How I know the Cyprus gang rape teenager is telling the truth

'Emily' is lead from court in Cyprus, where she was found guilty of making a false allegation of rape
'Emily' is lead from court in Cyprus, where she was found guilty of making a false allegation of rape Credit: AFP

This week will see the first television interview with the young British woman who reported a brutal gang rape in Cyprus last summer. 

'Emily' (as she is known in the documentary) was prosecuted for making false allegations, sent to prison for over a month, and finally., In January this year, convicted for 'public nuisance' which basically amounts to wasting police time. She received a suspended four-month jail sentence for 'public mischief' and was allowed to fly home.

It's a shocking case and one that, rightly, caused international outrage. But have we really learnt its lessons? And how long will Emily have to wait for justice?

As the new documentary explores, the 19-year-old was on a working holiday in the resort of Ayia Napa and having fun dating a young Israeli man. One night as they were having consensual sex in his budget hotel room, a gang of up to 12 of his friends entered and began filming them, before several went on to have sex with Emily. The men who do admit having sex that night have always claimed that Emily consented.

The programme, in which I appear, is hard-hitting mainly because of Emily’s testimony. She is clearly traumatised. I felt that when I met the young woman and her mother in Cyprus last December, having travelled there in order to offer my support as a feminist campaigner against rape. 

As soon as I looked into her eyes, I knew she was telling me the truth. Something terrible had happened to this teenager, and her trauma was palpable. She had real terror on her face as she claimed she had been called back into the police station a week after making a statement and pressurised into retracting it, and saying that she had lied about the gang rape. "Do you honestly think I would want to have sex with 12 men?” she asked me.

Reporting rape is a hellish process. When Emily went to the police for help she ended up being criminalised, but - despite the horrors she has been through - she is determined to talk about it. I have interviewed countless women who have suffered serious sexual assault, including gang rape victims, and I am only too aware of the secondary trauma they go through when disclosing the details. Emily is determined to get justice, not just for her but for other women who have been treated in a similar way. 

The documentary digs deep into the original police investigation. Emily says she was denied a lawyer during police interrogations and that her interviews were not recorded. “I was forced to retract my statement” she told me, “I was too scared to do anything else.”

Activists stage a protest in support of the British teenager 'Emily' outside the court in Cyprus Credit: AFP

I have worked with campaigners against sexual violence in Cyprus and know how the culture of disbelief that permeates the criminal justice system and much of society deters most victims from reporting rape - and results in sexual predators being given the green light. 

Nicoletta Charalambidou was Emily’s defence lawyer. In the film, she asks why it’s easier to believe that a woman was not raped, rather than believing she was raped. “If you wanted to believe her [you could]. All the evidence was there to conclude that there was rape.”

In order to forensically investigate the initial police investigation, the filmmakers hired former Detective Chief Superintendent David Gee who, unsurprisingly, claims that the case was not investigated as thoroughly as it should have been. Gee points to inconsistencies in the suspects' accounts of the events of that night; questions around DNA evidence placing suspects at the scene; evidence that Emily felt under pressure at a police station to retract her original statement of rape; and a number of other anomalies. 

Emily’s mother told me the documentary was harrowing for both her and her daughter to watch. I asked her about the next steps in the campaign, and she told me that the family is resolutely pursuing justice and has no intentions of giving up. They are awaiting the decision of an appeal lodged earlier this year with  the Supreme Court of Cyprus - expected at some point over the summer - and are ‘apprehensive’ following their experiences to date with the Cypriot criminal justice system. 

Cyprus is not the best place on earth for dealing with rape and sexual assault, but before we become complacent and reassure ourselves that the UK has a better criminal justice system let’s have a look at the latest figures. 

The proportion of reported rapes prosecuted in England and Wales is currently at a shocking 1.4 per cent. This effectively means that rape has been decriminalised. What happened to Emily could happen to any young woman in similar circumstances, and the more women that are disbelieved, the fewer men will be deterred.