For millions of women throughout history, practicing abstinence in order to avoid the potentially devastating outcome of an unwanted baby wasn’t so much a moral choice as a practical necessity.
Much has happened in the last 70 years that has altered this dynamic in Western countries. Premarital sex is now encouraged; premarital celibacy is mocked; there is contraception to prevent unwanted pregnancy, and there’s abortion to end it. Gone is the principle of caution, replaced with mere consent. But do women really have less to lose now from sex than they once did? Is the new rationale sufficient to protect girls from harm or to make boys be decent?
The recent case of a 19-year-old British woman, convicted for reporting gang rape in Cyprus, suggests otherwise. The facts of the case are deeply disturbing. The way she has been treated is frankly monstrous. Last summer, the teen was on a working vacation at the Pambos Napa Rocks Hotel in Ayia Napa, Cyprus, where she met and began a romantic relationship with a young Israeli man. On July 17, as the two were having sex in her hotel room, a gang of her boyfriend’s friends entered and began to video them without her consent (this was later posted on multiple porn sites).
Before barging into her room, the men were overheard boasting that they intended to “do orgies” with the “English girl.” (Later, enjoying Champagne and confetti, they chanted in front of a female Israeli journalist: “The Brit is a whore.”) The teen claims that, upon entering the room, one man sat on her shoulders so she couldn’t move, see, or free herself — as multiple men penetrated her. After escaping, the girl says that she fled to a nearby clinic where a doctor examined her and then called the police. The girl’s medical examination, which showed DNA from at least four people, as well as scratches on her legs and internal injuries, would appear to support her story. But the judge, Michalis Papathanasiou, wasn’t interested in hearing any evidence related to the actual rape. Because — unbelievably — the young men were not the ones on trial; she was.
Ten days after the attack, the police called her back in for questioning, saying her account didn’t add up. And on July 27, in the early hours of the morning, after eight hours of questioning, with neither a lawyer nor translator present — and not even permitted to call her mother — she retracted her statement. The teen plead “not guilty” when tried for lying about the rape. She later said that she felt under pressure from the police to retract her statement. And her lawyer, Michael Polak, director of Justice Abroad, told the BBC, “People suffering with PTSD can make retraction statements just to get themselves out of the situation in which they find themselves.”
To add to her humiliation, Papathanasiou supported his decision with the covertly recorded sex tape, which he said showed that the encounter had been consensual:
The reason why she initially gave false statements was because she realised that she was being recorded while she was having sexual intercourse and so she was placed in a difficult position and felt embarrassed. . . . She then apologised saying she had made a mistake by filing a false statement.
But, again, how can he possibly be sure of that when the rape itself never went to trial? When he wouldn’t allow relevant evidence to be admitted? Writing in the Times of London, Janice Turner highlights an additional, diplomatic concern:
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.
The teen girl, who now has a conviction of “public mischief,” spent over a month in jail, and she has only just been allowed to return to the U.K. on a suspended sentence. She had been due to begin university but is now dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder. Intimate videos of her have now been watched by goodness-knows how many creeps searching “gang rape” on porn sites. And while she has been scarred and may never recover, her tormentors have barely been inconvenienced.
The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office said in a statement: “The U.K. is seriously concerned about the fair trial guarantees in this deeply distressing case and we will be raising the issue with the Cypriot authorities.” This is the very least they can do. But there are cultural implications, too. Yes, this is an extreme example, but it serves as a reminder that no matter what preventive and terminative measures we concoct for reproduction, no matter how hard we try to teach “consent” or promote “safe sex,” sex is always potentially devastating for women, so long as human nature remains human nature, and men retain their physiological advantages.
One of the most poignant articulations of this point comes from Thomas Hardy’s novel Tess of the d’Urbervilles, in which the protagonist, having been raped by a suitor, pleads with her mother “as if her poor heart would break:”
How could I be expected to know? I was a child when I left this house four months ago. Why didn’t you tell me there was danger in men-folk? Why didn’t you warn me? Ladies know what to fend hands against, because they read novels that tell them of these tricks; but I never had the chance o’ learning in that way, and you did not help me!
That was written in 1891. What are we doing to help girls now?