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Why I believe the Woman from Cyprus

CC BY: Robert,

Beyond what seem like investigative failures, does anyone really believe that this young woman wanted to sleep with so many men, in front of so many men, and all while being filmed?

Attorney Sharon Abraham-Weiss

The incident at the Ayia Napa resort, which ended in the conviction of the young British woman who submitted a complaint against Israeli tourists, succeeded in mobilizing the public here in Israel to take to the streets. And not only in Tel Aviv, but in Paralimni, too. While standing shoulder to shoulder with my sisters in front of the Embassy of Cyprus – and admiring those who traveled there themselves – friends reached out to me and asked, innocently, “but why?” If the men were released and she was convicted, what are we protesting about?

I do not intend to go into depth on this specific incident, or discuss what appear to be major failures in the investigation (neglect in investigating the scene, the conditions of the investigation in which she retracted her complaint, etc.). As the matter has not been evaluated, I am also not declaring decisively that what happened in July in that hotel room meets the legal definition of rape. What I do wish to explain is why this is not “just another incident,” and why we cannot remain silent.

Much ink has been spilled over the question of consent, which has been at the center of the legal hearing. This term, like the definition of rape, has changed with the years. When I was young, “When You Say No” was a hit song. Today, particularly after the “Me Too” revolution, it’s clear that positive consent is a prerequisite to sex. That is, if you say no – it’s no; and if you say nothing – then your partner must ask. Today, in contrast to the past, it’s also clear to everyone that rape occurs between married couples, and that a woman may change her mind mid-sex.

And despite the changes and progress made, we are still stuck with an accusatory finger pointing squarely at those who accuse. “Look what she was wearing,” “Have you heard about her sexual history?” – “She used to strip,” and further irrelevant comments. A woman can wear what she wants, and sleep with whomever she wants. There is no justification or approval for rape.

And beyond the issue of consent, there is the question of free will that stands at the heart of how we, as a society, treat one another. Even if this young woman wanted to sleep with one of the Israeli men, and even if she did not explicitly say “no” when his friends entered the room, does anyone really think that she was interested in having sex with a number of men, in front of a large group of additional men? At that point, the original consent was invalidated.

On top of this, some of the same young men in fact filmed the sexual relations and “sent it to the gang.” Beyond the criminal component, this entails exploitative, dehumanizing and degrading treatment of a woman in a powerless position. No one would want their sister, daughter, or mother filmed naked – and for that matter, neither would they wish that upon their father, brother, or themselves – or for the film to be circulated internationally. This is the essence of objectification.

So how can it be that this incident has concluded, regardless of whether it met certain legal standards, with branding this same woman’s body and mind as criminal? Because she allegedly retracted her testimony. Anyone who works in care and support for survivors of sexual violence knows of the difficulty that comes with contacting the authorities, of the additional harm expected during police questioning, treatment at the hospital, and moving forward – if one even reaches that stage – to the courtroom.

Many women choose not to report and not to testify in order not to relive the trauma. The test of reality proves that the paths of women who report is paved with agony. Even the authorities, despite major progress in treatment and training, are still woefully deficient. Consequently, I choose to believe her.

Sharon Abraham-Weiss is the Executive Director of ACRI

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