13:46, January 07 225 0 theguardian.com

2020-01-07 13:46:03
The Guardian view on attitudes to rape: from Ayia Napa to Manchester

What can the most extreme cases tell us about more common ones? Generalising from extraordinary instances is risky. Yet outliers can still inform us. Their glare does not always distort our vision but can sharpen it too, allowing us to see muted patterns more clearly.

The conviction of a British teenager in Cyprus for lying about being gang-raped is such a case. On Tuesday she was handed a four-month suspended sentence. Though her family has expressed relief, given that she had faced the prospect of up to a year in jail, her lawyers will appeal her conviction. She has vowed to clear her name.

The 19-year-old reported to police that she had been having consensual sex when friends of the man came in and attacked her. A forensic pathologist recorded her scratches and bruises. Twelve Israeli men, who all deny raping her, were arrested; five were released when no DNA evidence linked them to the incident, and the rest when she revoked her complaint 10 days later. She alleges that police forced her to sign the retraction after eight hours of questioning without a lawyer or translator. Experts have said that she was particularly susceptible to pressure because she was suffering from severe post-traumatic stress disorder, and that it is highly likely that the statement was dictated by someone who does not speak English as a first language.

Nonetheless, a judge last week ruled that the woman had wilfully indulged in public mischief by making a false report, because she was angered that some of the men had used their phones to film her having consensual sex. Her supporters say the judge told the court that he would not consider whether she was raped or not.

The teenager’s backers have suggested a desire on the part of Cypriot authorities to protect relations with Israel or the island’s lucrative tourism sector may have played a part in events. But they have also raised broader questions about misogyny and sexism, both locally and more broadly.

As shocking as this case is, it speaks to the fears of many women – as demonstrations in solidarity by Cypriot and Israeli women have shown. They live not only with the fear of sexual assault, and an almost automatic vigilance, but with the fear of what might happen to them after such an attack. That a victim is not believed by police, prosecutors, a judge or jury does not mean she will face prosecution. But even a woman whose attacker is convicted may be judged in the court of public opinion: for being too drunk, too careless, too flirtatious, too trusting or too timid. We are still teaching potential victims how to protect themselves, while doing too little to teach potential offenders to respect others.

The teenager’s sentence came a day after the jailing of a man described by a prosecutor as Britain’s most prolific rapist. Reynhard Sinaga is believed by police to have attacked at least 195 men after drugging them and attacking them when they passed out; police have yet to identify many of the victims he filmed. The judge at Manchester crown court said she believed he would never be safe for release.

Many of the men had no idea they had been raped until police traced them. The impact has been devastating. As exceptional as this case is, it reminds us that men, as well as boys, are victims of sexual assault; and that they may face distinct challenges in the aftermath. The crime survey for England and Wales estimates that 138,000 men aged 16 to 59 had experienced a sexual assault in the year to March 2017. World Health Organization guidelines on caring for victims of sexual violence say that while the vast majority are female, men are less likely than women to report being assaulted.

This case should not define how we see such attacks, any more than events in Ayia Napa should define how we view complainants and their treatment. But both cases, in their different ways, can shed some light.