Is silence protecting the perpetrators of violence against women in Turkey?

Before she was killed, she had sought help from the police, going to them several times to report the domestic violence she and her mother suffered from. The police turned her away and sent her home to where a two-meter-hole under the chicken coop became her grave — in which she was buried while awake and conscious. There are claims that Memi’s father and grandfather were not happy about her friendships with boys, but these are only claims, and it is not clear yet if there are any other motives behind her killing. The alleged perpetrators are using their right to remain silent, as is the whole system, which is supposed to protect women from violence, especially domestic violence.

Experts have suggested that a holistic system directed at the needs and rights of women could save many lives like those of Memi and the other 198 women who were killed last year.

Meltem Ağduk from the United Nations Population Fund, who is the coordinator of the training program for the police, public prosecutors and judges on domestic violence, thinks that it is impossible to claim that such a system exists in Turkey. However, she told Sunday’s Zaman that she prefers to see the glass as half full.

“There has been serious progress during the last six years, but 10 years ago it was unimaginable that the police, prosecutors and judges would be trained to deal with domestic violence,” she said.

According to Ağduk, although the organizational culture of the police department is very macho, there are still some sensitive police officers who are willing to cooperate.

“We trained 270 high-ranking police officers, some of whom became training experts, and they trained more than 40,000 officers working at police stations,” she underlined.

Ağduk says that for these 40,000 police officers, the training lasted just for one day, and rather than training, it could be considered a seminar to raise awareness. “But now at least they have an idea about domestic violence,” she said.

“The most important thing that we are trying to teach them is that reaching a compromise between the victim and the offender is not their job,” Ağduk underlines. She said that when cases of domestic violence are brought to the police, officers usually try to mediate and reconcile the victims and offenders.

Ağduk thinks that reaching more than 40,000 police officers is important but the lack of specialization in the police department is a huge problem. Most of these police officers, despite their training, can be assigned to new positions that might not have anything to do with domestic violence.

“Even one of the training experts who was extremely good at his job and extremely sensitive to the issue has been appointed to the riot police,” Ağduk complained, adding that police officers also strongly suggest specialization.

“We agree with them, there should be special units dealing with violence against women,” she said, adding that due to the rapid circulation of police officers, the training was insufficient. For example, 10,000 police recently joined the security forces, but they don’t have any training regarding violence against women; since there is no specialization, all of them will have to be trained.

Ağduk added that the security forces will soon implement a new approach that aims to determine the security risks faced by a woman who reports to a police station with a complaint of violence.

“The women will fill out a two-page questionnaire which contains questions asking if there is a gun in the house and so on. These kinds of questions will show the level of risk and will be helpful in taking measures. It will provide statistics, too,” Ağduk said.

She pointed out that if the woman wants to return home despite the risks, she has to sign a paper indicating that she is returning home by her own free will.

But sometimes women do not have any other options.

“There was a policeman in one of our training sessions. He told us that, once a woman reported to a police station with a complaint of domestic violence. He called social services and waited for their intervention. Meanwhile he kept the woman in the police station because she did not have anywhere else to go. Despite repeated calls for two days, no one from social services came or suggested anything. So the woman returned home, and the same policeman, four days later, went to a crime scene and found the dead body of the woman, who had hanged herself. While the policeman was telling us the story he was crying,” Ağduk said.

There are only 54 shelters in Turkey, and two of them solely look after victims of human trafficking. The capacity of the shelters is limited to 1,300. Almost half of them are run by the Social Services and Child Protection Agency (SHÇEK) and the rest by municipalities and civil society organizations.

Ağduk underlines that the SHÇEK also deals disadvantaged groups, including the disabled and the elderly, and is working with a limited budget, thus the shelters’ services are inadequate.

Sevinç Ünal from the Women’s Solidarity Organization recalled that the law requires municipalities to run shelters if their populations exceed 50,000, but there are no sanctions if they fail to do so. “Civil society is facing financial problems in running shelters,” she said.

But having shelters is not enough, according to Ünal.

“The SHÇEK employees think they are appointed to shelters as a punishment. Usually they are lacking in motivation, and they are not paid well, either. After a short period of time, after much crying because of the women’s stories or losing the ability to develop empathy after a point, the employees become burnt out because it is very difficult to deal with the violence and there is no supervision,” she told Sunday’s Zaman.

Ünal added that the shelters lack the means to help women establish their future lives. Women are allowed to stay there for three months.

“There are almost no social services which can be called post-shelter services, and unfortunately, 70 percent of the women, after staying in shelters, return to the houses in which they are victims of violence because they don’t have any other option,” Ünal said.

Ünal underlines that all throughout Turkey there is only one single center for victims of domestic violence that operates 24 hours a day. In this new center in Ankara, women can get all the services they need after violent incidents, including access to health services and the law.

Violence usually occurs at weekends or late at night but apart from this center there is no 24-hour service that women can reach,” she explained.

Ünal adds that in 2006 the Prime Ministry issued a circular that aimed to coordinate all the related bodies to fight against domestic violence in every city under the supervision of governors. The circular was very detailed and tried to overcome all the shortages of the system.

“The circular was repeated in 2007, but unfortunately it has only been implemented in 21 cities. To implement this circular requires political will and determination, which is currently not strong,” Ünal pointed out.

Experts say the laws against domestic violence could be considered adequate thanks to recent amendments, but there are problems with implementation.

Ağduk said that they are conducting training programs on the issue for public prosecutors and judges. Prosecutors are not totally aware or enthusiastic about applying the new laws regarding domestic violence, but training is helpful in changing their mentality. “But like the police, we are facing the same problem: a lack of specialization. There are no public prosecutors dealing specifically with domestic violence. On the other hand, there were a few chief public prosecutors who joined the training program and assigned one prosecutor they are working with to domestic violence. This was de facto implementation, but it should be a rule,” Ağduk said.

When it comes to judges, she indicates that there are two types of judges in Turkey: some try to implement the law word for word, but some try to improve themselves, reading, following developments abroad. She said this second group responded positively to their workshops.

“But some of them are very conservative and do not want to cooperate at all,” she said.

In Turkey, the system only deals with victims if that, but there is nothing for the perpetrators. Ağduk pointed out that offenders have the tendency to repeat their behavior and if they remain as they are, it is difficult to cope with domestic violence.

Jodie Das, who works for a program for offenders in the UK but is now in Turkey for an EU twinning project, working on the development of responses and interventions for victims of domestic violence, told Sunday’s Zaman that they work with the offenders in the UK because they want to place the responsibility for the violence firmly on the offender themselves.

“Since 2004 in the UK, the probation service has implemented a program for male domestic violence offenders. On conviction by the court, a domestic violence offender, on assessment and if suitable, can be given a two-year community order to attend the Integrated Domestic Violence Program [IDAP]. The probation service works in partnership with other statutory and community organizations to provide holistic services to the offender and manage the risks that have been identified, for example, the risk the offender poses to their children,” she said.

“We aim to move an offender from spontaneous thought, often negative and leading to violence, to critical reflection and thinking. In short, the use of working with offenders is to place the responsibility of violence with the offender, encourage change and reduce their violent behavior, but most importantly to increase the safety of victims of domestic violence,” she pointed out.


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