An incest debate is still going on in Turkey, amid all the other political and diplomatic issues facing President Tayyip Erdoğan.
A court in Turkey recently placed a ban, citing “obscenity,” on the broadcasting of controversial paparazzi video footage of TV personality Murat Başoğlu cavorting with his niece Burcu Başoğlu Kabadayı on a boat in the Aegean. The debate has now narrowed down to two points: What is considered incest and how widespread is incest in Turkey?
A generally accepted definition of incest, (including by the United Nations), is any sexual activity between close blood relatives, including step relatives and family members who are forbidden by law from marrying.
Başoğlu’s case fits into that category as he and his niece are blood relatives forbidden from marrying by law (Turkish Civil Code, 129). However, their actions are not considered a crime as there does not seem to be any sexual assault involved—in fact, it seems to be consensual. What’s more, there has been no legal complaint (Turkish Penal Code, 102) and neither of the parties is below the age of 18, which requires immediate action by prosecutors (Turkish Penal Code, 103). Başoğlu is 50 years old and his niece is 35 years old.
The debate heated up last week when Hürriyet columnist Melis Alphan quoted Canan Güllü, the head of the Turkish Women Associations Federation (TKDF), as saying that according to a survey they carried out but never made public, the incest level in Turkish families was 40 percent.
It received a strong reaction from another Hürriyet columnist, Ahmet Hakan, who dismissed the written rate as fictitious and said there should be a distinction between forced and voluntary sexual or marital activities. That brings in the social pressure present especially in rural areas, where filing complaints against elder and mostly male family members who attack physically weaker girls, boys or women, in a country like Turkey where intrafamilial violence, which might end up in murders, is high. Alphan told Hakan in her column that he should not pick on the quoted incest rate but on the fact of incest itself. Women’s associations have strongly criticized him as well. In response, Hakan dragged the issue to a political ground and accused the urban elite of looking upon the “half of the society,” which brings into mind the half of voters who chose the AK Parti (Justice and Development Party) in elections, as wrongdoers, including that of rape and incest.
The issue is not really about the percentage, but the bitter reality in Turkey, despite the fact that there is no independent survey supporting that 40 percent claim, which officials from respected polling companies have said they could not comment on without seeing the report and its methodology, although the figure seemed too high.
Both polling companies and academic researchers complain about the difficulties of researching the field of incest, which is regarded as taboo across the world and considered a “silent health emergency” by the U.N.’s World Health Organization (WHO).
But there is one internationally cited report about incest cases in Turkey. Carried out by Ali Yıldırım and seven colleagues at the Forensic Medicine Department of Gaziosmanpaşa University in Tokat in northern Turkey, the report titled “Evaluation of Social and Demographic Characteristics of Incest Cases in a University Hospital” was published by the Medical Science Monitor on April 24, 2014. Underlining that most of the cases in Turkey’s east Black Sea
region are treated in that hospital, the report cites that in Turkey, incest in sexual abuse cases can be found to be nearly 5 percent in different studies. The report also cites a 1999 study in Turkey with a sample of 296 incest cases, where 70 of the perpetrators were biological fathers, 87 were biological relatives (grandfathers, brothers, sisters or cousins) and 73 were stepfathers. It cites the most common type of incest as father-daughter, followed by brother-sister, sister-sister and mother-son as the least common.
The university hospital survey showed almost 70 percent of the victims were under 18 and nearly 84 percent are female, with all victims aged from as young as four to as old as 40. Seventy-two percent of the perpetrators are primary school graduates and 53 percent are unemployed. One of the most striking parts of the report is where it says “incest incidents may easily be covered up in families with higher socioeconomic levels.”
But incest is not the only problem with sexual and marital relations in Turkey.
A 2015 survey carried out by KONDA, a respected polling company showed that 57 percent of the marriages in Turkey were either arranged (51.2) or forced (6.8). KONDA surveys also show a part of those marriages are intrafamilial; a quarter of all marriages in Turkey are between relatives. Marriage between relatives is not incest, since they are allowed by law, but part of arranged or forced marriages are under the intention of protecting young girls from incest or to cover up an incest case.
There is no survey that proves that, but Turkey’s Statistics Agency (TUİK) reports around 12 percent of Turkey’s population of 80 million is disabled; a rate possibly increased by intrafamilial marriage.