In honor of International Women’s Day, Deustche Welle’s World in Progress produced a show on curbing violence against women around the globe, which you can listen to in full here. For the show, I produced a piece on Turkey’s first and only rape crisis center. You can take a listen by playing it above or clicking here.
Sex outside the context of marriage is an extremely taboo topic in Turkey, so rape and sexual violence are often treated with silence. Those who have been attacked or abused do not report the crimes against them for many reasons: they’re ashamed, their families want to keep it quiet, they’re afraid of the consequences and they’re often not taken seriously by authorities. Especially for those who come from rural towns or villages, being raped is closely tied to being dishonored, and the blame is often placed on the person who has been attacked. Honor killings, which is when a woman is killed after she has been “caught” having sex outside of marriage — often because she’s been raped — are not unheard of in Turkey, but they’re not commonplace either. Domestic violence does run rampant in the country, as it does elsewhere, and while random instances of rape and sexual violence by strangers are rare, they do happen.
For the piece I got to interview a remarkable young woman whom I call “Anna” (she didn’t want her name used). She’s not Turkish, but she’s fluent in the language and has been living in Istanbul for a few years. She talks about her narrow escape from a rapist last year and her subsequent dealing with the police, who did not take her seriously. Sadly, this is often the case in Turkey and in many other parts of the world. She’s always been a strong woman who has demanded the right and respect she deserves, but the event has made her even more intolerant of such injustices. She volunteers with Hollaback! Istanbul
Her story led me to look for ways rape victims are being helped in Turkey. She got away but so many women don’t, and her trauma is just as real as anyone else’s. There isn’t much out there since the issue is guarded with shame and silence, but the rape crisis center I visited is a step towards progress. They’re mainly an operation for the court system, and they focus on collecting evidence, but they do offer affordable and accessible long-term psychological treatment for victims. I don’t talk about it in the piece, but the center sees a lot of children–both girls and boys–as well as grown women. Most often, victims are abused by someone they know, and they usually come to the center or file a complaint a while after the rape has occurred. That makes it more difficult to prosecute rape cases, but in terms of psychological treatment, it is of course never too late to seek it.
There is so much out there on rape and sexual abuse that this one story doesn’t do it justice, but I do hope it sheds some light on the problems and progress on the issue in Turkey.