For 33 year old Natalie Karneef, a writer and associate of Canadian radio station CBC, a trip from the opposite side of the Atlantic to our country was not so pleasant. As soon as she stepped foot in El. Venizelos Airport in Athens, dark memories from the summer of 2005 filled her mind.
It was then that a walk around the tiny alleyways of Plaka turned ugly, thanks to Emanouel Aristovoulos, who showed Natalie his own kind of Greek hospitality. The 54-year old offered Natalie a tour around the Acropolis and what happened next could very easily be part of a blockbuster crime movie: first a little chat about this and that, then hidden sleeping pills inside her food... then dizziness... a hotel.. and rape.
According to the courts, that same summer, Aristovoulos used the exact same method on three other victims: two from Australia and one from Denmark.
Last Monday morning Nathalie buried all her fears about once again confronting the man who stigmatized her and, with the support of Panayote Dimitras from the Greek department of the Helsinski Monitor for Human Violations and lawyer Thanasis Tartis, she appeared in the Athens court where the trial woul take place. Still, her desire to tell the court what happened in her own words was left unfulfilled. The lawyer of the accused. Ms. Zoe Konstantopoulou, claimed that because of her need to attend another case, the trial should be postponed. Ms. Konstantopoulou is part of the Aleksis Grigoropoulos case which takes place in Amfissa. The court postponed the trial once again (for the sixth time!) and sent Natalie back to Canada without showing the least sympathy for her struggle for justice. The Canadian writer will attend the rescheduled trial in January 2011.
Natalie talks to VETO
"Both myself and Dana, the other victim who attended this "procedure", feel devastated. I feel angry and deceived. I cannot believe that I went through all this trouble for nothing."
I met her on her birthday. She is 33 years old today, but instead of giving me cake, she offers me food for thought. Food for thought that left me troubled... about her experiences with the whole Greek justice system and how they treated her, from the first cop to even the judges... troubled about why the accused has only gone through one trial.
How did you meet the accused?
I was on a long trip through Europe and I visited Greece as a part of that trip. One morning I was strolling around the Plaka in downtown Athens when a man approached me and asked something I don't recall. When he realized I was not Greek he offered to take me on a tour of the area. He claimed he had good knowledge of Athens and history. He claimed that he was a pilot for Air France and that he was living in Paris.
I went with him to the ancient theatre of Dionysus. He began insisting that I have some food, and, finally, I agreed. He went off and returned holding a cheesepie cut in two. I didn't feel threatened so I ate the food. After, he took me somewhere close to the Acropolis. Then we went to a bar [note: by this time I was no longer fully conscious of what was happening] where I had a colourless drink. The next thing I remember is waking up in a strange room. I was so dizzy that I couldn't even see straight. Everything was blurry, like a dream... I remember sitting inside a cab and finally, I remember waking up in my hostel room. It was then when I realized that this man had used me in order to have sex with me without my consent.
I assume you went staraight to the police...
I went to the Neos Kosmos police station first, but they told me there was nothing they could do! Then I went to the Acropoleos station. They asked me a bunch of questions: what happened? What did the man look like? They took me to 3 different hospitals to get examined. All 3 refused to examine me.
They said they had no forensic doctor present at the time. They were not rude or anything, but I simply cannot believe that the accused has commited 3 other rapes and victims cannot see justice because Greek hospitals don't have the right personnel or anyone in charge to take matters into their own hands. They told me to go back to my room and NOT to shower until the next day. It was the worst night of my life. The next morning, the police took me to see the forensic doctor.
How hard is it for you to forget that day?
I will never forget it. I feel weird when I see men that have the same age or characteristics as the accused. I feel fear whenever I'm in Greece alone. What makes it even harder is that my husband is Greek and we come here often.
Tell us your feelings about the fact that the man who raped you is still walking free.
It's ridiculous. A country cannot or won't throw in jail a man who was convicted once for rape and accused another three times!! That summer he was charged in the rape of four women. All his victims strongly believe that there other women who were attacked by the same person out there but they are simply too scared to come forward.
What are your thoughts on the Greek justice system? I sense many of them aren't positive.
Since Day One, the way my case was handled has been ridiculous. First of all, the accused has been on trial only for 1 out of 4 cases-the rape of a woman back in 2007 - because the courts subpoenaed the rest of us at the addresses of the hotels we were staying at when we were visiting Athens. Then, when they decided that they would subpoena me in my country, they broke their own law about allowing 60 days notice before a trial and sent the subpoena too late. The result was that I was convicted for missing my own trial in 2007. And last Monday, the court refused to drop my fine.
The trial was postponed again the trial because the accused man's lawyer claimed she had to attend a serious case outside Athens during that same period - a case she had taken on just a week ago. And even if that hadn't happened the trial would still get another date since the court translator, despite being officially notified of the trial by the court, was absent. All this is disgusting. It's a shame, a circus! It is something no one would expect from a country that is a member of the European Union.
My last question: how is your life today? What is your message to all other rape victims?
My life is good. I feel lucky. I reminding myself: that day could very easily have been my last. Or, I could have been infected with AIDS. I am married to a fantastic person and I live in a fantastic country. But the case still weighs on my mind even today, 5 later. Now, I have to come back to Greece in January. Lord knows how many more times I will have to travel and face the pathetic Greek justice system. As for other rape victims... I strongly believe that all victims should try to find the courage to come forward with their stories. It's not shameful. Being raped is never the woman's fault.