“Greece lets my rapist walk free”

Canadian journalist Ms. Natalie Karneef talks about her fight for justice five and a half years after her rape in Athens.
Ms. Natalie Karneef
She woke up in a hotel room with a bad headache and a stranger next to her. Her head felt heavy and the dizziness did not allow her to collect her thoughts. What had happened? It was the afternoon of August 29th, 2005, and an unknown man had raped the Canadian journalist who was at that time travelling alone in our country. He had drugged her using a strong tranquilizer, carried her to his hotel and raped her. When she woke up, he escorted her to the hostel where she was staying and disappeared.

It took her a few hours to realize what had happened and a few months to find out that three more female tourists had reported being raped in the same way, from the same man. What she certainly could not imagine was that the Greek Justice system would delay the trial for years. Five and a half years after her rape, after six trial postponements, expenses of thousands of Euros and while the accused (and convicted for first degree rape to five years in prison for one of the rapes) walks free, Natalie Karneef talks to ‘To Vima on Sunday’ about the fight which she refuses to give up, looking ahead to the 26th of January, when the seventh trial, “might finally bring justice,” as she says.

By not coming forward about a rape, you become a victim forever,” is the first sentence that appears on the blog Ms. Karneef maintains aiming to inform the public about the rape cases of herself and three other tourists (one Danish woman and two Australian) in Athens. As time went by, this phrase became a life philosophy for the 33-year-old journalist and writer; therefore she does not hesitate to talk in every detail about everything that took place in August 2005. “I was travelling alone in Greece and that noon I was walking in Plaka. An unknown man approached me, asked me if I needed directions and offered to show me around Acropolis. It was noon, with the area of Plaka full of people. There was no reason for me to worry. So I accepted,” says Ms. Karneef. She found it strange that the man suggested repeatedly that she eat something, but she was not preoccupied. Finally he entered a shop and returned with a pastry cut into two pieces, offering her persistently one piece. “He was also eating it so I did not think there could be a danger. I remember the taste was unpleasant, bitter. But my lips were severely sunburnt and I thought that the bitter taste came from the medication I had put on the wound,” she adds.

Her adventure at the hospitals

Actually, the bitter taste was coming from ‘Stilnox’, a powerful tranquilizer which contains the substance Zolpidem Hemitartrate and causes a condition of heavy drunkenness, or even deep sleep. When she woke up from the lethargy, Ms. Karneef had to go to three different hospitals to diagnose her condition, because the doctors were declaring to be unauthorized since there was no forensic doctor present. “Finally we found a forensic doctor the next day, however he examined me without writing up a report. He did so in 2010! How could it be that he remembers his findings after five years?” she wonders. However, this was not the only breach of protocol of the Greek authorities, according to the Canadian journalist. In reality, with the procedure that was followed, it would be impossible to find the rapist, if the Danish tourist had not reported a new rape (the fourth in a series). Then, thanks to testimonies, the accused was arrested and the case of serial rapes was brought to justice.

A court marathon

The next five years have been a continuous hardship for Ms. Karneef with six trial attempts and six postponements. Thousands of Euros wasted in plane tickets, the value of which was never reimbursed by the Greek State. The only bright moment in this five year marathon was the conviction of the accused in 2007 for the rape of the Danish tourist. However, the man was released after a suspended sentence, and now walks free, waiting for the hearing of his appeal. At the same time, in July of 2007, by fault of the Greek authorities, Ms. Karneef was not subpoenaed in time and could not appear in court. As a result, she was convicted for defaulting witnesses and until today the court refuses to annul the conviction. “Can you imagine that I might be arrested next time I visit Greece?” she says jokingly, but turns serious right away. “My goal is not vengeance. I do not believe in ‘an eye for an eye’. I want to protect all those women who are in danger of becoming victims like myself, when the rapist is still at large. Even if one woman is saved, to me that will be a gain,” she emphasizes.

Asking her if even at the sound of the word ‘Greece’ she shivers, Ms. Karneef is firm. “I am married to a Greek-Canadian and I have managed to see the positive aspects of your country, without generalizing the negatives. Quite often, even I feel more like a Greek rather than a Canadian with regard to certain issues. But when it comes to the justice system, my opinion is crystal clear: ‘Greek Justice’ is an oxymoron,” she concludes.

Appeal to the European court

Seeing her case in a stagnant state with the Greek justice system, Ms. Karneef decided to appeal against Greece in the European Court of Human Rights, with the legal aid of The Greek Helsinki Monitor (GHM). Talking to ‘To Vima’, the representative of GHM, Mr. Panayotis Dimitras, explains that “the European Court has repeatedly concluded that the excessive and unjustified delay in serving justice equals violation of the right to a fair trial, as is guaranteed by the European Constitution of Human Rights. Therefore, we are almost certain that in the case of Ms. Karneef we can get the conviction of Greece.”

Ellie Ismailidou, Published January 9th 2011, ‘To Vima on Sunday’, print and online edition
See original article in Greek here.