Just a few clicks and you see it all. Newspapers may have scruples about identifying gang-raped teenage girls but angry men on social media don’t. They’ve published her name, gleefully harvested her cheery Instagram selfies. A video of her having sex with her boyfriend, filmed secretly by her alleged assailants, just before they piled into the Cyprus hotel room, was posted on porn sites.
Through this rich plethora of material the girl’s body, morals and sexual prowess are luridly debated. Twitter shrugs, happy to host her public shaming. Eventually the porn sites removed the sex footage, not to spare her further humiliation — who cares about that? — but because some of the 12 Israeli boys she accused of rape were under 17, the Cypriot age of consent. Which means the mob now calls her “paedophile” as well as “slut”.
What should we say to a 19-year-old girl, A levels passed, a university place bagged, who is beautiful, adventurous, looking for a summer of meeting boys, parties and fun? That if something goes wrong you may be utterly ruined. The Ayia Napa case is an object lesson in how rape victims face not just the old horrors of a callous judicial process but a new one too: the prospect of global, indelible shame.
Moreover, for all our mighty #IBelieveHer feminist campaigns, this girl probably faces more disbelief than a generation ago when few would think a well-brought-up young woman would happily allow a dozen men to take their turn. But now “gang-bang” is a much-searched porn category: images resembling her ordeal are watched by guys who are led to believe this is a normal sexual rite of passage — and that girls love it.
Once, self-respecting parents wouldn’t greet as homecoming heroes sons who, even if they fell short of rape, had collaborated in a squalid, hateful act. Nobody disputes that four lots of DNA were found on her body, along with internal injuries and scratches on her thighs. Nor that outside the hotel these little princes bragged they were going to “do orgies” with the “English girl”. Or that they filmed her having sex with their friend without consent (not even a crime in Cyprus).
“Are you not ashamed?” asked a female Israeli journalist. But the boys and their male relatives popped champagne, let off a confetti cannon and kept chanting: “The Brit is a whore.”
We should warn young women too that their bodies and lives may be mere collateral in bigger power plays. In Hollywood women were silenced with cash for non-disclosure agreements to save studio moguls. In Cyprus, politicians weren’t going to let one silly British girl spoil relations with Israel, which not only uses the island, its only friendly regional neighbour, as a playground for its youth but is a key defence and trade partner.
On Thursday the Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu met the Cypriot president Nicos Anastasiades to sign off the $6 billion EastMed gas pipeline project. You don’t have to be a tin-foil hat conspiracist to think it unlikely Cyprus would imperil this deal by having 12 young Israeli men, some reportedly from high-born political families, stuck indefinitely in its jails.
By then it was their accuser who was in prison. The police, having taken her initial statement in July — that the gang burst in, that one sat on her shoulders so she couldn’t even count how many raped her, all affirmed by doctors — recalled her to the station. There they questioned her for eight hours until in desperation at 1.30am she allowed a “confession” to be dictated: she’d consented to everything, she said, fabricated the rape as revenge for the illicit filming. It wasn’t enough the Israelis were free: the girl must be punished, charged with “public mischief” and after four weeks already on remand in a Cypriot prison is now facing a jail term.
It is a truly monstrous case, more redolent of “honour” punishments handed out to raped girls in Afghanistan than to a holidaymaker in an EU nation. By refusing to hear rape evidence, the judge Michalis Papathanasiou employed all the logic of a witch trial. If her lawyers could not prove the attack was real, how could they clear her of making it up?
Now there are demands for a presidential pardon. But to accept absolution for a crime means first admitting your guilt. The girl is relinquishing her university place, reconsidering her chosen career since it is incompatible with a criminal conviction; she’s suffering from PTSD and “hypersomnia”, sleeping 20 hours a day. If the verdict is appealed against in the Cyprus Supreme Court or taken as far as the European Court of Human Rights it will prolong her ordeal for months, maybe years. All this for reporting a gang-rape.
While we denounce Cypriot courts, let’s not pretend our system delivers justice for sex offence victims. Here, too, women may be interviewed by police for hours without legal counsel. Nor does the victim always have a lawyer representing her interests in court. Although the number of reported rapes has increased, fewer than half now result in charges. In 2018-19 there were 1,925 convictions for rape or a lesser sexual offence, down from 2,635 in the previous period. The justice system and police are impossibly stretched now mobile phone information must be tirelessly searched and disclosed, while many women, fearful for their privacy, drop charges.
Pursue justice and you risk vicious online exposure and vilification from your rapist’s friends. The young woman who the footballer Ched Evans was convicted of raping, before being acquitted at a retrial, fled to Australia. The stakes for rape victims who refuse to stay silent, as a broken 19-year-old in Ayia Napa knows, have never been higher.