by Andreas Kokkinos
The recent news has been overshadowed by new complaints from schoolgirls in Cyprus alleging that their headmaster has harassed them sexually, while in Greece the Aeolus box is opening due to revelations about the "Ark of the World" foundation. Investigative techniques, protocols, and the characteristics of the offenders are scrutinized in order to draw useful conclusions about the effectiveness of the mechanisms on the one hand and to sound the alarm for any suspicious behavior in the immediate area that may help to mobilize the prevention of similar crimes on the other.
"We never question any child; our goal is to protect them," she says, adding that "in the vast majority of cases, the suspect/perpetrator is someone close to the child."
The investigation and the assessment process
It is critical at this point to understand the steps involved in making a report or allegation, as well as how the investigation proceeds. Cases involving child sexual abuse of minors-children fall under the jurisdiction of the CID Headquarters and the Child Sexual Abuse Offences Investigation Branch, and are managed by the Vulnerable Persons Case Management Sub-Directorate. All complaints/reports are investigated by a special investigative team comprised of 10 people from all provinces. Any citizen may file a complaint at a police station. The complaint is then immediately forwarded to the relevant department and an investigation is launched. Speaking to Kathimerini, Kyriaki Lambrianidou, Assistant Director of the Crime Prevention Department and Director of the Sub-Directorate for the Management of Vulnerable Persons' Affairs of the Police Headquarters, said that complaints can be made anonymously by phone because many people are afraid to report crimes in person and that they are routinely investigated.
The most typical example she gave us involved an e-mail complaint that turned out to be very serious during the course of the investigation. The psychologists based at the Children's Home evaluate and provide support for any child who may be involved in this situation. There, all statements are recorded in a specially created, kid-friendly environment that makes kids feel at ease. All statements made by children are discerned, and evaluated after being obtained, and, in cases where evidence is discovered, legal action is taken.
What is the distinction between Cyprus and Greece?
When asked to comment on the latest developments in Cyprus and Greece on "Diaspora News" on SPOR FM 95.0, Commissioner for the Protection of Children's Rights, Despo Michaelidou, said her Office has made on-site visits and meetings with children and NGOs, referring to the 67-page survey that has been prepared. In comparing Greece and Cyprus on the issue of child abuse, she noted that in our country, the responsibility of caring for these children belongs to the state, whereas, in Greece, the institutional framework is private rather than public, with volunteerism as the most important pillar. This means that in Cyprus, by law, the Deputy Minister of Welfare takes over care in place of the parents, effectively granting guardianship to the relevant director of welfare services. The Commissioner stated that while various complaints about care, supervision, cases of conflict and discipline, institutional infrastructure, and staffing have been investigated, no complaint about sexual abuse has been identified at this time. If such a finding is made, the Commissioner may even intervene ex officio.
Loopholes, safeguards and cases explained with the language of numbers
Is it possible to improve the investigation and evaluation procedures? The majority of the delays occur during the adjudication process. Kyriaki Lambrianidou confirmed this to Kathimerini, adding that while our country is very advanced in this area, there is always room for improvement, citing the request to amend legislation to speed up procedures as an example. He referred to multi-topic meetings held on a weekly basis at the "Children's Home" that are attended by the Welfare Office, the Police, the Mental Health Services, the Ministry of Education, and officials representing the structure and in which all cases under investigation are discussed in depth.
But first, consider incidents of abuse in numerical terms. According to official data, 197 complaints were filed with authorities in 2020, with the number increasing to 278 in 2021. The number of reports for the current calendar year is approaching 260, totaling approximately 750 complaints in three years. At least one-third of these cases are heard in court. But what about the rest? Several cases are those in which the children did not want to cooperate further after the audio-visual testimony, and a number of cases are not presented in court or later withdraw the testimony. Recognizing the difficulty of substantiating a complaint, because forensic corroboration (when it comes to e.g. "We never question any child, our aim is to protect them," adding that in the vast majority of cases, the suspect/assailant is a person from the child's close circle. The perpetrator's profile cannot be established with certainty because people of all ages and backgrounds have been identified. Children who are vulnerable are usually targeted, such as those who spend a lot of time alone due to parental absence because of work or other commitments.
[This article was translated from its Greek original]