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Handling of Rape Case of U.K. Tourist Shows #MeToo Hasn't Yet Arrived at Cyprus

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19-year-old British tourist arrives at the Famagusta District Court to face charges of making a false rape allegation, Paralimni, Cyprus, October 2, 2019.
19-year-old British tourist arrives at the Famagusta District Court to face charges of making a false rape allegation, Paralimni, Cyprus, October 2, 2019.Credit: AFP

CYPRUS — The case of the young British woman who is accused of filing a false gang rape complaint against 12 young Israelis here has some similarities to the new Netflix series “Unbelievable,” which was based on the real-life case of Marie Adler, a rape victim who was aggressively interrogated by police. In Adler’s case, there was little evidence at the scene and two police detectives cast doubt on her account of events, repeatedly demanding that she reinact what had occurred.

In the series, she recants her rape allegations only because she can no longer withstand the pressure of the investigation. She is then accused of filing a false complaint and required to pay a fine. No one believes her story, although television viewers ultimately learn that she was indeed raped.

It has been three months since the British tourist filed her rape complaint against a group of Israelis who were staying at a hotel in the Cypriot beach resort of Ayia Napa. Since then, the questions that the case has generated have multiplied and local police have been criticized over their handling of the case, including failure to transcribe their interrogations or examine crucial evidence, including text messages on the Israelis’ cell phones and DNA samples that were never identified.

Although the Israelis she had accused of raping her have returned home long ago, the British woman was detained and charged with filing a false complaint. She has been barred from leaving Cyprus and must report weekly to the police while her case is pending.

Her case comes at a time when there is greater awareness worldwide about sexual assault, a problem highlighted by the #MeToo movement. But Cyprus’ approach to suspicions of sexual assault appears to be far removed from the sensitivity on the issue that the #MeToo movement has generated around the world.

Last week, between court hearings in the British woman’s case, only one local female journalist in the area said that she had heard about #MeToo, and she acknowledged that it had not had a major impact in Cyprus.

Another female reporter with about 15 years of journalism under her belt said the local police are suspicious of female British tourists and are very cautious in their investigations of alleged sexual offenses.

The reporter explained that this followed a number of cases in which British women who visited Cyprus had filed false insurance claims alleging that they had been robbed while on vacation in the country. Another reporter told Haaretz that there are almost no rapes committed in Cyprus.

Cypriot women’s groups have asked the prosecutor’s office to drop the case against the British woman and allow her to leave the country, according to the local press.

The handling of the case appeared puzzling from the beginning. The hotel room in which the alleged rapes took place was put back into service in less than a day. The new guests reported finding a used condom in the room and said that the police hadn’t appeared to seal off the room for a thorough inspection.

Then, police documents noted the existence of DNA samples from unidentified individuals from the scene. And the police made no record of events on the night of July 27, when the British woman withdrew her rape complaint. When asked about this in court, an investigator, Marius Christo, replied that not everything can be documented. Under interrogation, the British woman said that Christo claimed to have a video showing that she had consented to have sex with the Israeli men but that he refused to show it to her.

The British woman said that in the 10 days that followed her filing the rape complaint, she was accompanied by a female police officer who treated her with sensitivity. However, on the night of July 27, she was picked up by police investigators whom she had not met and taken to the station. In court, she testified that the investigators screamed at her until they brought her to tears.

She also testified that when she signed a statement recanting her rape allegations, the investigators had not permitted her to have a lawyer with her. In court, she said that she told the investigators that she knew her rights and knew that she had the right to a presence of a lawyer. She said the investigators replied that this may be the case in England, but it was not so in Cyprus. The same statement appeared in a text message that she sent to friends that night and that was presented in her defense in court.

Under cross-examination, a prosecutor claimed that she was lying and added that she was not suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome or taking medication. The judge in the case did focus on the night on which she withdrew her complaint rather than the night of the alleged rapes, but at various times he raised his voice in Greek and the woman appeared to be frightened.

One journalist covering the case said it seemed as though the investigation was conducted in a different era, 50 years ago.

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