Skip to main content

Anti-Violence Act Sends Hope to Women Around the World

Published in: The Tennessean

"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.

Your tax deductible gift can help stop human rights violations and save lives around the world.

Region / Country