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Sexual abuse victims unprotected

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Organisations fighting against gender discrimination and violence against women argue Cyprus has not done much to protect victims coming forward to report abuse, despite signing international treaties.

They argue the overturning of the conviction of a young British woman found guilty of lying about being gang-raped by Israeli tourists has left Cyprus and its justice system exposed in its treatment of sexual assault victims.

In comments to Phileleftheros daily, Argentoula Ioannou, lawyer and founding member of the “Network against Violence against Women”, said Cyprus has yet to incorporate the Treaty of Istanbul, the Council of Europe human rights treaty against sexual and domestic abuse.

Cyprus joined the treaty in 2017, but the Network argues, it has done little to incorporate it into local legislation.

Ioannou argued that “as a result, the justice system lags, allowing for old policies and archaic systemic structure dictate the official response to such cases”.

She said the state has not ensured that officials involved with sexual and other abuse complaints have received the necessary training and information on how to protect the rights of the complainant and how to investigate the case.

“Victims are being turned away, while penalties are far from deterring.

“There is absolutely no training for police and investigators in general, nor is there a proper framework for handling rape victims.

“I do not believe that a modern protocol has been formulated that is in line with the obligations of the Istanbul Convention, which aims to protect the victims.

“We are almost certain that if a similar case to the one involving the young British woman comes up again, authorities will react similarly.

“The only thing that may bring about a different outcome is the negative publicity and disruption caused to the justice system.”

Ioannou said the case of the British woman was conducted with laws that predate the Istanbul convention, with a different interpretation of what constitutes rape.

“In other words, the investigation and trial were carried out with outdated tools, leading to further humiliation for the victim.

“Judges dealing with cases of rape and violence against women should also receive special training in issues of gender-based violence, criminal treatment, respect and understanding of the complainant”.

Psychological support

She noted the absence of psychological support for victims to feel safe in coming forward.

“We are very far from properly managing rape cases.

“All steps are taken at a snail’s pace.

“At the same time, institutions are kicking back when it comes to the adaptation of democratic standards of behaviour and respect for the rights and protection of women.”

Cyprus’ justice system came under the spotlight after the Supreme Court quashed the conviction of a young British woman found guilty of lying about being gang-raped by Israeli tourists.

The woman, who was 19 at the time of her arrest, alleged she was raped by up to 12 Israelis in a hotel room in the seaside party resort of Ayia Napa in July 2019.

She accused Cypriot police of having forced her to sign a retraction statement, after which the Israeli suspects were released.

A district court in January 2020 convicted her of causing public mischief, handing her a four-month jail term, suspended for three years.

On appeal, the Supreme Court said the verdict was “unsafe”, and irregularities took place, which should have directed the district judge to a different conclusion.