The British woman, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, alleged 12 Israeli men between 15 and 22 sexually assaulted her in her hotel room while she was on vacation at the Cypriot resort of Ayia Napa in July 2019. She dropped the charges after brutal questioning from authorities.
Judge Michalis Papathanasiou sentenced the woman to four months in jail, suspended for three years. Papathanasiou said he is giving the woman a “second chance” and her sentencing took her age, clean criminal record, and regret into account.
Human rights advocates have expressed major concern over how authorities in Cyprus are processing the woman’s case and the island’s treatment of sexual assault survivors.
"The manner in which the legal system in Cyprus has handled this case falls well below international standards and the resulting publicity has shone a much-needed spotlight on what appear to be systemic flaws in how the police and the criminal justice system deal with crimes involving gender-based violence,” Jacqui Hunt, the director of Equality Now's Europe/Eurasia office, told Global Citizen via email.
One of the woman’s lawyers said that she was raped and police pushed her to retract her statement by threatening to arrest her and her friends, according to Equality Now. She also hadn’t slept in three days and was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) when she was forced to sign the retraction after eight hours of questioning in the middle of the night, without her right to legal representation or a translator, her lawyers reported.
The woman spent four and a half weeks in prison and has been forced to remain in Cyprus since July, unable to go back to university in the UK.
Law enforcement and prosecutors haven’t met international standards for processing sexual assault cases, according to Equality Now.
The EU Victims’ Rights Directive provides a legal framework for handling sexual assault that “all EU member states must provide for survivors of crime, including gender-based violence,” the organization said. Cyprus signed the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combatting violence against women in 2017, but experts say the country isn’t upholding the agreement or doing enough to protect women and survivors, according to Time.
The woman’s family launched a crowdfunding initiative to cover her legal costs and already surpassed their fundraising goal of £105,000 (around $116,000). Supporters also created the Twitter account @FreeHer4Justice, as well as the hashtags #BoycottCyprus and #IBelieveHer, and the advocacy group The Gemini Project organized a protest in London on Monday in solidarity. About 150 of the woman’s supporters protested outside the courtroom on Tuesday, according to Reuters.
The British woman’s case isn’t the first to surface in Cyprus –– women from Ireland and Scandinavia reported similar experiences when they brought their rape cases to authorities and were forced to retract their statements.
Many survivors don’t report their abuse for various reasons, including fear of retaliation, the belief that authorities won’t help, not wanting to get the perpetrator in trouble, and more.
Hunt is now urging the Cyprus government to reassess how it addresses gender-based violence.
“The system needs an urgent root and branch review, and the introduction of improved policies and procedures to ensure that reports of sexual violence are treated with the gravity they deserve and survivors are dealt with in a sensitive manner,” she said.