Sexual trafficking victims should not be recognised as such when their alleged perpetrators are found not guilty, the Nicosia District court heard in a civil case on Tuesday being brought by a Dominican Republic national against four men.
During the trial, Cyprus’ top human trafficking police officer was also accused of only trying to please the US. “You are just trying to impress the Americans,” said Nassos Panayiotou, the lawyer of one of the defendants while cross-examining Rita Superman, head of the human trafficking unit of the police. His colleague, Michalis Kitromilides, put it to her that “victims of trafficking [should] no longer be recognised as victims after the accused are acquitted.”
Superman said that victims were recognised and protected whether or not a criminal case or prosecution results from it, and are classified as no longer being victims once they are back living normally in society. “We do not identify a victim of trafficking in order to bring criminal charges,” she said.
She stressed that recognising victims of trafficking was a complicated not a superficial process, taking into consideration the history of the woman being prostituted, several face to face meetings and investigations.
“No woman sets out to become a prostitute,” she told the court.
Referring to a 2010 criminal case against the same men who were acquitted due to ‘unreliable witnesses’ which included 15 other compatriots of the woman, Superman said that police had been told that some of the women were threatened and bribed not to appear in court.
“We received information that some of the girls had received threats in their own country against their children and that one had been given €2,000 not to testify.”
Asked by Panayiotou why the women had not reported the case to police, who regularly visit cabarets to check if they were being abused or forced into prostitution, Superman replied that when these checks took place, the employees would normally see the boss of the establishment “shake hands and socialise with the police, which gave the wrong message and is something not done these days” and that the “girls assume the police are as corrupt as the officers in their home countries.”
Superman described some of the women in the 2010 case as somewhat naïve and uneducated having paid large amounts of money to come to Cyprus. “These girls came to work. They were not prostitutes. They all had children and came to Cyprus after being told they could take a train to Spain after a few weeks. They had relatives there who spoke their language. They arrived and instead saw women dancing in their underpants.” She added that the women had not run away to a shelter in order to “get into adventures with the police.”
Panayiotou said the women were “free to go to McDonalds, had mobile phones and use of an internet café across the road from their place of residence and knew how to communicate”, implying that they were not in any way locked up.
Superman replied that the women did not need to be locked up to be controlled, that their time out was limited, they were watched, they had their pay docked if they were late back, had guards, were not allowed to talk or contact others and had debt constantly hanging over them.
Panayiotou equated the Limassol centre offering shelter to the abused women with a private business fishing for clients for which it received a budget according to the number of occupants.
Prosecution lawyer Harris Stavrakis told the court he had another four witnesses to call and the judge set the next hearing for September 13.