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Domestic violence disturbingly 'casual' in Turkey

As Turkey continues to struggle with violence against women, activists and experts are advocating for a redefinition of violence in Turkish culture

Domestic violence disturbingly 'casual' in Turkey

by Burcu Arik Ozer


Television shows are an important measure of societal well-being, as the main source of information and entertainment, and the abuse of women seen everywhere around the world is also seen in Turkey, and not least in the casual use of violence against women.

Marriage shows are popular with those watching daytime television in Turkey. Since 2003, there have been many different programs using the marriage show format, but Esra Erol, a marriage reality show presenter on FOX, has set a new standard.

Men and women who have never seen or met apply to meet through these programs. Some of them see these programs as their last resort for marriage. 

One of these was bachelor Sefer Calinak, 62. In his appearance last week on Flash TV’s Ne Çıkarsa Bahtına ("Luck of the Draw"), Calinak was blunt about his past, saying he had been tried for the murder of two of his previous wives, convicted and sentenced to a total of 13 years. He was released after four as part of an amnesty program. ”I’m an honest person looking for a new wife,” he told the host of the show, adding that he had only killed the first wife because she had “irritated” him, and the second because he believed she was with him for his money.

Unsurprisingly, his confession shocked the program's host, the other participants, along with viewers and much of the rest of Turkey. 

"What's most surprising here is the contestant's behavior. It is clear that TV programs are reflection of Turkish social culture," said Burhanettin Kaya, an Associate Professor with the Psychiatric Association of Turkey (PAT).

Saying that the contestant's confession demonstrates how domestic violence is taken casually in Turkey, Kaya said, "Not coincidentally, violence against women, including domestic violence, has seen a dramatic rise in Turkey."

Kaya argues that domestic violence against women by their husbands is based on the abuse of power and control within a context of male privilege, and said, "In a patriarchal country with repressive social structures and creeping religious conservatism, many fear that things will get worse."

Violence against women is a global problem, affecting the lives of women and their children in every country. According to World Bank World Development reports, more women are killed by family members or domestic partner than all those who die from cancer, war, traffic accidents and malaria combined. 

Turkey’s government sent a draft law to parliament on Monday which will impose stricter penalties for abuse of women and children.

"Those who raise a hand against a woman or a child and inflict violence debase themselves to an inhumane level," Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a speech on Sunday.

Penalties against sex offenders and abusers of women and children will be made nearly twice as strict, as well as making it more difficult for abusers to receive parole.

"Despite positive developments in the legal framework, domestic violence, sexual assault, honor killings, and trafficking persist in Turkey," says Ozgul Kaptan, an activist from the Woman's Solidarity Foundation. 

Stating that constitutional amendments and updated legal codes have paved the way for progress in the fight against domestic violence, Kaptan added, "A major investment of effort and resources is needed to translate aspirations into concrete change."

In the current system, an offender could receive a sentence between five and 15 years, according to Turkey’s Minister of Family and Social Policy Aysenur Islam. If the draft law is approved by the parliament, the new system will impose sentences starting from 15 years, nearly doubling the punishment.

Speaking to the press regarding the draft law on Monday, Turkey's Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag said the draft law introduces new regulations on crimes against sexual privacy of a person, securing a reasonable balance between the penalties imposed for basic sexual actions like molestation, and those given for crimes considered more serious.

The new law will stipulate that those receiving an aggravated life sentence for any crime against children will serve 39 instead of 30 years in jail, while those who receive a life sentence will spend 33 years in prison rather than 24 years.

"Sex abusers who are sentenced to prison will also be subject to one or more of the new batch of measures including medical treatment, and after their release a ban on living near the offended person will be imposed, as well as a ban on working in places where the abuser has contact with children," said Bozdag.

Kaptan said, "While it is disconcerting that the gap between the laws on paper and implementation remains vast, it should also be taken into consideration that all these reforms happened within a ten-year time frame, and there is yet time and room for more effective implementation. An institutionalized political will, along with a coordinated comprehensive policy that includes all ministries with specific targets to eliminate violence against women within a defined time frame are essential to this process.” 

Turkey is one of the worst places in the world to be a woman. An estimated 28,000 women were assaulted here in 2013, according to official figures. Of those, more than 214 were murdered, usually by their husbands or lovers. 

Around 40 percent of Turkish women have suffered physical abuse at some stage in their lives, topping rates in Europe and the US. The 2013 Global Gender Gap Report ranked Turkey 120th out of 136 countries.

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