We would like to thank all who attended the demonstration in London yesterday, to march for justice and stand in solidarity with the 19 year old British woman in Cyprus who was charged with ‘public mischief’ after she was forced into withdrawing her allegation of being gang raped in Ayia Napa. The victim wrote and signed a statement 10 days after initially reporting the incident, retracting the allegations. The statement was written and signed after nearly 9 hours of overnight questioning whilst the victim was suffering from PTSD, under duress and facing threats of arrest by Cypriot police.
The police denied the victim access to a lawyer, a violation of the European Convention on Human rights. Once the statement was signed the 10 alleged assailants were released and allowed to return home to Israel where they were met by relatives at Ben Gurion airport with champagne and chanting ‘The Brit is a whore’. The victim was then jailed for a month following her retraction, before being released on bail in August 2019 but had her passport confiscated so has been unable to return home. The victim alleges she was having consensual sexual relations with one of the men before others appeared and pinned her down. The victim stated she ‘couldn’t breathe’ as a man pinned her down by placing his knees on her shoulders whilst others shouted and jeered.
Once the attack was over she fled the hotel and went to a clinic before the police were called she was so terrified she passed out twice in the police car. A doctor for the defence told the court he was adamant “violence was exercised” and that injuries found on the victims body were “consistent with the rape having taken place”. Video footage of the incident was taken and circulated by the alleged assailants. The prosecution state she made up the allegation after being humiliated by video footage being circulated online. At the trial the assailants were not required to give evidence despite four traces of DNA being found on the victim and one of the men originally stating that they all met outside the apartment and said ‘we’re all going to f*** the English girl’ and bragged they were going to ‘do orgies’ with her.
The police failed to follow correct procedure, denied her access to a lawyer, failed to properly photograph and measure bruising, failed to examine clothing, failed to examine the crime scene, failed to record their questioning and coerced her into signing a false statement under duress. Today she was sentenced to a 4 month suspended sentence and a fine. Justice systems everywhere fail survivors due to lack of information on trauma responses and the realities of sexual violence. A culture of disbelief and myths that false allegations are a common occurrence. Cases are not adequately investigated, survivors are failed and justice is denied.
The fear of false allegations is hugely disproportionate to the frequency of this occurrence. Globally false allegations only ever make up 4-6% of allegations. In fact men are more likely to be sexually assaulted themselves than be falsely accused, but they fear the latter far more. With only 17% of survivors ever even reporting their assault it is necessary that we believe survivors as over 95% of the time, what they’re saying is legitimate. Survivors deserve support, not suspicion. Survivors deserve to be heard and not silenced. We must challenge societal biases, rape culture and victim blaming and ensure they do not influence the outcomes of cases as they have in Cyprus and elsewhere.
The sentencing today has reinforced the message that men can rape with impunity. That when you report you aren’t just fighting back against the person who attacked you, but also the police, the judge, the state. This is a gross miscarriage of justice that has gone on for far too long without any intervention from the EU or from governments in Cyprus and the UK.
This young woman endured further trauma today in court as she listened to the judge’s victim blaming and was given a suspended sentence of 4 months jail time and a fine, all for having the bravery to come forward and seek justice and help for a crime that had been committed against her. She did everything right, everything victims of sexual violence are told to do and instead of getting support she was met with suspicion, she became the accused, she was the one charged.
This sends a message to survivors everywhere telling them they will not be believed, giving them a reason not to report. You can have all the evidence and truth in the world and it won’t mean anything. We are disgusted that the ‘lenient’ sentence was framed as being a kindness to the woman when the whole process has been anything but. We believe all of the police officers should be suspended pending investigation, the judge should be recalled and laws should be written so that this never happens again.
Cyprus must issue an apology, they must compensate the victim and they must open a rape crisis centre on the Island. Whilst it is easy to point the finger at Cyprus, we know that this happens here in the UK too and so we ask the UK government to look at their own laws, their own treatment of survivors and re-think their approach to sexual violence cases too.
We hope that the woman can return home as soon as possible and that on her return her privacy will be respected. We hope she can access therapy quickly and given every inch of support she deserves so that she can begin to recover. This isn’t the end of her fight for justice, she has a long appeal process ahead but she will not face it alone as we have seen survivors from across the world stand in solidarity with her each step of the way. As Fern Champion said yesterday ‘A fight for one, is a fight for all’.
We think it is important to speak directly to the woman who we are all marched for yesterday, who should be centred throughout this entire fight. We hope you hear us, we hope you know you are believed, that people are rooting for you, that people are willing to fight for you, that people are sorry this happened to you, that none of this is your fault. Please know you are not alone. We are here for you. There are people who understand what you are going through, how you are feeling.
There are some words from Chanel Miller, a fellow survivor, which are especially appropriate right now, “I give a damn, if you’re being blamed for the hurt you were handed, If you’ve been made to believe that you’re deserving of pain”. To have an entire country and its justice system make you feel those things is barbaric. To have your own government not step in and help, when it should, in situations of injustice, where there has been a breach of a vulnerable person’s human rights further adds to those feelings of betrayal and pain.
On a placard was written ‘if you are silent in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.’ So now we speak directly to Boris Johnson, Dominic Raab, and those in power with the ability to do something- why are you silent? Why have you chosen the side of the oppressor? Why are you allowing this gross miscarriage of justice to be inflicted upon a British citizen? Be that one who is vulnerable and who has already experienced unimaginable trauma?
Yesterday one of our co-founders Verity Nevitt read out this message from the young woman’s lawyers:
Michael Polak at Justice Abroad thanks all of those in attendance at this protest. We strongly believe in the right to a fair trial for all those accused of any offence. We have been fighting for the teenager’s rights since August 2019 and have put together a strong legal team of Lewis Power QC and our two powerful Cypriot lawyers Nicoletta Charalambidou and Ritsa Pekri.
Justice Abroad thanks them for all their hard work on the case. Although the trial process has been difficult so far we believe that by continuing to fight for a fair trial and the rights of the teenager we can prevail in this case to attain justice for the teenager and to help to ensure that something like this does not happen to other women in Cyprus.