Recent law enforcement operations against human and sex trafficking in Cyprus drew attention to a number of additional problems, including waning state support and landlords refusing to rent homes to trafficked women.
A number of operations and arrests took hold throughout the island following a US report in the summer that praised the Republic of Cyprus but also called on authorities to do more.
But the president of the Non-Governmental Organisation Cyprus Stop Trafficking (CST), Androula Christofidou, is squarely pointing fingers at the government, saying the state remains at the root of the problem with minimal, often delayed, support given to victims.
Long delays are counterproductive for court cases
“The problems are caused by the government,” Christofidou told ACTIVE radio on Thursday, adding that long delays up to three years make it impossible for female victims to seem credible.
Christofidou said there is no emotional support available to women who have been rescued from difficult circumstances, where some of them were even gang raped and then forced to wait long delays before they can testify and relive their horrific experiences.
“Social welfare services should have been supporting these women, both financially and emotionally,” the CST head said, adding that no such support finds its way to the victims.
Shelter operates at full capacity
But with growing numbers in recognised trafficking victims, such as women forced into prostitution, space is limited at the government shelter.
During a House human rights committee hearing this week, an MP pointed out that the facility in Nicosia was hosting between 13 and 15 women, which is maximum capacity.
“We don’t know where we can accommodate these women anymore,” Christofidou said.
Landlords hesitate renting to trafficking victims
“We try to rent homes so that we don’t have (the women) living like sardines in a can, and our citizens don’t want to rent to us,” she said.
“But who is going to live here? We will bring victims of human trafficking. No, we don’t accept this,” Christofidou described a typical conversation with landlords and landladies throughout Cyprus.
“They tell us, we want normal Cypriot families,” she said.
Christofidou also said she did not want to pay social welfare taxes because the problems are perpetuated by the state, pointing instead to a better way of dealing with trafficked victims though the creation of a special court that could handle human trafficking cases more effectively.
Special court needed for trafficking cases
“There should be special judges who know what is trafficking, and what does it mean to be a victim,” Christofidou said.
She painted a bleak picture of a trial where a woman who was gang raped had her credibility questioned by the defence attorneys because the alleged crimes took place in the distant past.
“How is it okay that the attorneys of the accused traffickers in a court of law can get away with telling women they are liars, whores, and that it was their own fault without being reprimanded,” Christofidou asked.
A special court would be able to start the trial more quickly as police investigators hand over the case to the state attorney, she added, saying CST was still waiting to hear from the Justice Minister on pushing new legislation.
Christofidou praised the anti-trafficking unit of Cyprus, saying officers and staff are handpicked and well-trained, but she also called on the police chief to add more officers so that more work can be done.
She said when women face extreme hardships for one, two even three years, they may not be inclined to show up in court and testify against their traffickers.