She may be coming home but it is not a victory.
An unidentified British teenage woman has been sentenced to prison time today over a claim of gang rape in Cyprus, following months of controversial legal proceedings.
The 19-year-old reported on July 17 that she was attacked by 12 Israeli tourists at Ayia Napa’s Pampos Napa Rock hotel where she had been staying, retracting her statement 10 days later. As a result of the retraction, she was accused of exaggerating the incident, sentenced today to a four-month suspended prison sentence, after being found guilty of lying about the gang rape and accused of causing public mischief.
The victim maintains that she was gang raped after having consensual sex with one of the Israeli tourists. She also claims that she only retracted her statement after being pressured by Cypriot police, following hours of unrecorded questioning by herself without a lawyer present.
To repeat – this appalling violation of human rights happened in Europe, in 2019.
The sentence means that she will be allowed to return home, with her prison time suspended for three years, news that was greeted by cheers outside the court. But let’s be clear – this is no victory.
Since the incident, the 19-year-old has been living through hell. She was arrested, spending a month in Nicosia jail (at one point sharing a cell with eight other inmates) before being granted bail. Then, with her passport confiscated, she was stranded on the island for five months as the case continued.
Her identity has been revealed on social media against her will, with the terrified teenager named, shamed and publicly persecuted despite being a victim. She has been experiencing severe panic attacks and is suffering from extreme post-traumatic stress, something she will have to undergo treatment for back in the UK. She is now also feared to be a suicide risk.
This appalling case – mishandled from start to finish – will affect the life of this woman and those around her forever. Not to mention, it serves as a chilling reminder of how far we have to go in terms of women’s rights.
The teenager’s lawyer, Lewis Power QC, insisted that the case ‘highlighted a gaping chasm in the compassionate treatment of sexually assaulted female victims,’ going on to call out a failure ‘which led to a catastrophic situation with the victim finding herself as the accused’.
‘It’s a problem we face across the island,’ Turkish Cypriot lawyer and women’s rights activist, Mine Atli, explained via The Telegraph outside the court. ‘There’s a belief that women are lying and that even if they are not, rapists don’t deserve long sentences. This case should never have gone to court. It’s a disgrace that she was prosecuted and even more of a disgrace she was convicted.’
‘The boys were released very fast. They were not even investigated for uploading a video of one of them having sex with the girl,’ Israeli human rights activist, Irad Martsiano Tsaiger, also explained via The Telegraph. ‘The police in Cyprus and Israel did nothing about that. The boys should have been prosecuted for revenge porn.’
Women’s rights activist groups across the world have unsurprisingly been rallying against the sentencing, sparking the #Ibelieveher and #boycottcyprus campaigns, and taking a stand against victim-shaming.
Hundred of protesters gathered in London outside the Cypriot high commission last night, marching through the streets chanting, ‘We believe her’.
‘The message we want to send is to the victim herself, to say you are not alone, we hear you, we see you,’ announced one of its organisers, Verity Nevitt, via The Guardian.
‘Whilst we welcome the fact that the sentence imposed today allows her to go home, we strongly contest the conviction and the fight for her innocence will go on regardless,’ the teenager’s lawyer, Lewis Power QC, announced. ‘We will be appealing the conviction and will take this case to the European court of human rights.’
The statement continued: ‘We say and will maintain that this young girl was stripped both of her dignity and her basic human rights. She has been diagnosed with severe PTSD and this case has resulted in the deterioration of her mental health.
‘This case has far-reaching repercussions for women travelling abroad and has highlighted the need for appropriate representation,’ Lewis Power QC stated following the sentencing. ‘This young woman has shown immense bravery, courage and fortitude in coming forward.’
The teenager and her family are expected to fly back to the UK today – but we repeat, this is not a victory.
Given how few sexual assault victims actually come forward, this sentencing is a dangerous action that could take us backwards, deterring people from speaking out and silencing even more survivors.
We should all be outraged.
What can you do about it?
There are multiple petitions and crowdfunding pages to have the charges dropped against the teenage victim. Donating money towards the cause or just signing your name on the petition and sharing it with friends can make a huge difference.