by Apostolos Kouroupakis
On the occasion of the acquittal of the young Brit on charges of public mischief announced by the Supreme Court of Cyprus last Monday 31/1, we spoke with Dr. Christina Kailis from the Mediterranean Institute for Gender Studies about the decision, the legal components and the steps that still need to be taken to properly deal with complaints such as rape. Dr. Kaili says that the decision is a milestone decision, “since her acquittal from the charge of public mischief, for the first time - albeit belatedly - highlights the failure of the judicial system and the prejudice on the part of the police towards women victims of sexual harassment and violence”.
I would like you to comment on the decision of the Supreme Court in relation to women's rights.
- In her acquittal, the Supreme Court recognized that the British woman, who denounced her gang rape by Israelis in Cyprus in 2019, did not receive a fair trial and that her fundamental rights, which are not only guaranteed by international conventions, national law but also by the constitution, had been violated. Also, a criminal investigation will be reopened for the rape case as well as for the management of the case by the police. It is a landmark decision, since her acquittal of the charge of public mischief, for the first time - albeit belatedly - highlights the failure of the judicial system and the prejudice on the part of the police towards women victims of sexual violence were highlighted.
The culture of rape shifts responsibility, shame, social outcry from the rapist to the raped woman, from the perpetrator to the victim. It implies that women are responsible for what happened to them.
How exactly did it fail?
- The ruling shows that the "rule of law" has completely failed at all levels of justice: from supporting women when lodging a complaint to the thorough criminal investigation in the sense of looking at evidence in a gender-sensitive manner and ignoring the characteristics of sexual violence, according to the provisions of the Istanbul Convention. The Supreme Court also recognized the young woman's vulnerability, ie her age, her psychological state, and the circumstances under which her confession was obtained. The first-instance decision was based on a "confession" obtained under conditions that violated her rights and without supporting evidence. When she reported her rape, she was assigned a lawyer after she had been intimidated and charged. She did not know that she had already become the ‘accused’ and was not informed of her rights as an accused person. She did not have access, from the first moment she made the complaint, to legal aid, to psychological support and a translator. The police did not inform her about the consequences of withdrawing the complaint. In fact, they made her sign that she deliberately lied to retaliate against the Israelis. Therefore, the failure of the criminal prosecution system to apply the minimum standards to ensure the rights of the victim is evident through the impulsive decision.
In order for justice to be done, the victim support chain must not be broken. Photo Philippos Christou
What steps need to be taken to reduce gender-based violence or harassment?
-Changes must be made simultaneously at the individual, collective and institutional levels. In my opinion, the institutional level needs the most attention, because that is where political decisions need to be made. That is, from the highest levels of power of these institutions - from the President to the ministers and directors, to the Police, to the Legal Service, etc. The most important step is to deliver/restore justice and ensure that women can report violence within a safe environment and receive substantial support/assistance from state institutions. The fact that women report sexual violence and find themselves facing a wall of mistrust and re-victimization shows that legislation is not enough to change a fragile/ineffective system. Only when we can denounce violence and we become credible and we are treated with dignity, as defined by international law, will the guilty be punished and the victims of these crimes compensated. The judiciary itself must also eliminate its sexist views and those who judge from positions of privilege, corruption, impunity, internalized toxic masculinity that root out the culture of rape. So long as the judiciary does not receive the appropriate gender-specific training that will enable it to implement the relevant legislation, it will not follow through with correct actions and compensation for victims.
In addition, the use of concepts such as "violence against women" and "gender equality" by institutions and law enforcement agencies, the promoting of legislation, the strategic action plans and the memoranda of cooperation signed with NGOs as a sign of progress are all, without substantial results, just marketing declarations. Without the corresponding political decisions that will put an end to evils like this, these notions are weakened in public discourse. They also weaken and depoliticize civil society working under adverse conditions for justice and social change. For example, the police have a legal obligation and responsibility to locate and collect the necessary information in the first 24 hours of a rape, which is the most critical window, and at the same time inform the victims of their rights. How can the case be supported without them? The text of the appeal is therefore a catapult for both the judge and the unfair trial, but at the same time exposes a system of thinking that not only does not work to ensure justice and human rights but that works to highlight contradictions and gaps in women's testimony. This is the reality in women trafficking cases where they are considered unreliable.
Are women legally protected when reporting rape or attempted rape?
- Last week’s court decision sends a strong message to the state: that they should develop procedures focusing on the safety and dignity of the victim, ensuring the victim’s rights and effectively implementing the provisions of the legal framework. It is not a matter of legislative gaps but a matter of the implementation of procedures by professionals. Let us not forget that in 2019, two former general prosecutors, Alekos Markidis and Petros Clerides, as well as the former Minister of Justice of the Republic of Cyprus, Kypros Chrysostomidis, requested the cessation of the criminal prosecution of the young woman. In their letter, they referred to her inhumane and degrading treatment.
How pervasive is the sexist discourse in our community, either in the media or on social networks?
-This case demonstrates a deeply sexist society that zealously turned against the young woman - we witnessed Cypriot and International cannibalism by the media, social media, government officials and the judiciary. The culture of rape (on an individual, collective and institutional level) shifts responsibility, shame and social outcry from the rapist to the raped woman, from the perpetrator to the victim. It implies that women are responsible for what happened to them. Thus they are shaped from a young age and ultimately undertake sexist perceptions and behaviors. Moreover, public speaking has a gender and it is masculine. We have many other examples of sexism from the daily news, newspapers and social media. How many know about the “Guide to Overcoming Linguistic Sexism in the Language of the Public Administration Documents of the Republic of Cyprus” written by Dr. Maria Gasouka for the Office of the Commissioner for Gender Equality? Are the institutions and the public consulting her? How often and for what topics do the media call on women so that all the views and the complexity of the voices are heard? Do the media and journalists apply the code of journalistic ethics? It is a matter of democracy, pluralism and justice.
How will justice prevail in the end?
-In order for justice to prevail, the victim support chain must not be broken. We observe that as in cases of domestic violence, less than half of the cases reported to the police end up in the courts and of these many more do not have a positive outcome in the courts. The young woman was briefly treated by the institutions in a sexist and racist way (as well as the victims of "Orestes"). The fact that men from Israel were involved also played a role in the otherwise "convenient" delay in getting rid of them without an in-depth investigation, based on the government's political criteria for negotiating with Israel. Finally, I want to dwell on the solidarity movement that has been expressed from 2019 until today. It united many civil society groups and groups of women (and from Israel) who believed in it and demanded justice. This shows us that there is an established environment where people question the obstacles that deep-rooted patriarchal systems and institutions of justice put forth and are also well hidden behind the mask of the neoliberal "progressive" elites put in front of women. Finally, the excellent work of the legal team with the case law has shown that in order for the case law to be correct, it must meet certain conditions. For example, the way the police treated the young woman when she complained shows that they cannot apply the relevant national protocols or the provisions of the Istanbul Convention.