The prevalence of domestic violence, physical and sexual violence targeting women despite measures raises concerns in Turkey. Authorities seek to curb the disturbing trends. The government is looking into ways to implement more effective judicial measures and ways to raise awareness to the issue among the public.
Public reaction to the violence was mostly confined to protests by women's nongovernmental organizations until last week. The brutal murder of Özgecan Aslan, 20, apparently changed this as nationwide protests following the incident proved. Aslan was stabbed, had her hands cut off and burned, allegedly when she resisted a rape attempt in the southern Turkish city of Mersin. Three men, a minibus driver who confessed to killing the university student, his friend and his father who helped the man to dispose the body, were arrested.
Ayşenur İslam, Minister of Family and Social Policies, says Turkey already has laws in place for severe punishment of perpetrators of such crimes but points to the courts in executing the laws. Critics complain that culprits get away with lenient sentences due to the "good conduct" clause that enables a reduction in prison terms for defendants with no record of past conviction and "respectful."
Speaking to Anadolu Agency on Friday in an exclusive interview, İslam said that the government has no say on judiciary decisions based on separation of power's principle. "I personally wish judges not to issue lighter prison sentences in these cases and never act in favor of defendants," İslam said.
İslam says Özgecan Aslan's murder may be a turning point in Turkey's struggle against violence. She said that an upsurge of violence in the last decades threatened the world. "We live in a world where levels of violence have significantly increased. For instance, a survey conducted in 28 European Union member countries showed one in every three women suffered from physical and sexual violence starting from the age of 15," she says. However, only a small percentage of women suffering from such violence report it to police. "These cases are common even in the most developed countries. Yet, this is no excuse for us, to consider that it is a challenge we cannot overcome," İslam said. She underlines that level of development and education does not have an effect in decreasing the cases of violence.
İslam said that although Turkey has stepped up measures against violence towards women since the 1980s, Özgecan's death prompted the authorities to review the effectiveness of these measures.
One of these measures is the panic button. Aiming to protect female victims from domestic violence, the small device that alerts security forces with the push of the eponymous button, was introduced in 2012. İslam admits that the button, as a standalone precaution, failed and they will improve its efficiency.
She also elaborated on an electronic bracelet, a tagging system considered as a measure to curb domestic violence cases.
The bracelet, already in use for convicts in other crimes, will be used for people convicted of domestic violence and their potential victims as well, starting from March. Both the perpetrator and the victim will be fitted with bracelets. Bracelets will have a GPS location system that will be monitored by security forces. If the two approaches the proximity of each other, it warns both the convict and the victim and alerts law enforcement. Still, İslam notes that the bracelets will be fitted only after a court orders.
Bracelets will be first put into use in the capital Ankara and the western city of İzmir and if it proves successful, their use will be expanded to other cities as well.
The monitoring system may give a sigh of relief to 125 women who had to change their identity to escape their violent spouses last year. According to figures by Turkish National Police, over 118,000 women filed a complaint to police last year over domestic violence. This figure was slightly over 82,000 in 2013. Police statistics also show 38 women are assigned permanent security detail for fear of attacks by their spouses.
Özgecan Aslan's murder had fueled a debate over whether the capital punishment banned in Turkey in 2004 should be brought back. Ayşenur İslam says that the debate is "quite normal" but she believes that the current sentences are sufficient to punish the perpetrators of such gruesome crimes. Suphi Altındöken, the suspect in Aslan's murder, is expected to face an aggravated life sentence, heaviest under the Turkish laws. If convicted of causing death by torture, he will be eligible for release 36 years later and if only a court orders. He will spend majority of his prison term in solitary confinement.
Another debate was over chemical castration of perpetrators of sexual crimes. The castration currently remains as part of a draft bill not fully implemented. İslam says it is rather a treatment than a punishment and convicts may regain their sexual functions if treatment is stopped. "It cannot be forced upon every convict apparently and only doctors and judges will decide upon it and only in cases where perpetrators have a medical condition," she says.
The Ministry of Family and Social Policies will now focus on perpetrators of domestic violence, according to İslam who says that they will find out how people gain tendency to violence and their common profile. The ministry already conducted a nationwide study in cooperation with universities over domestic violence. The study shows although physical and sexual violence dropped slightly between 2008 and 2014, emotional violence remains steady.
"We have to examine the perpetrators as well to find out why they commit these crimes and how we can eliminate the causes of violence. We will study where the cases concentrate and among which groups, so that we can focus their efforts," İslam said.
Education plays an important role in ending the violence. The Ministry of Family and Social Policies joined efforts with the Ministry of National Education to raise awareness among children to violence. Moreover, the ministry educates civil servants ranging from police officers to medical staff, clerics as well as journalists on the issue.
Yet, more cases of violence splashing across newspaper front pages almost daily trigger concerns that the issue may be more serious than thought.
On Thursday, a man was detained in the western city of İzmir when his wife claimed her husband threw her off the balcony of their second-floor apartment after an argument. The mother of two was hospitalized for her injuries while the husband denied the charge and claimed his wife jumped off by herself.
In the southern city of Antalya, a 23-year-old woman died of her wounds when she allegedly thrown off a moving car by her boyfriend.
Hüsne Aslan was traveling with Şahin K. and her sister Cennet when the young couple started arguing for an unknown reason. Cennet Aslan said the suspect hit her sister repeatedly and threw her out of the car while he was speeding.