I believe that fundamentally, the biggest flaw in our justice system is the way rape cases are dealt with. The #Metoo movement and the imprisonment of film producer Harvey Weinstein achieved crucial publicity and it is promising to see justice being served — to see people who feel that they were sexually assaulted being encouraged to speak out and their offenders punished. But deeper issues still lurk. The current approach from the justice system risks encouraging more rape cases. Consequently, there is a dreadful sense of foreboding when it comes to going out and having a good time.
The ‘Liar’ and the ‘Jury’
There was a recently documented rape case of a British tourist who alleged to have been raped in Ayia Napa, Cyprus. Yet somehow, she ended up in prison herself on a charge of ‘causing public mischief’ while the accused were allowed to go home and celebrate.
My parents are lawyers here in Cyprus and have been for 20 years. The manner in which this case was dealt with disgusted them. After several conversations, I have used their input for this article. I am not alone in my criticism of the basis on which rape cases are analysed and determined from a legal point of view.
This is also not just a one-off issue in Cyprus. An act of injustice in a bid to protect tourism has been committed. This is a global issue and I am in disbelief at the lack of coverage. Without awareness, there will not be any pressure to implement necessary change.
The case in Cyprus was handled disgracefully, and I suspect this sheds some light as to why so many other reported cases of rape do not result in punishment in other countries.
This particular instance involved a 19-year-old girl who consented to sex with somebody she had met in the hotel. This much was proven. A couple of nights later, she reported to the police that one night, eight other boys who she had not consented to, raped her. When at the police station, she was clearly suffering from injuries consistent with rape and post-traumatic stress. She says that the officer pressured her into signing a retraction statement. This discussion was not recorded as it should have been and she was not represented by a lawyer. The teenager was clearly in a highly vulnerable position..
At that moment, she felt that the only way out of the station that she had been in for 10 hours was to sign the retraction statement. The officer in charge did not allow her to have any input in that statement. To anyone practising law, the signed piece of paper cannot be considered a valid document clearing the attackers of blame. Objective experts in the UK have said that the statement is utterly unprofessional and screams: ‘I’ll write whatever you want, just let me out of here’.
Despite retracting the statement when the teenager was no longer under pressure and able to think straight, it was already too late. The accused were free to fly home, even though crucial evidence in the form of DNA tests had not yet come in. Once the results were in, they showed clear evidence to support the argument that she was in fact, raped. Indeed, there was a remarkably similar case in Denver in 2008. A woman was hounded by officers into admitting that she lied, only for evidence to later reveal that she had been telling the truth this whole time. Thankfully, in this case, the rapist is now in prison and will remain there for the foreseeable future.
Back to the Cyprus incident. Several of the DNA matches came from boys who were not even called in in the first place, further underlining the carelessness and incompetence of the legal system. The court case that followed did not have justice as its aim. The logic of the judge was that because she consented to sex with one person, that meant she must have consented to the others as well, even though there was no evidence to show that.
Clearly, the case in Ayia Napa was a miscarriage of justice. But research shows that the problem is not specific to Cyprus. I fear that many more cases are dealt with in this same manner globally. Where legal representatives reach a verdict that they personally favour before evidence has even come in. And where victims are automatically disbelieved.
The number of charges and prosecutions related to rape are dropping significantly. In fact, in 2019, only 1.7 per cent of reported rape cases led to prosecution in England. It could be argued that this is because fewer cases are being recorded, but this is not true. The number of cases reported to the police increased by 9 per cent from 2018, with 3.8 per cent of sexual offences ending in a charge. This would suggest that in 2019 the vast majority of people that reported rape were liars. Things are not much better in the US. Less than 1 per cent of cases of sexual assault resulted in convictions — begging the question: Why would you lie? Is there something desirable for the victim in the process that follows a rape accusation that makes it so desirable to lie?
The experience of the young woman holidaying in Cyprus would suggest otherwise. It is an appalling ordeal to have to endure. It is stressful. Humiliating. And it can seriously damage your mental health. You also risk ending up in prison yourself. Undoubtedly, there is always that small handful of people who may twist the truth out of spite. Things can and do get complicated when alcohol and drugs are involved. There can also be issues with evidence — rape can be hard to prove.
Nevertheless, I refuse to believe that 98-99 per cent of those who report rape are conniving liars or lack sufficient evidence. Injuries and DNA testing can be considered strong evidence, and this is not particularly hard to see or gather. For the most part, justice does not aim to uphold the sense of safety and security for those who find themselves in a dangerous situation. Rather, the approach is biased towards disbelieving the victim from the offset. One is essentially ‘Guilty’ until proven innocent. And this is a highly treacherous misstep. It puts people off even attempting to report rape. Worse still, it could encourage potential rapists who know they have a good chance of getting away with it.
As things stand, the Cypriot Government is in denial about the rape taking place; fearing that it will put tourists off coming. But the wildfire tendency of social media has meant that this approach has backfired. They are now under much pressure and public scrutiny.
As of the 19 June, the lawyers representing the teenager have produced a skeleton argument that is 154 pages long, in a bid to overturn the conviction placed on the 19-year old.
One can only hope that this will help overrule the initial verdict and right a terrible wrong, in some small way. It may even set a needed precedent in the improvement of the handling of rape cases everywhere.