Review of The Lasting Harm by Lucia Osborne-Crowley: The Legacy of Abuse

Review of The Lasting Harm by Lucia Osborne-Crowley: The Legacy of Abuse

Lucia Osborne-Crowley’s “The Lasting Harm” is a book that lingers in the mind long after reading. It delves into the trial of Ghislaine Maxwell, the British socialite convicted of procuring young girls for the billionaire pedophile Jeffrey Epstein. Osborne-Crowley, who observed the trial from the press box, aims to refocus the narrative on the victims, tracing the abuse they suffered as children and its impact on their lives into middle age. However, the book is not just about Maxwell’s and Epstein’s victims; it also reflects on the author and, by extension, the reader.

Osborne-Crowley, a paralegal turned freelance journalist, brings a deeply personal perspective to her reporting. She was abused from the age of nine by a non-family member and violently raped at 15 by a stranger, experiences she has detailed in her previous books. She does not pretend to maintain journalistic distance; instead, she embraces her proximity to the subject, becoming an almost traumatized participant rather than an objective narrator. Initially, her habit of inserting herself into the story might seem distracting, but by the end, it becomes clear that her insights help form a more comprehensive picture.

“Yes, I am biased,” she writes. “Everybody is, whether we own it or not.” She argues that sexual violence is so pervasive that, statistically, someone involved in any sex offense trial—be it a juror, lawyer, reporter, or even judge—might have personal experience with such trauma. In the Maxwell case, there were at least three hidden victims in the room: Osborne-Crowley herself, a juror who disclosed his childhood abuse to other jurors, and an expert witness on false memories called in Maxwell’s defense.

Osborne-Crowley questions the biases of male reporters who scrutinize the women’s testimonies for inconsistencies. She suggests that their lack of experience with sexual trauma skews their perceptions, making them more susceptible to myths about how a “real” victim should behave. If experience equals bias, then everyone has it. The only remedy, she argues, is to continually question our own instincts and prejudices, a process she guides the reader through.

The book explores why victims’ recollections are often fragmented and why they might return to their abusers. Osborne-Crowley tells the story of Liz, a young woman who, despite being sexually assaulted by Maxwell and Epstein, was repeatedly lured back to their parties. Liz had been previously abused as a child, creating a cycle where she sought affection from those who ultimately harmed her. “We keep going back to perpetrators even after the abuse starts because we want a different ending; we’ve been shown the good parts and we want them back,” Osborne-Crowley explains.

She offers thoughtful recommendations for reforming the court process, though some might impinge on a fair trial for defendants. There are also journalistic threads left hanging, such as claims of a cover-up to protect Epstein’s powerful friends and crucial witnesses she couldn’t track down. These gaps are perhaps unsurprising, given that Osborne-Crowley experienced a breakdown while writing the book, triggered by the brutal stories she heard and her own memories.

Where “The Lasting Harm” excels is in its empathy, insight, and ability to gently expose the reader to their own unthinking assumptions. Osborne-Crowley wasn’t just watching the trial; she was observing us, watching it through a lens that most don’t even realize exists.

At the heart of the book is a question about who is permitted to speak on the subject of sexual abuse, particularly childhood abuse. Osborne-Crowley, the author of “I Choose Elena” and “My Body Keeps Your Secrets,” brings her indelible experience to her court reporting. She clarifies her stance at the outset: “I have been accused many times of being a biased journalist because of my history of abuse. To that, I say: yes, I am biased. Everybody is, whether we own it or not.” She argues that journalists without experience of sexual trauma subscribe to a patriarchal, societal narrative that doesn’t account for the pervasive effects of trauma and shame on victims.

After the guilty verdict, Osborne-Crowley interviews a juror who reveals his own childhood abuse, an experience he shared in the jury room but did not disclose in advance. This revelation raises questions about whether survivors of abuse can be fair or impartial jurors in similar cases. One study suggests that survivors show greater empathy with victims, while those without such experience are less likely to be sympathetic, proving the author’s point about bias.

The Maxwell trial took place in late 2021 in New York, with limited seats available to journalists. Osborne-Crowley ensured she secured one of those seats, sitting “a foot away” from Maxwell while her victims were questioned. Despite this proximity, Maxwell remains a shadowy figure in the courtroom sections, a constant presence but also a notable absence. Osborne-Crowley intercuts her eyewitness account with chapters set in the 90s and 00s, partially dramatizing the stories of the four women, Jane, Annie, Kate, and Carolyn. This approach aims to make the reader see the scared and vulnerable teenagers pressured into situations they couldn’t escape.

The reliability of memory is central to the trial, and Osborne-Crowley argues that every case of this nature should feature impartial evidence from experts on PTSD and trauma memory. She also advocates for removing the statute of limitations on childhood abuse and changing the rules around defamation suits, which are increasingly used to intimidate victims and reporters into silence.

“The Lasting Harm” is a painful read, and Osborne-Crowley is frank about the personal cost of writing it. She quotes investigative journalist Julie K. Brown, who says, “journalism is about giving a voice to the powerless,” a mission Osborne-Crowley fulfills admirably. The fact that none of Epstein’s male associates has yet been held accountable suggests there is still a long way to go.

Source: The Guardian

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