x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

'If you fear for your life then shoot him'

Turkish website stirs controversy by suggesting women take self-defence classes, carry pepper spray and learn how to use a gun.

A Turkish woman in Ankara, wearing a wedding dress and covered with fake bruises, stands in front of other protesters holding placard reading “end violence” during a demonstration to protest against rape, killings and domestic violence against women.
A Turkish woman in Ankara, wearing a wedding dress and covered with fake bruises, stands in front of other protesters holding placard reading “end violence” during a demonstration to protest against rape, killings and domestic violence against women.

ISTANBUL // When Dursune Alici left her husband, Ustun, to get a divorce after years of beatings, the violence did not stop.

Mr Alici went to his estranged wife's new home in the province of Samsun to persuade her to come back to him. When she refused, he repeatedly struck her on the head with a pair of pliers and then used them to torture her.

The attack last month sparked angry headlines about the "torture with pliers" and highlighted Turkey's inability to overcome the chronic problem of violence against women.

News of Ms Alici's case came as Turkey considers new legislation to combat domestic violence and as the country debates one group's advice that, if all else fails, women should get a gun and learn how to use it.

Two hundred and fifty two women were killed by their husbands, relatives or lovers last year alone, up from 217 in 2010, according to bianet.org, a news website. Bianet said at least 220 women were injured and more than a hundred were raped by people close to them.

Last week, Fatma Sahin, Turkey's women's-affairs minister, presented a draft law designed to combat domestic violence at a cabinet meeting in Ankara. But Sefkat-Der, a private charity whose name translates to Association of Kindness and that helps women, drug addicts and the homeless, had an alternative suggestion to improve the situation.

"Generally, we are not in favour of guns," Hayrettin Bulan, Sefkat-Der's founder and chairman, said from his home in the Anatolian city of Konya. "But the state does not fulfil its duties, measures against violence are inadequate. In some cases, women are dead before the police arrive."

A "Guide for Women in Lethal Danger", posted on Sefkat-Der's website, includes numerous suggestions on how women can avoid being beaten or even killed if the police and the judiciary fail to protect them.

Advice ranges from moving to a different city and paying electricity bills under a new name so women cannot be tracked down by vengeful husbands, to suggestions that women take self-defence classes, carry pepper spray and wear trainers at all times to be able to outrun an assailant.

But it is Sefkat-Der's position on firearms that has attracted most interest and has stirred controversy.

"Weapons training is very important," the guide says, stressing that young women should learn how to use a gun before they get married, because their husbands may veto any such training later. In a paragraph titled "Last resort", the association tells women they have the right to hurt or even kill an assailant if their own life or that of their children is in danger.

"If you think injuring him will not save your life, you may take out a potential murderer," the guide says, explaining that this means killing or severely injuring the attacker.

Mr Bulan said that about 3,500 women have asked Sefkat-Der for information about weapons training since the self-defence guide was posted on the website last November. He put the number of Turkish women living "under a very serious threat" at home at between 5,000 and 10,000. Sefkat-Der was still thinking about offering its own weapons training classes to women, he said.

Not everyone is enthusiastic about Sefkat-Der's ideas. Ms Sahin, the women's affairs minister, said the group's suggestions were "very wrong", asking in a newspaper interview: "Can there be a solution with firearms? Will the problem be solved by turning women and men against each other?"

Turkey is awash with both legal and illegal firearms. The Umut Foundation, an anti-gun pressure group, says there are 2.5 million legal and 5.5 million illegal guns in homes around the country. The group says about 40 million of Turkey's 75 million citizens have access to a gun if family members of gun-owners are taken into account.

Mr Bulan said he was sceptical whether Ms Sahin's plan for a new law would work. The real problem was the attitude of the police and the judiciary, he said. "Even if a woman is given police protection, that only means she gets a number she can call."

According to the count by bianet.org, 11 of the women killed last year had applied to prosecutors for police protection or had already received it.

The situation was made worse by courts that often showed tolerance towards male offenders, Mr Bulan said. "In many cases, they get reduced sentences because the court says they were provoked by their victims. And courts often do not put offenders into pre-trial detention. It is terrible."

Ms Alici, the victim of the "torture with pliers", was saved by neighbours, who called the police when they heard the woman's screams. While the 38-year-old mother of two was taken to hospital, her husband, 41, fled the scene but was later arrested, news reports said.

"Up until now I never said a word because of the children," Ms Alici was quoted as saying about the violence she endured over the years. "But then I could not take it anymore. So I left him."

tseibert@thenational.ae