The Media Must Do Its Job on Sexual Assault Allegations | Opinion

Virginia Roberts Giuffre has rocked the politics of three continents by accusing numerous prominent men in the U.K., the U.S. and Israel of having sex with her when she was 17, 18 or 19 years old. These men include Prince Andrew, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and several prominent Americans—including me, former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Bill Richardson, Leslie Wexner, Marvin Minsky, Tom Pritzker and others. They (we) have all categorically denied the accusation. So one or more people are lying. The media has widely reported on the accusations, but they have not investigated the credibility of the accuser.

Guiffre has now become a media star, having appeared on Netflix, British television, Australian television and in newspaper interviews. She has not been challenged or confronted with the massive documentary evidence of her long history of lying about prominent people.

A few examples will suffice. In a manuscript she wrote and in an interview she gave, she described in great detail seeing Al Gore, Tipper Gore and Bill Clinton hobnobbing with Jeffrey Epstein on his notorious island. But Secret Service record, and those of others, indisputably prove that none of the three were ever on that island and that the Gores didn't even know Epstein. Guiffre made up that entire story for which she was paid $160,000.

She has also said that she saw me "hanging around the island" on several occasions. That would have been impossible because I was on the island only once, as my travel records prove, with my wife and daughter and another professor's family, years before Guiffre ever met Epstein. I was never on the island after she met him. She has also claimed she had sex with me on six or seven occasions, but her own lawyer has admitted, in a tape-recorded conversation, that my travel records prove that I could not have been in the places she claims to have met me, and that she was "wrong...simply wrong" in accusing me. She told her best friend that she was pressured by her lawyers to name me in order to extort a billion dollars from Wexner. The truth, which I can prove through her own emails and manuscript, is that I never even met her.

Another one of her lawyers told a TV interviewer that, based on his 11-year investigation, he did not believe "any high-profile people would be implicated," and that Leslie Wexner—whom she claimed had sex with her on numerous occasions—was innocent and wasn't even aware of any sexual misconduct relating to Epstein. In other words, her own lawyers don't seem to believe her—yet the media is now accepting her story hook, line and sinker without any independent corroboration.

Contrast this with how the media has dealt with accusations of sexual misconduct against both former Vice President Joe Biden and Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Numerous investigative reporters were assigned to dig into the background of the accusers, to ferret out any inconsistencies or gaps in their stories, and to provide the public with the objective information necessary to assess the comparative credibility of the accusers and the accused. This scrutiny has been conspicuously absent in Guiffre's case despite the existence of much evidence casting doubt on her general credibility, especially with regard to falsely accusing prominent people.

Federal charges announced against Ghislaine Maxwell
Federal charges announced against Ghislaine Maxwell Spencer Platt/Getty Images

And contrast this to the great lengths to which the media has gone to investigate virtually every aspect of my past life. This has included my first marriage; my first wife's death 10 years after we were divorced, my 50 years of teaching at Harvard, articles I have written relating to sexual assault and even my history of therapeutic massages and beach-going. They have come up with nothing more salacious than the fact that my wife and I occasionally skinny-dipped on a beach in Martha's Vineyard years ago and received massages from middle-aged professional massage therapists at Epstein's house years before he was suspected of any wrongdoing. (And yes, I kept my shorts on!) There was not a single prior allegation of sexual misconduct ever leveled against me, nor any evidence that I have not lived a relatively routine and normal life for an 81-year-old.

Why this disparity? Because of the fear that any investigation into an Epstein accuser will be seen as "victim-shaming." But that begs the question of who is the victim. It also begs the question of whether a victim of one person—in this case of Epstein—may be victimizing others by falsely accusing them. Epstein himself and his actions are so toxic that no one is willing to be perceived as questioning the credibility of any of his victims, for fear they will be seen as defending Epstein. But if any of his victims are falsely accusing others—as Guiffre surely is—then their own victimization does not immunize them from responsible scrutiny.

Following the arrest of Ghislaine Maxwell, speculation arose as to whether she might have access to recordings allegedly made by Epstein's friends and associates of their having sex in his homes and airplanes. If such tapes exist, and Maxwell can produce them, she may have some bargaining chip with which to negotiate a deal. I never heard of such tapes while I was representing Epstein, but I sure hope that they exist and are produced. They will provide far better evidence of whom, if anyone, may have been involved sexually with any women allegedly trafficked by Epstein. I know for certain that there could not possibly be any tapes, photographs or any evidence involving me because I never had sex with anyone other then my wife from the first day I met Jeffrey Epstein. Such photographic evidence would put the nail in Guiffre's coffin of lies.

Any woman who alleges that she was sexually assaulted should be heard, listened to and taken seriously. Her allegations should be thoroughly investigated. But a thorough and objective investigation is a double-edged sword. Most often, it cuts in favor of the accuser because most accusers are telling the truth. But sometimes, it cuts against false accusers, who are making up stories for money, revenge or other reasons. Thoroughly investigating a woman's claim of sexual assault is not victim-shaming. It is taking the allegation seriously and subjecting it to the same kind of probing analysis to which all allegations of serious crimes should be subjected. It is treating women equally, while at the same time applying the presumption of innocence to all.

Alan Dershowitz, the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law, Emeritus at Harvard Law School, is the author of Guilt by Accusation: The Challenge of Proving Innocence in the Age of #MeToo.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.