(Content note: rape, victim-blaming, domestic violence)
The only appropriate response the Prime Minister of New Zealand could have made to questions about the allegations against Prince Andrew is: “No comment.”
But that’s not what he said, for reasons only he can say (though coming a day after he gave David Cameron selfie advice, it’s hard not to wonder why Key’s suddenly desperate to tie his colours to the Rule Britannia mast.)
The thing is, of course you’re pre-judging a situation when you say things like “he’s very well-respected.” That should be irrelevant (and obvious, since he’s a member of the royal family). Of course you’re pre-judging a situation when you say things like “he’s very well-respected … and people will have to put up the case.” The only inference you can take from that statement is that no questions need be asked of Prince Andrew; all questions must be asked of the complainant. No doubt may be expressed about Prince Andrew; all doubt must be focused on the complainant.
Take it outside the context of a rape allegation. You’ve been asked to choose between two types of coffee. The person showing you the coffee says, “I don’t want to influence your decision. Obviously the flat white is very popular.”
Why else would they comment on the flat white if they weren’t trying to influence you? What other purpose can that comment serve?
So John Key was, in fact, pre-judging the allegations made against Prince Andrew. Because he felt the need to re-inforce that Prince Andrew is a good man who is respected and important.
This isn’t unique to Key or the Prince. This is just what happens every time a prominent man gets accused of rape or abuse. When Charles Saatchi publicly choked Nigella Lawson, the same thing happened: “oh, we don’t know what went on, we can’t make assumptions, that’s not fair.”
What was left unspoken: not fair to the man accused of being abusive.
(It wasn’t as bad as it could have been – if Nigella had been a young no-name trophy wife, without her international universal adoration, the photos would probably never have seen the light of day because no one would care.)
“Innocent until proven guilty” is a fine principle to base your criminal justice system on, but the unfortunate, and at this stage in our cultural development I call it deliberate, implication of focusing our whole conversation on his innocence and his rights to defend himself and his well-respected stature is that she is guilty, she has a case to answer, she must be suspect.
With that attitude, it’s no surprise that many rape survivors who’ve been through the process say it felt like they were the ones on trial.