Cyprus rape case exposes toxic system, stacked against women

Cyprus rape case exposes a toxic system, stacked against women
5 min read
10 Jan, 2020
Comment: The Cypriot state has demonstrated exactly where its judicial system stands when it comes to believing women, supporting survivors and delivering justice, writes Malia Bouattia.
'Institutional sexism, structural patriarchy have no nationality, race, or ethnicity' writes Bouattia [Getty]
"Patriarchy is a judge, That judges us for being born, And our punishment is the violence you see."

The words of the chant popularised by the Chilean women's movement ring particularly true this week, as news spread of the British teen who was convicted of falsely accusing 12 Israeli men of gang rape in Ayia Napa Cyprus, was finally allowed to return to the UK.

Not only did she return without justice, but also with a suspended sentence and a fine, to say nothing of the psychological trauma and the memory of a month in prison abroad.  

From the beginning, the entire case felt deeply unsettling. The actions that were taken by Cypriot state have demonstrated exactly where its judicial system stands when it comes to believing women, supporting survivors and delivering justice: unfavourable.

It seems that there was no issue with the fact that the 19-year old was interrogated for hours without any legal representation or translator by the police in a foreign country, during which she stated that she was forced to sign the retraction of her allegation.

Nor did it seem to be hugely problematic that the men she said had gang raped her were not called to testify. And this, despite the court hearing that the men had been planning to "aggressively" have sex and "do orgies" with the teen.

No concern was raised over the judge's own record on the subject, and his "extremely aggressive" tone and "attitude" during the court proceedings according to the Nicosia-based Mediterranean Institute for Gender Studies head, Susana Pavlou. 

We can have little faith in the judicial system and our institutions of power

To make matters worse, the dominant narrative only adds insult to injury. The system has turned the survivor into the criminal to be given a "second chance" thanks to a suspended sentence from the "gracious" judge. The dozen men were welcomed back with people chanting "The Brit is a whore".

What kind of message does this send to young people, and those facing gendered abuse around the world? 

We should be shocked that so many things do not add up, but particularly for women, it feels like an all too familiar ending to a story of sexual violence and assault. Indeed, while the economic relations between Israel and Cyprus may have played a role in the specific treatment of this case, so has endemic and structural sexism.

This point was made repeatedly by the solidarity campaign organised by the young survivor's mother, women's groups in Cyprus and by Verity Nevitt, who held a march in the UK

Their actions have been crucial in highlighting the case, raising broader issues, and ensuring that the story, and all the political questions that surround it, are not forgotten or swept under the rug - much to Cypriot authorities' dismay. 

Read more: Pathologist says injuries sustained by British teenager in Aiya Napa are consistent with rape

"We're also calling out Dominic Raab and Boris Johnson for doing nothing… There have been multiple human rights violations [in this case] and the fact that it's happened to a British citizen anywhere in the world is an outrage" Nevitt told the Guardian

But while the the British government's reaction is hardly surprising, the reality is that institutional sexism, structural patriarchy have no nationality, race, or ethnicity. They disproportionately work against survivors everywhere, very much including in the UK. 

In England and Wales, the multi-agency Rape Monitoring Group (RMG) found that despite rapes increasing in a year from 41,186 to 54,045, the charge rate has decreased from 6.8 percent to 4.2 percent. Already at an alarmingly low rate, this only reinforces the fact that we can have little faith in the judicial system and our institutions of power.

If we also take into consideration that 11,913 incidents of rape were not recorded as crimes (the N100 classification), and the many cases that go unrecorded altogether - a problem which is encouraged by the very low rates of charges - these numbers are staggering.

Despite the highly mediatised #MeToo campaigns that have called out celebrities and politicians, the truth is that violence against women, its normalisation, and even its promotion remains a central aspect of our system. In courts, police interrogation rooms the corridors of government, in media outlets, publicity campaigns, and popular culture, violence against women - sexual, physical, and mental - is institutionalised and simultaneously belittled.

Violence against women - sexual, physical, and mental - is institutionalised and simultaneously belittled

In fact, patriarchal violence and assaults on women's rights have been central to the current growth of the right across the world. Trump, here - as in many other deplorable ways - is emblematic, if certainly not alone. Numerous rape cases, public bragging about sexual assault, and alliances with groups that target women's reproductive rights are as central to his brand of politics, as are racism, climate change denial, and intensified exploitation of working people.

As the women of Chile bluntly shout, "The rapist is you"; they are cops, judges, the state, and the president. Justice will only come from below, from mounting pressure, collective campaigns, fierce coalitions, from strong, bold uncompromising movements, and mass civil disruption.

Only such actions can, and will, deliver justice for the countless victims of sexual violence - like that young women in Cyprus - from states and institutions which continue to impose and facilitate gendered inequality, violence and repression. 

Malia Bouattia is an activist, a former president of the National Union of Students, and co-founder of the Students not Suspects/Educators not Informants Network.

Follow her on Twitter: @MaliaBouattia

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.