The curtains were drawn on a Nicosia criminal court this week after its last act included sentencing a man for buying sexual services, the first ever explicit client conviction on the island, but questions remains over the long and protracted case where a young female prostitute was described as a trafficking victim.
A Nicosia criminal court has found a man guilty for obtaining sexual services from a young woman, who was later recognized as a victim of sexual exploitation, according to a statement issued on Friday by the state’s Press and Information Office.
This is the first official conviction of a sex client after legislators passed a law in 2019 criminalizing customers who pay for sex with women recognized as victims of exploitation, while rejecting legal recourse for those who may claim they had no idea trafficking was involved.
The case dates back to summer 2021, when the young woman was picked up by Famagusta cops and later taken to a safe house in Nicosia after being suspected of being a trafficking victim. Months later a social worker said the girl had confided in her that she was being threatened by the three males with whom she had encounters in the capital.
It later turned out that the case was a family affair, after court documents revealed the young woman and her mother were all acquainted with the defendant, as well as two other Romanian males who were co-defendants in the case.
A social worker said the girl had confided in her that she was being threatened by the three males, while it later emerged the men were family acquaintances
One of the men will now spend three years behind bars after he was found guilty for obtaining sexual services from a victim of sexual exploitation while he was also convicted on rape charges.
But according to details in the case, the victim initially had consented to having paid sex with him as long as he used a condom.
But state prosecutor Christia Kytherotou, who handed the court case, argued sex became non-consensual over time.
“As time went on, these sexual acts ended up being non-consensual as it was clear, on the part of the complainant, that she did not agree to having vaginal intercourse without protection,” it was said in the PIO statement.
Another man in the case got six years on multiple charges, including of rape, attempted rape, economic blackmail, unlawful retention of personal documents, sexual exploitation of a child and sexual exploitation of an adult - both referring to the same victim who is now 20 years old.
A third individual got four months in prison for making threats.
Previous reports said the young woman was reluctant to come forward with accusations and she reportedly gave three separate statements to police between mid-November and early December in 2021.
A complaint eventually was filed with police on December 5, while the night before, according to details in the case, one of the defendants sent her a text to say he was in his car waiting for her outside her building.
The young woman also said in her police statement that one of the suspects had sent her a threatening message on December 3.
Government officials have been calling for more convictions and sentences in trafficking cases, after a US report this year recommended the seeking of adequate penalties for convicted traffickers, including significant prison terms.
While sex client cases went before Cypriot judges previously, this was the first time an explicit conviction for buying sex from a victim was included in the charges.
Legal doubts over controversial sex client law
It was still not clear whether the convicted sex client’s three year term was based on buying services, rape, or unsafe sex, as no details were provided following the ruling by the criminal court, which is to be disbanded due to promotions of judges.
Back in 2018, Kythreotou had raised concerns during a House committee, suggesting strict liability for sex client, as it was being sought by some lawmakers, could possibly violate the European Convention on Human Rights and the presumption of innocence until proven otherwise.
But the law passed a year later remained controversial and vague to this day, with defendants in court trials not being allowed to argue in their defense whether they had any prior knowledge of a person being a possible trafficking victim.
While prostitution is not illegal in the Republic of Cyprus, the 2019 law criminalizes the solicitation of sexual services where customers buying sex cannot plead ignorance in cases where the sex worker is a victim of exploitation, has been trafficked, or is under the control of a pimp.
The sex industry also remains unregulated, with critics saying lack of regulation is dangerous for sex workers who often rely on abusive illegal networks.