A Dominican woman, who was recognized as a sex trafficking victim after her ordeal in the capital’s Roxy strip club over a decade ago, is taking the Republic of Cyprus to the European Court of Human Rights, after the country’s Supreme Court sided with a lower court judge who threw out her lawsuit seeking damages.
Charitin Baez Nunez, a Dominican woman also known as Charo, had filed a complaint against the club boss and others at Roxy Club in downtown Nicosia, alleging she was forced to have sex with selected customers and made her life a "living hell."
The four defendants, including a Dominican woman married to a Cypriot, as well as two others had all been acquitted in a criminal trial after a judge found Charo to be an “unreliable" witness.
The story goes back 12 years ago when Charo and four other women from the Dominican Republic traveled to Cyprus in April 2008 after being told they would go to work at a five-star hotel in Spain.
But the five women ended up landing in the Republic of Cyprus on an “artist visa” where they were locked up in an apartment and had their passports confiscated according to details heard in court.
The case, which had no precedent on the island and ended up shutting the strip club down, also shed light on the "artist" visa category in Cyprus, where foreign women would be offered jobs as cabaret dancers but would also have to sleep with male clients. The artist visa category was later abolished following criticism from abroad.
Details heard in court painted a picture of young men, mainly soldiers, lined up on sofas having sex with female dancers while being watched by male waiters
According to court documents, Charo said she was forced to have sex with a total of nine men during her short time at the club before managing to escape and seek refuge weeks later.
The women also alleged that female dancers at the club were often forced to have sex with Greek soldiers, who would visit the club in groups during pre-opening hours. Details heard in court painted a picture of young men, mainly soldiers, lined up on sofas having sex with female dancers while being watched by male waiters.
According to daily Politis, Charo’s lawyers filed a case against the Republic of Cyprus in September after a Nicosia District Court ruling in January 2018 essentially blocked Charo from filing a civil case against Roxy’s owner, another male waiter, and two other employees.
In April 2020 the Supreme Court bench, presided by former Chief Justice Myronas Nicolatos, rejected Charo's appeal, two years after a local judge had rejected the complaint against Roxy Club citing the acquittals for the club boss and his employees.
Local media said the lower court acquittal was based on a judgment during trial that Charo and her female co-plaintiffs were found to be "unreliable witnesses" with the Supreme Court reaffirming Nicosia District Judge Alexandros Panayiotou’s decision.
Judge Panayiotou said he had found another female employee at Roxy, who was married to a Cypriot man, to be a reliable witness. The woman had spoken favourably of the male defendants and her description of the conditions at the club were in sharp contrast with Charo's allegations in the case.
Defence lawyers representing Roxy at the time argued that Charo was enjoying sexual activities at the strip club. In response to photographs shown during trial, suggesting Charo was engaged in prostitution, retired police officer Rita Superman suggested there was something behind every woman's decision to be a prostitute, telling the court during cross-examination that "no female ever had a dream of being a whore."
But Charo, who was recognized as a victim of sex trafficking by the state law enforcement agents, insisted she was not a prostitute.
She came to Cyprus in April 2008 with four other Dominican women, including two sisters, and they all filed complaints with police in May and June of the same year, saying they were being forced into prostitution.
“I still have many problems from the horrible experience in that strip club, something I can never forget,” Charo said, who was the only one along with another female dancer who testified in court against the defendants, while the other women withdrew from the case.
Judge Panayiotou, who ruled against Charo and ordered her to pay legal fees and court expenses, said the plaintiff “failed to provide evidence to prove her allegations of deception and sexual exploitation by the defendants.”
"Her testimony was filled with contradictions"
The judge also said Charo did not make a good impression on the witness stand, saying “her testimony was filled with contradictions.”
Charo, a mother of three, reportedly had problems in her marriage following her ordeal.
Her lawyers say they are taking the case to ECHR arguing among others a lack of fair trial, wrong interpretation of the term “victim” and who can determine its meaning, long delays in seeking justice amounting to 11 years, and failure to introduce local legislation to protect the right of victims to seek damages.
According to daily Politis, the lawyers are prepared to argue that the Republic of Cyprus violated Article 4 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which prohibits slavery and forced labour.
An alleged violation of article 4 is understood to be linked to the artist visa category, which was valid at the time of Charo’s arrival in Cyprus, with the lawyers arguing the state failed to introduce measures to protect someone from being held in slavery or servitude or required to perform forced or compulsory labour.
The lawyers also believe that the state’s introduction of legislation to protect victims was based on wrong or inadequate language or that the courts’ interpretations of certain provisions of the law did not in fact lead to actual protections or effective remedies.