will be no limit to how much each victim can claim. Around seventy women have indicated they will take part in the compensation scheme. They would however have to forfeit their right to sue any of Epstein’s alleged co-conspirators including Ghlislain Maxwell. Even if they are legally time barred, they can still participate in the scheme.
Some of Nassar’s victims have pursued justice in the form of civil actions and have been successful. Those who were abused by him when him when he was working for Michigan State University as a physician, have received settlements totalling £500 million settlement.
An independent report in December 2018 which detailed a ‘toxic pattern of bureaucratic paralysis’ among Olympic leaders who failed to act promptly on allegations and did not deal with them seriously enough. Nassar was described as acting within ‘an ecosystem that facilitated criminal acts’.
In March last year 52 of Nassar’s victims filed civil compensation claims against the US Olympic Committee. In Jan 2020 after filing for bankruptcy, USAG (USA Gymnastics) announced plans to provide $215 million in settlement funds for Nassar’s victims.
Why would a victim/survivor pursue compensation?
The purpose of a civil claim is to recognise harm caused by awarding 'damages', or compensation, and to put a person back into the financial position they would have been in had they not been harmed, in so far as it is reasonably possible.
Many victims of sexual abuse live in silence and fear. For any victim of sexual abuse speaking out takes great courage. Many people who embrace the civil compensation process see it as a form of catharsis, and an important step in their recovery. Pursuing a civil compensation claim can be about making the transition from 'victim' to 'survivor'. It can be about taking control of the effects of abuse and over the abuser, which may be empowering. A financial settlement can help a person access the specialist medical treatment and therapy they may need which may not be available on the NHS.
It is hoped that both Esptein and Nassar’s victims will all achieve some form of justice in the form of successful compensation claims. No amount of money can ever change the past or heal the often devastating effects of childhood sexual abuse.
However the civil legal process can serve to provide a formal acknowledgment of injustices committed and a validation of the deep and harmful effect of childhood sexual abuse.