A 19-year-old British woman who says she was gang raped in Cyprus has been sentenced to four months in prison, suspended for three years, and fined £125. The woman was 18 and about to start university when she claimed she was attacked on holiday. Now, she is crippled by post-traumatic stress disorder, is taking antidepressants and is a shell of her former self, according her lawyer.
The alleged perpetrators, on the other hand, have barely spent a day behind bars or a minute in front of a judge or jury. The group of Israeli men, aged between 15 and 22, were permitted to fly home and return to their lives just days after the allegation was made.
Meanwhile, the woman – the victim – was questioned by police for eight hours straight and by the end of the interview, she had retracted the claim under extreme duress and fearing for her life.
She was then swiftly prosecuted for lying to police. Only now, months later, she is finally allowed to walk away from this nightmare as she returns to the UK, albeit as the guilty party.
This woman is not the first to be prosecuted and punished for male violence. Another British woman, Shana Grice, was fined £90 for “wasting police time” when she reported to police that she was being stalked by her ex-boyfriend. Shortly afterwards, the ex-boyfriend broke into her house and murdered her.
At least 200 women have been prosecuted in the UK for lying about rape in the last ten years, according to media reports.
How can it be that in a world that now pretends to be alive to the injustices facing sexual assault victims that a woman can be so brazenly victim-blamed by the full force and weight of the law?
Our culture is so committed to ignoring rampant sexual abuse that it will go to any lengths to avoid investigating it or otherwise confronting it. Victim-blaming, in all its cascading forms, is the last refuge of those determined to make sure the reality of sexual assault goes unexamined.
The idea of a judge handing a prison sentence to a rape victim while her attackers go free is just the logical end-point of an exercise we practice every day: our commitment to the belief that women are not to be trusted and, by extension, that male violence is not as common as we claim it is.
It’s the only way to explain the fact that authorities prosecute women they think have made false rape accusations more aggressively than other offences, despite the fact that genuine false rape accusations make up between 2% and 10% of all allegations – the exact same rate as most other crimes.
It’s the only way to explain why when women speak up outside the criminal justice system – as with many #MeToo allegations – they are accused of lying because they did not go to the police. Speak up, don’t speak up. They get us either way.
These prejudiced ideas about women and victims of male violence need to be consciously corrected for by the legal system.
To me, that should mean a higher burden of proof for police to meet when accusing a woman of lying about rape. It should mean stricter rules around the circumstances under which a confession of a false accusation should be accepted by a court.
It should mean rules about police questioning of rape suspects that take into account the fact that our culture encourages the officers interviewing her to feel more comfortable treating her as a suspect than a victim.
I desperately hope the European Court of Human Rights hears this case and sets us on a path towards reform. Until the law recognises the debilitating disadvantage that rape culture imposes on victims, women will continue to be punished and their attackers will continue to walk free.
Lucia Osborne-Crowley is an author and freelance journalist.