Turkey and violence against women:
Under-reporting, restrictions on NGOs, forced and under-aged marriage and victim blaming overshadow progress
In its first report on the implementation of the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence Istanbul Convention by Turkey, the Group of Experts on Action against Violence against Women and Domestic Violence [GREVIO] welcomes positive steps. But it also points out persistent gaps in legislation, policies and measures to eradicate violence. It sets forward proposals and suggestions to improve the implementation of the convention.
Among positive developments, GREVIO welcomes legislative reforms meant to align Turkish criminal legislation with convention requirements and efforts to ensure that measures to end violence benefit all groups of victims, in particular women and children who are or might be exposed to multiple discrimination. It notes positive examples of co-operation between the authorities and NGOs to provide services to women, and progress in raising awareness among the population at large and victims in particular, concerning existing institutional mechanisms to protect and support victims of violence. It praises the development of a network of Sönims, which co-ordinate and monitor protective measures and offer general and specialist services and training of professionals dealing with victims.
The report raises serious concerns related to the persistence of deep-seated, restrictive and stereotyped views of women’s roles, which continue to pervade Turkish society, including at the highest political and public levels, and which foment violence against women. A failure to screen recent policies against the criterion of gender equality risks undermining Turkey’s efforts to uproot enduring discriminatory stereotypes concerning the roles and responsibilities of women and men in the family and in society.
GREVIO experts recognise progress with regard to measures to protect women from violence but point out that impunity is a persistent concern, as not enough data or evidence show that cases of violence are effectively investigated, prosecuted and sanctioned. More needs to be done to ensure Turkey’s response to violence against women is equally strong across the full range of the “four Ps” of the convention: prevention, protection, prosecution and integrated policies.
GREVIO points out that underreporting of gender-based violence against women prevails. Obstacles preventing victims from reporting such violence stem from stigmatisation, fear of reprisals, economic dependence on the perpetrator, legal illiteracy, language barriers and/or lack of trust in the law-enforcement authorities. Rape and other forms of sexual violence are “hardly ever reported by victims”, GREVIO stresses. They point to the misconception that rape can be seen as the victim’s “fault” and that it “dishonours the family”. Under this “distorted understanding of violence”, the experts note, rape victims risk being penalised and further exposed to violence.
The report also finds widespread cases of underage and forced marriages, with more than 25% of women in Turkey reported as having been married before the age of 18, a percentage which rises to 32% in rural areas
The experts express concern about psychological violence as “the most prevalent form of domestic violence against women in Turkey”. Stalking is another form of violence that worries the experts. Recent available prevalence data indicate 27% of women in Turkey have been subjected to stalking at least once in their lives, and yet stalking is not a separate offence under Turkish criminal law.
GREVIO is additionally concerned about discretionary mitigation in court cases of violence against women as possibly mirroring sexist prejudice and victim blaming.
The experts also express “alarm” over “increasingly restrictive conditions” placed on independent women’s organisations.
GREVIO urges the Turkish authorities to:
☛ Step up measures to identify and remedy gaps in the institutional response to violence against women, in accordance with the duty of due diligence.
☛ Recognise forced marriage as an offence under criminal law in its own right and ensure that no victim of rape or harassment is forced into marriage with the perpetrator and that marriage does not nullify the violent act.
☛ Establish stalking as a separate offence which also duly takes into account its possible manifestations in the digital sphere.
☛ Exercise due diligence to (a) systematically review and take into account the risk of re-victimisation by applying effective measures to protect victims from any further violence and harm, and (b) investigate and punish acts of violence;
☛ Hold to account state actors who, in failing to fulfil their duties, engage in any act of violence, tolerate or downplay violence, or blame victims;
☛Adopt training, develop protocols and guidelines and raise awareness of law-enforcement and judicial officers of the relevance of psychological violence.