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21 July, 2024
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Gender bias fears linger over bishop guilty ruling

Lawmaker and women’s rights activist says Chrysostomos' indecent assault guilty verdict fair and square


A lawmaker and women’s rights activist in Cyprus says a former bishop’s guilty verdict for sexually harassing a teenage girl four decades ago was a landmark court decision, while also dismissing concerns that gender bias played a role in the ruling.

AKEL MP Skevi Koukouma says she is not sure if more women will come forward to accuse former Kition bishop Chrysostomos, who was found on Monday guilty of indecent assault by a Larnaca judge.

“I don’t know when others will come forward or if everyone will say, he has been punished, he was found guilty, and so people feel satisfied and this is enough,” the lawmaker told AlphaNews Live.

Koukouma said the whole town in Larnaca knew about what was going on and nobody said anything.

'The issue here was finding him guilty, to prove something that everyone knew and nobody was reporting it except idle talk amongst people'

“The issue here was finding him guilty, to prove something that everyone knew and nobody was reporting it except idle talk amongst people,” she said.

TV show host Katia Savva pointed out that the female judge in the case found the accuser, who was a 16-year-old girl at the time, to have been “reliable” witness, adding that whole case was built on her testimony.

Savva asked Koukouma whether she thought the verdict would have been the same had the judge been a man, with the lawmaker saying she would like to believe both male and female judges would treat the case similarly.

Earlier reports said the defense had picked apart plaintiff testimony, in which she said she remembered sitting down on a maroon sofa and Chrysostomos sat next to her during her visit in his office at the Holy Diocese of Kition.

But the former bishop’s lawyer presented a photo album of the office layout in 1981 which showed there was a beige sectional sofa, adding that maroon furniture had not been added until after remodeling work in 1990.

“The maroon sofa was there in 2011 when the other lady came to visit me, the one who accused me of so-called rape, an allegation of which I have been proven innocent,” the bishop said.

Chrysostomos was referring to another case when he was acquitted of rape charges after a male judge found the bishop’s female rape accuser had made contradictory statements and outlandish allegations during a closed trial.

But Koukouma, who has been advocating for women’s rights on the island during the MeToo movement, doesn’t buy the argument.

“A woman unknown to me called me up and told me she was willing to go and testify about the color of the sofa,” Koukouma said.

According to Koukouma, the caller did not testify in court but told the lawmaker she had gone to the Diocese in 1981 and saw a maroon sofa in the bishop’s office.

The previous accuser has also been purported to have shown interest in filing a lawsuit against the bishop following this week’s verdict.

Koukouma said prosecutors had a strong case against the bishop, adding that a male doctor and former associate of Chrysostomos gave clear and decisive testimony in the female judge’s courtroom.

“It was proven that he had no motive… to testify” against Chrysostomos, Koukouma said.

The lawmaker, who has co-authored legislation that criminalizes prostitution, argued gender ought not to be a factor in the courtroom but admitted that in her experience gender was important in dealing with women’s issues.

Koukouma, who leads the House committee on displaced persons, brought up her experience in working with the late Zeta Emilianidou who was labor minister when the lawmaker sought benefits for wartime rape victims.

Women working together

“It’s possible that if I wasn’t a woman, no woman would have come to talk to me, while the minister might not have paid so much attention to witness accounts we had collected if she wasn’t a woman,” Koukouma said.

Emilianidou helped streamline Koukouma’s efforts to provide financial aid to women who say they were raped during the war in 1974, when Turkish troops invaded the island in response to a short-lived coup engineered by Athens.

Letters sent to women applicants asking them to prove they were raped by appearing before a medical council were called off by Emilianidou after Koukouma cried foul, with the late minister at the time saying they were sent by error.

Koukouma says women had contacted her office about the issue and told her they were going through hell on their own, adding that the ministry had agreed to tackle the issue more discreetly.

Chrysostomos, who maintained his innocence throughout the trial, is expected to be sentenced later this year, while a mitigation hearing has been scheduled for May 26.

Cyprus  |  bishop  |  court  |  sexual harassment  |  rape  |  women's rights  |  Koukouma  |  Chrysostomos  |  Larnaca  |  MeToo

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