(Istanbul) - Turkey's flawed family violence protection system leaves women and girls across the country unprotected against domestic abuse, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Life-saving protections, including court-issued protection orders and emergency shelters, are not available for many abuse victims because of gaps in the law and enforcement failures.
The 58-page report, "‘He Loves You, He Beats You': Family Violence in Turkey and Access to Protection," documents brutal and long-lasting violence against women and girls by husbands, partners, and family members and the survivors' struggle to seek protection. Turkey has strong protection laws, setting out requirements for shelters for abused women and protection orders. However, gaps in the law and implementation failures by police, prosecutors, judges, and other officials make the protection system unpredictable at best, and at times downright dangerous.
"With strong laws in place, it is inexcusable that Turkish authorities are depriving family violence victims of basic protections," said Gauri van Gulik, women's rights advocate and researcher at Human Rights Watch and author of the report. "Turkey has gone through exemplary reform on women's human rights, but police, prosecutors, judges, and social workers need to make the system exemplary in practice, not just on paper."
Human Rights Watch interviewed women and girls as young as 14 and as old as 65 who described being raped; stabbed; kicked in the abdomen when pregnant; beaten with hammers, sticks, branches, and hoses to the point of broken bones and fractured skulls; locked up with dogs or other animals; starved; shot with a stun gun; injected with poison; pushed off a roof; and subjected to severe psychological violence. The violence occurred in all areas where researchers conducted interviews, and across income and education levels.
This report comes as the Council of Europe is about to adopt a regional convention on violence against women and domestic violence. Turkey played an important role in drafting the convention as the current Chair of the Committee of Ministers, and the convention is scheduled to be signed at a summit in Istanbul on May 11, 2011.
Some 42 percent of women over age 15 in Turkey and 47 percent of rural women have experienced physical or sexual violence at the hands of a husband or partner at some point in their lives, according to a 2009 survey conducted by a leading Turkish university.
The report is based on interviews with, and the case files of, 40 women in Van, Istanbul, Trabzon, Ankara, Izmir, and Diyarbakır, and dozens of interviews with lawyers, women's organizations, social workers, government officials, and other experts.
"That first time, he hit me,he kicked the baby in my belly, and he threw me off the roof.,"said Selvi T., not her real name, forced to marry at age 12, whose husband has abused her for years.
Turkey entered the vanguard of countries offering civil mechanisms to protect against domestic violence with its 1998 adoption of Law 4320 on the Protection of the Family. This law, as amended in 2007, established a protection order system under which a person abused by a family member under the same roof, male or female, can apply directly or through a prosecutor for an order from a family court.
The orders can, among other things, require the offender to vacate the home, stay away from the victim and their children, surrender weapons, and refrain from violence, threats, damaging property, or contacting the victim. The system is designed to bring about quick action, within days at most, since people who apply for them are often in extremely dangerous situations.
The report documents serious shortcomings with Law 4320, though. The law excludes certain groups of women altogether, such as divorced and unmarried women. Police, prosecutors, and judges in many cases neglect their duties. Many women said that police officers mocked them and sent them home to their abusers, rather than helping them get protection orders, and that prosecutors and judges were slow to act on protection order requests or improperly demanded evidence not required by the law.
"The extreme brutality that family members inflict on women and girls is bad enough, but it is even worse to know that a woman who finds the courage to escape and ask for protection might be insulted and sent right back to her abuser," van Gulik said.
Shelters for women and children are another important element of Turkey's response to domestic abuse. The Law on Municipalities requires every municipality with 50,000 or more residents to provide a shelter, but the government has fallen far short of meeting this requirement. Moreover, women reported to Human Rights Watch that some existing shelters have dismal conditions and inadequate security procedures. In fact, staff in some shelters have allowed abusers to enter and have urged women to reconcile with their batterers.
Selvi T.'s experience reflects many of these problems.Her husband has beaten and raped her repeatedly for years, inflicting grave injuries, yet police sent her home multiple times when she sought protection. When she finally fled to a shelter, police told her husband the location, and shelter staff let him in and encouraged her to reconcile with him.
On March 7, Fatma Şahin, a Justice and Development Party member of parliament for Gaziantep, in southeastern Turkey, announced a proposal to revise the Law on the Protection of the Family, following consultations with women's groups. The proposed amendments are before parliament.
The amendments would widen the scope of protection to include women who are in a relationship but not married. They would direct the Interior Ministry to provide financial support to protection order recipients. The draft law would require improved measures to protect information about victims, including their addresses if they have moved. It provides for dedicated police and prosecutor units staffed by officers with training and expertise in family violence.It also would allow prosecutors to grant protection orders outside court hours, to be presented later for a judge's approval.
Turkey should close the gaps in its family protection law by explicitly providing that protection orders may be issued to unmarried and divorced women, including women in unregistered religious marriages, Human Rights Watch said.
The Justice and Interior Ministries should create dedicated units at police stations and family courts with specialized staff who can refer women to social services and deal with their protection claims, Human Rights Watch said. The Interior Ministry should also develop a complaint mechanism to identify police officers, prosecutors, and judges who do not uphold the law or who mistreat domestic violence survivors.
Overall monitoring of the protection order system is also needed, with more specific, publicly available data on the use of the system.More shelters are needed, and both the Interior and Justice Ministries should continue and improve training for police officers, and to trainprosecutors and judges aboutthe practical requirements of Law 4320, and each official's role in the process.
"At a time when Turkey is about to host governments from all over Europe to make a binding commitment to end violence against women, Turkey's government should take an honest look at its own shortcomings," van Gulik said. "Turkey needs to make changes so that its family violence protection system will live up to the new treaty both in design and implementation."
Accounts From Victims:
In southeast Turkey (exact location withheld), Selvi T., a 22-year-old pregnant with her fifth child, represents everything that can go wrong when domestic violence is not taken seriously. She was married at age 12, and her husbandstarted his attacks when she was pregnant with their first child.
"That first time, he hit me,he kicked the baby in my belly, and he threw me off the roof," she told Human Rights Watch. Since then, the violence has increased in frequency and severity, and now even includes their children. Selvi's husband controls every aspect of her life and is extremely jealous. She told us: "He rapes me all the time, and he checks my fluids ‘down there' to check I didn't have sex [with another man]." Selvi managed to escape four times to go to the police for help, but was sent back to abuse every time. She made it to a shelter once, but the police told her husband where the shelter was and he forced her to leave.Selvi receives assistance from a local women's group, but has given up on escaping the violence.
"I just cannot go to the police anymore," she said.
In Istanbul, Zelal K. was denied a protection order because she was divorced. Zelal lives in Istanbul with her three children, and divorced eight years ago. Her former husband lives across the street, and one day in January 2008, he grabbed her when she walked out of her house. She told Human Rights Watch:
He held me, I screamed, "Let me go," and he started beating me. There were a lot of people around us, but nobody did anything. He pulled my hair and covered my mouth, and he dragged me to my house. There he kicked me and I fell to the ground [...]. He broke every possession I have in the house, every chair, every picture, everything. Then he took off my clothes and he raped me.
Zelal managed to escape, almost naked, and went to several police stations, where she was turned away for different reasons ranging from "wrong police office" to "Why are you bothering us with this?"She eventually managed to speak with a prosecutor. He refused to accept her application for a protection order because she was divorced.
Aslı I. is a 21-year-old Kurdish woman from a village close to Van. Aslı confronted violence from the moment she married and moved in with her in-laws in 2009. All 10 people in the household abused her in some way. When she had severe stomach pains, the family kept her captive and her father-in-law injected something into her arm that severely damaged her health. The family also forced her to carry stones and wood all day for a house they were building. Aslı's father-in-law hit her "all the time" with a water pipe, a hose, and a hammer.He broke Aslı's nose and arm, and barred her from going to a nearby hospital. He regularly locked her up in the animal house and finally told her, "I didn't just get you here for my son, but also for my pleasure." He then raped her.
She cannot read or write and speaks little Turkish, but she got help from a women's group once she was finally out of the house. The police told the father-in-law to stay away from her, but did not arrest him. They advised Aslı to seek a protection order from the prosecutor, which she did in May 2010. However, as Aslı told us: "I went to the prosecutor, but never heard back from them, and he [the father-in-law] keeps coming to our house. Will he kill me or one of my brothers before I can get help?"
In Izmir, Zeynep B. had a protection order against her husband, who regularly beat and psychologically abused her. At the end of 2009, while the order was in force, her husband barged into her house, cut off her electricity, and threatened her with a knife. She fled and he chased her, but she managed to get to the police. They told her, "Go home, we will deal with it." On her way home she was stabbed six times by her husband. She barely survived.