Former European Commissioner, Androulla Vassiliou, became a target of scathing attacks on social media after her inappropriate comments about a rape case in Thessaloniki. After a 24-year-old woman reported to police that she had been drugged and raped in a hotel suite in Greece’s northern city, Vassiliou posted the following tweet: “And how did the 24-year-old find herself in the hotel suite? One must know all the facts before jumping to conclusions.”
This comment caused a social media uproar, both in Greece and Cyprus, with most commenters pointing out the obvious – Vassiliou was blaming the victim, something that is totally unacceptable in this day and age. She was also attacked by male politicians, who are not renowned for taking a strong stand on rape cases. Former presidential spokesman, Victoras Papadopoulos, asserted that “rape is rape” also pointing out that such comments were infuriating, coming from the vice-chairperson of the council of the University of Cyprus.
He may have had a point. In most other EU countries, her position on a university council would have become untenable after such a comment, given the changing views and sensitivity shown by societies in these matters. And it did not matter that the former commissioner’s comments were made with genuinely good intentions, however ill-conceived these may have been. Today, such views are not just considered unacceptable, they are unforgivable. Vassiliou’s subsequent apologies had little impact.
Yet the outrage witnessed on social media in the last few days was a bit surprising considering the reaction to the rape allegations made by the teenage British holidaymaker in Ayia Napa in 2019. We did not hear any male politician come to her defence or tweet that “rape is rape” back then. On the contrary, she was charged and sentenced for making false statements to the police about the incident. She had strong support from abroad and from women’s groups in Cyprus, but her heavy-handed treatment by the police and the court did not spark the level of social media outrage locally that Vassiliou’s comments did.
It is truly bizarre that people could become livid about some insensitive comments about an alleged rape case abroad, while showing general indifference to reports of an alleged gang rape of a teenage girl in our own country, the authorities of which were happy not only to blame the victim, but also charge her. The alleged perpetrators, meanwhile, were set free after a few days. It appears that saying the wrong things about one alleged rape is worse than the Cyprus authorities forcing a young woman to retract her account of another.