"He was a psychopath," Sabiha L. (not her real name) said of her estranged abusive husband. "He broke my bones, and I was lying in bed for two months. Even when I was in bed he threw things at me and said terrible things. There was also sexual abuse."
My colleague and I interviewed Sabiha recently in Turkey, where more than 40 percent of women have been physically or sexually abused by their husband or partner. Sabiha and women everywhere deserve freedom from violence, and donor countries like the U.S. can play an important role in making this a reality.
Legislation now before Congress, the International Violence Against Women Act, would dramatically improve how the U.S. assists foreign governments and organizations in tackling violence against women. The Senate Foreign Relations and House Foreign Affairs committees are expected to take up the act just after the August recess. All members of Congress should support this bill. As members of the foreign relations and affairs committees, Tennessee's Sen. Bob Corker and Rep. John Tanner can play an important role in moving this legislation forward.
Governments often fail to act
The women we interviewed in Turkey described extreme violence at the hands of husbands, fathers, in-laws and brothers. From beatings and rape to starvation and confinement in homes or animal stalls, these women went through hell. For some, the abuse started when they were young, including one woman married off at age 10 to a violent older man.
When these women turned to the state for help, many encountered the opposite. They told of police escorting them home or summoning their husbands to force them to reconcile. They told of escaping to shelters, only to have their abusive husbands show up after police disclosed the "secret" shelter locations. They told of pleading for protection orders and of orders denied, or of police turning a blind eye even if an order had been issued.
Despite the grave abuses we found and, in many cases, police response that increased the danger, there is cause for optimism about addressing violence against women in Turkey. Unlike many countries, Turkey has progressive laws on domestic violence. Yet, as we found, much needs to be done to implement these laws and to prevent abuse in the first place.
As with any country, the main responsibility for combating violence against women lies with Turkey's government. But donor governments' foreign aid can help.
The International Violence Against Women Act presents a comprehensive vision for U.S. foreign aid to prevent and remedy domestic violence and to promote women's equality. It will support more coordinated and intensive local efforts in up to 20 countries to improve police response to violence against women, access to courts, and health and other services for survivors. It will support women's access to jobs, property and education, which can help prevent domestic violence. It will bolster efforts to change social attitudes that condone violence against women.
This kind of support is critical in Turkey and around the world. Sabiha described going repeatedly to the police and prosecutor to report her husband's attacks and death threats. Over and over, officials brushed her off. It took months to persuade them to issue a protection order. International assistance, along with political will of the Turkish government, could support police training and accountability and make Turkey's domestic violence laws more than just words on paper.
Passing this bill won't stop violence against women or eliminate all problems in criminal justice systems in countries like Turkey. But, without a doubt, it would help. Rather than continuing with amorphous expressions of concern about violence against women, the U.S. needs the structures, the funding, the vision and the accountability that the act provides.
After the interview with Sabiha, I escorted her to a taxi. She limped with a cane because of an injury from one of the beatings and scanned the street, fearful she would run into her husband. But she told me, "I will continue fighting." The U.S. should stand by Sabiha by passing IVAWA.