THERE are those rare moments in life when everything that you’ve known all along is exemplified with such sharp and searing precision that it seems impossible that anyone could fail to recognise it.

That strange sense of vindication when all of the threads that you knew lay connected under the surface rise up like a web, revealing themselves to the world.

Last Saturday brought a moment like that. Not when Prince Andrew’s connection to convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein was scrutinised in his BBC Newsnight interview; we already knew about that. Nor, even, when he denied the allegations of sex with a trafficked, teenage girl through a defence so farcical that it sparked a reaction rooted more in mocking memification than in righteous anger.

No, the clincher for me was when the prince confirmed that he “still [does] not” regret his friendship with Epstein. Matter-of-factly, he explained: “The reason being is that the people that I met and the opportunities that I was given to learn either by him or because of him were actually very useful.”

Quite. In spite of his own staggering obliviousness, Prince Andrew hit the nail on the head with this unnerving scrap of honesty.

Spoken as though it were the most understandable thing in the world, the prince encapsulated in one sentence both the moral offence of which he was personally accused and the very nature of the power dynamics which allow abuse to thrive.

This was Prince Andrew’s truthful reflection on his association with a man convicted of “procuring” an underage girl for prostitution in 2008; a man investigated by police and FBI since 2005 over a string of sexual abuse allegations, which he was mysteriously able to quash through a non-prosecution agreement; a man arrested again in 2019 on charges of sex trafficking of minors, before his untimely death in prison brought the potentially explosive case to an end.

The incredible thing is that the prince, who has denied any knowledge of Epstein’s crimes, clearly thought that citing professional or social expedience was preferable to saying he had ever held genuine affection for the man. And perhaps he really is blissfully unaware that his pragmatic reasoning is exactly the same as that of countless men before him who have prioritised their own opportunities and social standing over the lives of the victims of powerful men.

But men like Epstein get away with abuse and violence not because they are the most likeable people to grace the Earth, but because they have something to offer people – or something to hold over people – in return for their ignorance.

The phrase “friends in high places” doesn’t really mean you’ve formed deep friendships with people who just so happen to be in the elite circles of society, it means that you have cultivated influence in the establishment.

It means that with the right combination of money and status, you can be above the law – or as close to it as anyone ever will be.

And for men like Epstein, this isn’t just a happy coincidence. It is the result of a concerted and calculated effort to insure themselves against consequences for the actions they always intended to carry out.

According to one of Epstein’s accusers, Virginia Giuffre, Epstein purposefully used the trafficking of girls to other men as a means of blackmailing them. Far from diminishing his position of influence, his crimes allegedly allowed him to extend his control over powerful men as a result of their complicity.

This is the backdrop, the gross power imbalance that women and girls who are victimised by such men are faced with when they consider whether to come forward; when they question whether trying to seek justice will be worth it after all.

This includes women like Giuffre, who has alleged that Prince Andrew, among various other wealthy men, essentially took sex with her as a gift from Epstein against her will in 2001 when she was just 17. Regardless of the language used in the law, if any of the allegations of “trafficking” are true, if any of the men who “had sex” with the girls in this position knew that this was the case, that is rape.

EVEN now we are falling over ourselves not to use the word, so let’s say it. Having sex with someone without their consent is rape, whether they are legally a minor or not.

The fact that Prince Andrew can speak about such allegations without the slightest hint of empathy for the pain of Epstein’s many accusers might seem like a sign of his own sociopathy, but it’s really something far worse – it’s a mirror held up to the world in which he operates.

In this world, personal fallout and inconvenience matters more than the rape, abuse, possession and unceremonious disposal of young women. If it feels shocking to see such sentiments so obviously reflected by a member of the royal family, it’s not because they’re rare, it’s because the men who think this way don’t usually admit it.

That Prince Andrew did choose to take part in an interview on the subject with unvetted questions, against the wishes of his PR adviser who quit two weeks before it, only underlines the immense privilege which has characterised his life.

The reckless arrogance required to make him believe he could come away from such scrutiny unscathed is as sure a sign as any that the notion of facing consequences for one’s actions or words was entirely foreign to him.

In the end, it may be that the prince’s confidence in the impenetrable shield of power, money and influence will be what led to his downfall. Already, he has had to step back from public duties and his involvement in his Dragon Den’s-style company, Pitch@Palace.

And, more significantly, it remains possible that he will still be called to give evidence in the US federal investigation into Epstein – a development which could prove disastrous if his performance is anything like it was with the BBC.

But Prince Andrew’s apparent undoing is the exception that proves the rule; it is a mess that he got into because all of the evidence up to this point had told him there was no mess he could not get out of.

This was certainly the case for his former friend Jeffrey Epstein up until this year, and it has been the case for innumerable other men who have relied on the infallible combination of gender and class to protect them.

If the prince is truly innocent in all of this, one might expect him to be angry that he had been manipulated by a devious and abusive man. One might expect him to regret that he had ever been used as just one more pawn in a carefully constructed guise of respectability and superiority.

The fact that he does not appear to feel this way shows that, at best, he is still woefully missing the point about how all of this happened, unchecked, for so long.

Perhaps the difficulty for Prince Andrew is that recognising that reality would mean taking a shot, not at one aberrant individual, but at the whole system which has served him so well in the past. But as long as we focus on the behaviour of each abusive man, as if this were a monstrous surprise and not a built-in feature of the social structures that define our society, we will fail to address the roots of the problem.

To uphold the power imbalances that lend themselves to abuse is, by definition, to be complicit in that abuse.

It may be too much to expect a man raised in the British monarchy to acknowledge this, but it is something the rest of us must not forget amid the din of the latest salacious royal scandal.