We must all do our part to fight systematic rape culture, writes Elly Badcock
Last year, a British teenager reported being brutally gang-raped by twelve men in the Cypriot holiday town of Ayia Napa. She later retracted these claims, amid concern that she did so under duress after pressure from Cypriot police.
As if being forced to retract allegations of a traumatic gang rape wasn’t horrific enough, the woman has been convicted of public mischief; a conviction that could hamper her ability to work and volunteer in certain sectors, and more importantly means she is faced with having to disclose and relive a horrendously triggering experience for the rest of her life. That she was forced to remain in Cyprus for five agonising months in between the retraction of the case and her sentencing is nothing short of barbaric.
The judge who handed down a one-year suspended sentence suggested he was giving this young woman a second chance; as Gaby Hinsliff powerfully argued in the Guardian, she was never given a first chance. It seems clear she faced huge pressure from Cypriot authorities to retract her allegations; a handwritten retraction produced with no lawyer present after gruelling medical examinations should never have stood up in court.
Frankly, that she reported the case in the first place speaks to her incredible bravery. As a UK citizen, she comes from a country where only 1.7% of reported rapes reach prosecution.
A staggering 80% of women who have been raped didn’t report these rapes to the police; they believed nothing could be done about them, and our broken criminal justice system tacitly reinforced this belief.
To report the case far from home, in a country that Amnesty International says displays ‘classic attrition’ around rape convictions (that is, a steady increase in reported rapes combined with a steady decrease in number of convictions), is staggeringly brave.
Although this case has been reported in the British media, the outrage that women and our comrades and allies feel is sorely lacking in the coverage. There have been no campaigns to bring the men responsible to justice; coverage has focused solely on providing a timeline of events.
But this supposedly ‘factual’ and ‘impartial’ reporting obscures the fact that right-wing and centrist media organisations play a huge role in the creation of the rape culture which allows attacks like these to go unpunished.
After all, this is the same Sun that ran an ongoing ‘countdown clock’ to Emma Watson’s 16th birthday.
It’s the same Telegraph who ran with the headline “Women who dress provocatively more likely to be raped.”
It’s the same BBC that reported Grace Millane’s murder as “Consensual sex gone wrong.”
This is why most women have watched the events in Cyprus unfold with empathy, with anger, with a sense of dread and resignation, but not with surprise. One in five women have been sexually assaulted or raped in the UK, and many more have experienced traumatic sexual harassment.
Almost every woman knows someone who has faced this kind of trauma. We live in expectation that something like this will happen to us; we walk home with our keys clasped between our fingers, we placate our boyfriends and husbands so they don’t hurt us; we lie back and think of England because we’re still not told we can say no; we worry about what we wear, whether we have makeup on, the length of our hair, the height of our heels, the shortness of our skirts, and we know that maybe none of these precautions will matter and we’ll become one of those statistics. And we know that if we do, not a single institution, legal, cultural or otherwise, will come to our aid.
While we might not expect better from the media, or from our government (Dominic Raab’s entirely uninspiring addition was to urge caution against ‘aggravating’ the Cypriot authorities), we can raise our voices against this horrific miscarriage of justice.
The woman’s parents have launched a crowdfunder to pay for the substantial legal fees incurred which can be contributed to here; and for anyone considering a holiday in Ayia Napa, the growing movement to boycott Cyprus in the wake of this horrific case might prompt you to reconsider. These are small steps in the face of systematic rape culture, but speaking out against these horrendous injustices lets every woman know they are not alone.