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Turkey 'must do more to help victims of abuse'

Two cases of extreme domestic violence show the need for authorities to improve protection for women who turn to the state after suffering mistreatment by husbands, women's rights activists say.

ISTANBUL // Two cases of extreme domestic violence in Turkey show the need for authorities to improve protection for women who turn to the state after suffering mistreatment by husbands or other members of their family, women's rights activists say.

"Not enough is being done to prevent violence against women," said Nebahat Akkoc, the director of the Women's Centre, or Kamer, a non-governmental network of institutions set up to help women in need. "According to Turkish law, women have to expressly ask for help, and many do not know that." Ms Akkoc was speaking after it emerged that a man in south-eastern Anatolia had cut off the ears and the nose of his pregnant wife in a brutal act of revenge after she complained to the police about regular beatings by her husband.

The man, a butcher from the province of Bingol identified as Giyasettin K, 35, in news reports, spent three months in prison after his wife's complaints. When he was released last weekend, he drove his 27-year-old wife, Aysun K, to a deserted valley and mutilated her face, the reports said. Then he dumped her in front of the nearest hospital and drove away. "I was in prison because of you," he was reported as telling her. Doctors saved the baby with a caesarean birth, then began plastic surgery on Aysun K.

Giyasettin K was arrested and put into custody. The couple's remaining three children are to be taken into state care, the reports said. Last month, a forensic investigation conducted after the death last year of a 16-year-old girl in the eastern province of Adiyaman concluded that the victim, Medine Memi, had been buried alive by her father and grandfather. Before her death, Medine had gone to the police several times to tell them about beatings by her father and grandfather. Both men are in custody awaiting trial.

Domestic violence against women is widespread in Turkey despite legal reforms designed to strengthen the rights of women. A study published last year said that four out of 10 women in Turkey become the victims of physical violence by their husbands, partners or family members at least once in their lives. The study also revealed that 14 per cent of women think that their husbands have the right to beat them in some circumstances.

But Ms Akkoc of Kamer said the number of women putting up with violence was decreasing. "More and more women turn to women's centres, the police or social authorities," she said. "They no longer accept violence." Seen from that perspective the cases of Aysun K and Medine Memi show that state-run and non-governmental campaigns to educate women about their rights have had some success, even though authorities are failing to support women willing to come forward. "It has to be seen as a sign of success and of failure at the same time," Ms Akkoc said. "Women do not remain silent any more."

Last year's study, conducted with the support of the women's rights department of the prime minister's office in Ankara, concluded that one case of domestic violence in three was connected to problems between the woman and her husband's family. Other reasons given were economic difficulties, problems concerning the children or that a "woman does not listen to what her husband says". The study also showed that about half of the victims never mention the violence to anyone and that 92 per cent of victims have never turned to a state institution or non-governmental group such as Kamer.

The situation is especially dire in Turkey's Kurdish areas in south-eastern Anatolia, where many women have never been to school and depend on their husbands completely because they would not be able to find a job if they left their home, Ms Akkoc said. "Many do not even speak Turkish," she said. A string of reforms, beginning with the introduction of a new civil code in the year 2001 that scrapped a previous provision defining the man as the head of a family and a marriage, has improved the legal situation of women in Turkey. A new penal code, introduced in 2005, made rape within wedlock a crime and removed a clause that said a rapist could go free if he married his victim. Laws that enabled judges to hand down lower sentences in so-called honour killings, where women are killed by members of their family because of alleged actions damaging the family honour, were also cancelled.

But observers say the reforms are not properly implemented. They say many policemen refuse to get involved in what they see as a purely domestic matter or a case of family honour when they are confronted with a complaint by a woman. "When the police ask the family: 'Why did you beat her up?' and the answer is, 'Oh she spoke with men from outside the family', then the police leave them alone," said Seihrban Ozatik, an assistant to Fatma Kurtulan, a parliamentary deputy from the eastern city of Van. "But a crime is a crime."

Ms Ozatik also said some judges still show a considerable amount of leniency in trials involving men that are accused of having abused their wives. "The mentality has not changed", even though the laws have, she said. "Many men are set free immediately, and then women are killed."