British teen who was jailed in Cyprus for ‘crying rape’ aged 18 reveals the nightmares she still suffers and the whispers she dreads in her new life ahead of her appeal this week
Starting university is always an anxious time for any student. Thrown into a melee of new people, the introductions and ‘getting to know yous’ can seem daunting.
But for one young woman last September — an economics undergraduate at a Russell Group university — it was an especially difficult experience. She would introduce herself and wait for a glimmer of recognition, a quizzical brow, then the dreaded, ‘Aren’t you that girl who…?’
We can’t state her name here — UK law forbids it — but on the internet’s wild west, it’s easy to rip away the flimsy veneer of anonymity supposed to protect this vulnerable 21-year-old.
She’s the girl who, aged just 18, says she was gang raped by a pack of up to 12 Israeli youths in a squalid hotel in the Cypriot resort of Ayia Napa and then arrested and accused of fabricating the attack, while her alleged attackers went free
A simple search of her name will throw up a mosaic of unpixelated private pictures accompanied by lurid details of the ordeal which has brought her this unwanted attention.
Her story has been shared the world over — in everything from debates about Western licentiousness, state-sanctioned corruption and misogyny, to vile trolling ‘pile-ons’ calling her the worst names imaginable.
All the details of what happened to her are there too — deeply personal, sexual and humiliating. It’s the sort of information no one would want to share with anyone.
For she is the ‘Cyprus gang rape’ girl, a case which first made headlines in 2019.
She’s the girl who, aged just 18, says she was gang raped by a pack of up to 12 Israeli youths in a squalid hotel in the Cypriot resort of Ayia Napa and then arrested and accused of fabricating the attack, while her alleged attackers went free.
The nightmare saw her thrown into a cockroach-infested jail in the capital Nicosia for weeks. She was held on the island for almost six months — missing her place at university — and left with a conviction which she is set to appeal on Thursday. Her proceedings at the Supreme Court of Cyprus, which she tells me she is determined to win, would mean her name is cleared for ever.
‘I just didn’t think there was going to be a fresh start for me anywhere,’ she says today of starting her degree.
And sure enough, within a day of arriving at her university accommodation last year, she says ‘it’ happened.
Some of the seven male Israeli tourists arrive to appear before Famagusta District Court in Paralimni, Cyprus, 26 July 2019
Pictured, the bedroom where the alleged rape took place. She was branded a liar, charged with fabricating the rape, coerced into retracting her accusation and — as she awaited trial for the offence of causing public mischief — thrown into jail for five weeks
A boy in her bubble had Googled her and discovered countless posts identifying her and shared the information with the rest of their group of 11 students.
‘One of the girls pulled me to the side and explained . . . that’s how I found out. It’s really tough, it really is,’ she says. ‘My heart just dropped and I wanted to go home. It’s hard to describe but there’s this feeling of never being able to get away from it.’
But the group were quick to reassure her and sympathised — even contributing to a Go Fund Me page set up to help pay her legal fees. It has raised more than £160,000. However, it is not the first, and certainly won’t be the last, time she finds herself unexpectedly confronted by her story.
‘It is just always there, someone might ask me a cryptic question and I will think, “They know” and often they do know and that’s really hard,’ she says.
‘It’s not even just at university, it can be when I’m out with my friends and someone will ask me something vague about Cyprus or being abroad. It varies so much.’
In one incident she recalls waiting for her friend in the bathroom of a pub when she was approached by an older woman.
‘She just started crying and hugging me saying, “I know you” and telling me how sorry she was. It was out of the blue.
‘I appreciate the gesture but when someone says something, it plays on your mind all night and I’ll just want to go home.’ Considering her experiences, it’s a miracle the young woman made it to university in the first place and anyone who followed the case will rejoice to hear that she did.
This animal-loving country girl from rural Derbyshire had gone to Cyprus for a summer of fun post-A-levels. There she’d embarked on a holiday romance with a handsome young Israeli lad, a 21-year-old footballer she knew as Sam.
They’d had sex in his hotel one night when suddenly, in what she believes was a premeditated attack, she says his friends forced their way into the room and took turns to rape her, while her ‘holiday romance’ held her down. After reporting the violent assault to police, events took a sinister turn.
While three of the boys readily admitted they had sex with the girl, and others admitted watching and filming the spectacle on their phones, all of them maintained it was consensual.
In Israel, where public opinion initially swung behind the 12 boys who were aged between 15 to 20 at the time, sympathy for their plight rapidly ran out, and there was an outpouring of revulsion at their actions.
Meanwhile, she was branded a liar, charged with fabricating the rape, coerced into retracting her accusation and — as she awaited trial for the offence of causing public mischief — thrown into jail for five weeks.
A series of court appearances ensued, in which she was hectored and bullied by a judge who did not believe her.
In the end, she was handed a four-month suspended sentence in January last year.
Speaking to the Mail when she first returned to the UK, she said she found it difficult to go out alone without her mother or a trusted friend. ‘I had a routine with my mum and dog and a horse for a while. Even going out for lunch or going out shopping would make me very anxious.
‘There were people everywhere… I just couldn’t do it alone. There was no way I could do it alone.’
Now she says that her first attempts of going out with her friends ended with her abandoning plans and leaving.
‘I went once or twice but then it would be too much and I ended up coming home early. It was everything, the atmosphere and lads being everywhere. I just couldn’t do it,’ she recalls.
She was only home for a few months when the pandemic struck and the lockdown in some ways took the pressure off having to socialise and meet people.
And as her deferred university place approached last year, she found herself putting off preparations and packing.
‘I left everything to the very last day,’ she says. ‘The idea of student life just did not appeal.’ She did go but it has not been an easy ride. One particularly tough setback was when she discovered she had both Israeli and Greek lecturers.
‘It has been a bit of a battle. We have a lot of international teachers — one Greek teacher, one Israeli — and they speak in such thick accents,’ she says.
It has meant that she has struggled with her anxiety, the familiar accents acting as triggers, while simply trying to listen to their pre-recorded lectures during the lockdowns.
‘With the Greek teacher I just couldn’t listen to his lectures.
‘It was all online and I literally could not concentrate on what he was saying because the PTSD is going off. The accent thing will always be a problem for me.
‘It really just awakens a different part in me . . . I associate it with everything about it, the whole thing, the police and the prison.’
There have been other setbacks too as she has found it impossible to get part-time or summer work because of the conviction. She said: ‘I was applying for so many jobs, just things in cafes or restaurants but I couldn’t get a job. I suspect I was being Googled and when employers found out about it they did not want to know.’
It was only recently, having started to use her mother’s maiden name, that she was able to secure a job last month working in an upmarket sports club. She’s still on medication to curb her anxiety, which she says can be triggered by the smallest things.
Women’s rights protesters gathered outside the Cypriot Embassy before marching to Parliament Square in protest
‘I get really stressed over nothing, the smallest mundane thing, like what I’m going to eat, if I can’t find something, or if there’s no juice. Rationally, I know it’s obviously not that which is stressing me out, it’s the other bigger things, like now it is the appeal coming up. Everything is just a lot more stressful now and it has brought everything back up to the surface.’
To help with her anxiety and deal with her emotions, she turned to yoga, the gym and horse riding.
In many ways, she appears much older and much wiser than the red-eyed young girl I first saw trembling and sobbing in the sweltering dock in her first court appearance in Cyprus in July two years ago.
She herself acknowledges that she has been forced to grow up very quickly. And feeling ‘mentally older’ has meant that she initially struggled to connect with her carefree peers at university. She tells me: ‘They get involved in these arguments, “he said, she said” stuff, and it just feels so petty and insignificant to me now. They feel so young.
During her trial, a psychologist gave evidence alleging that the woman was suffering from PTSD while a linguistic expert said the retraction statement had been written by someone with English as a second language
‘I spend my free time reading newspapers and political magazines and keeping up on women’s issues.’
But while she has flourished as a student and is ready for the academic year ahead, she still suffers from nightmares.
She often dreams about being stuck in a thunderstorm in Cyprus — the island was hit by heavy storms in the days leading up to her verdict at Christmas in 2019 — when everything comes back to her.
Some of her flashbacks are also linked to her five-week stay in the Nicosia prison where she had her 19th birthday and saw a Filipino inmate drink bleach in a failed suicide attempt.
‘It’s a big thing seeing someone trying to kill herself, isn’t it? It’s one of the things which are just somewhere in my brain and sometimes I will randomly mention it or think about it,’ she says.
But she has put off having therapy for now as she feels she is not ready, adding: ‘I know that I will do therapy, I just need to be at a point where I’m ready for it.
‘My PTSD feels like it’s not actually post, it feels very present as it is all still ongoing.’
Her devoted mother — who gave up her life to live on the island with her daughter during the trial — has also been diagnosed with PTSD and she is seeing a therapist.
Having been trapped on the island for almost six months, it comes as no surprise that the young woman is relieved she is not required to attend next week’s hearing in person.
And she has no doubt in her mind that she will get her conviction overturned — whether it will happen next week in Cyprus or if she has to take her fight to the European Court of Human Rights.
‘I hope that justice is served, it’s bringing it all back again, definitely. It does make it feel like it is never going to go away. But I’m totally determined it will happen, 100 per cent. If not next week, we will take it to the EU.’
Her legal team, led by Justice Abroad, will argue that she has suffered a grave miscarriage of justice and was bullied into signing a retraction statement without access to a lawyer or translator in police custody.
Sickening: Israeli youths were greeted with hugs after being released from police custody
They will also argue that she was treated unfairly by the judge in the case who refused to hear evidence of the assault in question and shouted seven times, ‘This is not a rape trial.’ Barrister Michael Polak is ‘hopeful’ she will get a fair hearing this time.
But even if she wins the appeal, she accepts her ordeal is far from over.
‘Even when the conviction gets overturned, it’s still going to be there, isn’t it?’ she says.
‘I know that conviction will not be there for ever because we will get justice — but everything that has happened to me will be there for ever.
‘It’s important to me that justice is met, the people who treated me the way that they did, everyone who treated me the way that they did, are held accountable.
‘But even after the appeal, I don’t think I will get closure until things change.’ She said she wants to see action to help improve the safety of young tourists and women like her in Cyprus.
‘I need to know something is in place for other women to be safe. There needs to be something… I feel concerned when I see other teenagers travelling out there,’ she adds.
When asked how she feels about Cyprus, she pauses thoughtfully before replying: ‘It is a beautiful country and there are lovely people there. But if I went back again, I would feel like my ability to leave when I wanted to could be compromised.’
Her mother said she will be staying in Britain to comfort her only child as they both follow the news of the appeal from home.
‘I would like to look people in the eye and get some justice but it would be the totally wrong thing to do to leave my daughter alone in that moment,’ she explains.
‘I’m really angry about it, how she was treated by these boys and how this system put her in prison for five weeks and convicted her.
‘It means the world to me to win this because it means there is recognition that she isn’t lying and she absolutely isn’t lying.’
Yet as she contemplates the start of a new term, the girl has found some solace by immersing herself in her studies. ‘I love my degree so much, I love it,’ she says, immediately perking up.
She adds: ‘I’m just really enjoying my course . . . when I’m writing essays I live and breathe it.
‘It’s like an escape for me but in a positive way.’
Then there’s the outpouring of support from all over the world.
The case caused international outrage with women’s rights groups holding protests and calls to boycott the holiday island which saw the Cypriot police forced to deny wrongdoing.
She’s received more than 6,500 messages of heartfelt support from all over the world with people donating to her Go Fund Me page and sending words of comfort.
One particular message that left both mother and daughter in tears came from a lady called Penny who sent a carefully put together package containing a sewing kit suggesting that she might find it therapeutic.
The parcel was accompanied by a handwritten letter saying: ‘In times of trouble or upset I have learnt that there is nothing more satisfying than stabbing a piece of fabric while creating something beautiful.
‘You have shown amazing strength and courage for which I suspect future generations of girls will be thankful.’
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