Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Joining the Picket Line

Yesterday, I did an interview with a Greek newspaper yesterday. The article was meant to be published tomorrow, but guess what?

Tomorrow, in Greece, the journalists are going on strike.

As some of you know, I'm currently writing a book. Not about what happened in Athens specifically, but about the year I spent in Europe, which of course Athens was a part of. Other, way happier stuff happened too, and while I've been working on the book for a couple of years, I'm now in the midst of tackling it full time, with the hopes of having it completed by Christmas.

But today, for whatever reason, when I heard about the journalists, I fell apart. Just cried and cried, like a little kid, sniffling and snotting and everything. Not about the journalists, you understand. Not about the story not being in the paper tomorrow. In fact, I don't really know about what. I think it's all just starting to catch up with me.

I'm exhausted. I am so, so tired of dealing with this. Tired of doing it day in, day out. Tired of not being able to just wake up in the morning, sit down, and do my work. Tired of having to hash and rehash the most horrible thing that's happened to me, and answer e-mails, and scan documents with my signature, and give my passport number and my father's name, and beg for answers. Tired of losing my appetite, and my hair. Tired of becoming more and more aware that I am dealing with a country that seems to have, on the whole, very little interest in justice.

Unfortunately, as a writer, I don't have access to stress leave. Which is why I've been trying to keep working, no matter how bad things get. But today, I've made the decision:

I'm on strike, too.

Just for the afternoon, but I reserve the right to continue on into tomorrow. As Charlie Brown would say, I just can't stand it anymore. No more answering the phone. No more e-mails or rehashing. If I had a sign, it would say "Piss off".

Although according to the laws of my union, I reserve the right to change that as the day progresses.

Monday, September 29, 2008

"You Are Not Alone"

Sometimes help comes from the most unexpected places.

In Athens, a couple of days after all this happened in 2005, I was lying in my hostel bunk bed, doing something I didn't do often back then. I was praying. I didn't know for what, really. I just felt desperately isolated, alone and terrified. I was asking the universe... and for some reason, the goddess Hera (I learned later that she is "the protector of women") for help.

I fell asleep after that, and when I awoke a few hours later, it was to a petite American girl who had come into the room. Someone had told her what had happened, and she'd come to talk, because a few years ago, she had been drugged and raped.

As we were talking, other girls in the room overheard, and offered food, and their support. And suddenly I was no longer alone, and my pain was shared by other women, and what had happened to me was no longer just mine. It was the most healing thing I could have asked for. I always refer to her as the American angel.

Last week, I got a call from Paul Cherry, who wrote the article in The Gazette. Someone from an organization called The Greek Helksinki Monitor wanted to get in touch with me, and as The Gazette didn't use my name, they went through him. I spoke to the woman today, and her husband. The Greek Helsinki Monitor is a human rights advocacy group in Greece. They gave me more information about the Greek legal system in the last half hour than I've gotten from anyone else combined. They told me why, if I do attend the trial, I should have a lawyer: because in Greece, the prosecutor is not there to convict the defendant. They said the victim in a case like this should have a lawyer to argue with the defending lawyer. If I go to this trial without a lawyer, I will be, as they put it, "torn apart".

They told me that giving a video testimony is not possible, as I'm not a minor and have to be cross-examined. They also told me that as the trial has been canceled, it will not be rescheduled anytime in the near future. As in, not before the first half of 2009. If I'm lucky.

"I'm getting married in 2009," I told him, lamely, because I'm starting to feel like getting married is a pansy excuse to beg out of one's own rape trial.

But then, the man told me that since he released information on my case, he's been contacted by two national Greek papers, both of whom want to speak to me. That this could be a case that sets a precedent, not only in the way they deal with the defendant, but in how rape is dealt with in Greece, period. In how victims are compensated, and even how they are treated by the police and medical system.

So. I will be speaking to these Greek journalists. I am giving the Greek Helsinki Monitor the authority to do as much as they can with my case, which seems to be a lot. They also said that with enough pressure, and a lawyer, could convince the prosecution office to hold the trial early enough in the year for me to be able to attend.

"If these issues are exposed in the proper way," the woman told me, "it may trigger actions, reactions and changes that would not otherwise happen.

They will know they are being watched."

After I thanked them for the millionth time, the woman told me to call or e-mail with any questions I had. And she said, "Natalie, you are not alone."

I know, especially after the e-mails that continue to come in, that I am not alone. But for the first time, I really feel like I might be able to do something for other victims - something more than a few years in prison for one individual. And that gives me a lot of hope.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Carrying On

Yesterday, sometime after my shock began to wear off, I got a phone call from the Canadian Embassy in Athens. They informed me that:

1. Everyone at the Public Prosecution Office - judges, officials, lawyers - would be working on the day the trial was scheduled to begin, except for ONE clerk. But, as it was explained to me, you cannot have a trial without a clerk. How one clerk going on strike can hold up an entire judicial process I don't really understand. But then again, this is a country where striking is pretty much a national sport, from the sounds of it.

2. Because the trial has been "canceled" rather than "postponed", there is actually a chance that a new trial might be scheduled in the next couple of weeks. Somehow, postponing a trial takes longer than creating a whole new trial. Again, it makes very little sense, but there you go.

Ultimately, what happens next is now completely out of my control. Until yesterday, I was empowered by the fact that I had made the decision to fly to Greece and testify. Now, I have to wait until a decision is made on when/if the trial will be rescheduled. And I have to draw a deadline, after which, as much as it pains me, if the trial is scheduled, I will choose not to participate.

That's the tricky part. So much of me, despite dreading this, wants to plunge in, deal with this hell and then put it behind me forever. But at the same time, I can only put my life on hold for so long. I have made a second request to Foreign Affairs to give my testimony by video. (I was informed in 2007, when the initial trial was scheduled, that this is often done. However, it was up to the Greek authorities to decide whether that was acceptable, and they deemed it was not.)

Being able to travel to Ottawa rather than Athens and give a video testimony would be a dream come true in this situation. Having the trial rescheduled for the very near future would be the second best option. But for now, I just have to wait, and put this all aside for the next couple of days or weeks. I recently came upon a print of a poster, which I believe was posted around England during World War II. I am not a proponent of war, but I believe in this 100%:

The sun was shining in Montreal yesterday. This can only cast a shadow if I choose to let it.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Strike Two

I just woke up and received this e-mail from the Canadian Embassy in Athens:

Dear Ms.Karneef,

We have just been informed by Mrs.Kailli (Head of Public Prosecutor's office - Mixed Judge/Jury Court) that the Court secretarial staff will be on strike as of the 29th of Sept. until the 2nd of October, therefor it is likely that the hearing will NOT take place (cancellation). More specifically, although she can not rule out a small possibility of the trial taking place if the strike is suddenly called off, she recommends that you do not travel at this time.
Should you decide to travel, it is not clear by Mrs.Kailli whether you will be reimbursed for your expenses.

Please contact us for any clarifications that you may need or to discuss the issue.


I am absolutely blown-over, stunned, and gobsmacked. I am in shock. I can't believe, after everything, that this has happened. I can't believe that I may have to deal with all of this a THIRD TIME, if they reschedule the trial and I am able to go. It was 15 months between the initial trial and when they rescheduled it. When will this be scheduled for? I am getting married in a year. I wanted this to be over. I am realizing now how much I had mentally prepared myself for this... so in a way, despite my dreading it, this feels like a huge let-down.

For once in my life, I am at a loss for words.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Whole CBC Interview

CBC Montreal has actually posted the interview in its entirety - minus the parts where the dog jumped on me - at http://www.cbc.ca/newsatsixmontreal

They also have a link to my blog on their site, which is so great.

Thank you so much already to those who have sent your support... the difference it makes is immeasurable... I felt better today than I have in a long time.

On CBC Today and Tonight

I was just interviewed for Montreal's News at Six and CBC Radio News.

You'll be able to see the television one here from 6pm onwards:


It's very Barbara Walters. In a good way - I don't cry on camera and the lens isn't foggy - but it's about the emotional side of things too.

What Happened 5 Minutes Ago

As I was writing that last post, I got a call from Foreign Affairs (which makes me sound so important) with some new information. The good news: one of the Australian victims WILL be attending the trial. (If you can call that “good” news… good in the grand scheme of things, I guess.)

The bad news: the initial trial was scheduled for July 2007. I chose not to attend because of the Greek authorities’ decision to be as unaccomodating as possible. In the end, they postponed it “due to lack of witnesses”. They tell me now, THIS AUSTRALIAN WOMAN FLEW TO ATHENS FOR THAT TRIAL.

I feel terrible that she did it once for nothing, and humbled, because she’s about to do it for a second time, and I’m only willing to go through this once.

What Happened Next

I delayed making a decision on whether I would testify at the trial until this August, when I returned to Greece, this time on holiday with my fiancé Tony and his family. It was the first time I’d been back to Greece since the incident, and a couple of weeks into the trip I was sitting alone, in an outdoor square in Nafpaktos. And that’s where it happened. I wasn’t approached by any strange men, and I didn’t see Jesus. It just hit me. If I don’t open my mouth about this now, I will always regret it.

A few days later, Tony spoke to his cousin, also named Tony (yes, it really is like that scene in My Big Fat Greek Wedding with Nick, Nick and Nick), and Tony’s wife Sofia. He told them about what had happened to me in Athens in 2005, and asked whether I could stay with them during the trial. Being the lovely people they are, their first reaction was shock that we’d even ask - rather than simply announce when I would be arriving and how long I would be staying, as I suppose is the Greek tradition. And then Tony - Cousin Tony, or “Adoni” in Greek so we’ll call him that just to keep things simple – said something to my Tony.

He said, “No matter what happens during this trial… no matter if the guy is convicted or not… Natalie has to put this behind her.”

And I realized then that he was absolutely right.

Hence, the name of this blog: The Beginning of the End. I took it from a Tracy Chapman song called “The Rape of the World”. I realize that’s a bit dramatic, and that the song is symbolic. But still, it works. Because no matter what happens, after I fly back from Athens this time, it’s The End. “Justice” (whatever that means) may not be attained. But I have to let go of everything, and I have to move on. The space this is taking up in my life for the past three years has to be freed for other things. I feel like I’ve lost too much of myself to this already.


The Short Version of the Story

I was drugged and probably raped in Athens in August of 2005. The man was caught a month later, and charged with doing the same thing to 3 other women (two from Australia, and one from Denmark.) He has since been convicted for raping the Danish woman, sentenced to 5 and a half years in prison, and released after serving 18 months.

I will be testifying against this man at his second trial on October 1st.

The long version is here, from when I originally wrote about this last summer.

Please keep checking back. There will be continuous updates. And thank you for being here.