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Rape cases need mental change, say law experts

ISTANBUL- Hürriyet Daily News | 11/6/2011 12:00:00 AM | Işıl Eğrikavuk

The public was shocked by a recent court decision to lower sentences for 26 rape convicts, but experts say amending the law will not improve the situation, as the solutions lie in changing male-dominated mentalities

Many Turks were left dumbfounded last week by a court decision to reduce the sentence for 26 men convicted of raping a 13-year-old girl. While politicians from all parties criticized the law in the case, what Turkey really needs are not legal amendments, but a change in the male-dominated judicial system that interprets that law, according to prominent lawyers.

“Amending the law will not change the result now,” lawyer and women’s rights activist Hülya Gülbahar told the Hürriyet Daly News. “There are gaps in the laws that are open to interpretation.

The judges in this case all agreed that a 13-year-old consented to having sex with 26 men and ignored that it was done via threats. How could they interpret her fear as consent?” she said.

The rape occurred in the southeastern province of Mardin in 2002. The 13-year-old victim, identified by her initials as N.Ç., was allegedly forced to have sex with 26 men, some of whom are school teachers, soldiers and civil servants.

Consent

Ruling that the girl consented to the intercourse, the First Mardin Criminal Court chose to sentence each of the men to a minimum of five years in prison for statutory rape while also deciding to lower the sentences of some suspects by between two and 10 months for good behavior during the trial. The Supreme Court later upheld the lower court’s ruling on appeal.

Although many people, including President Abdullah Gül, have said the court decision violated public sensitivities, some lawyers said the ruling actually reflected the male-dominated perspective of the Turkish judicial system.

“This case is not the only one. Many similar rape cases in which the victims are younger than 15 result in low sentences because the judges rule that the [girls] consented. A child at that age cannot even comprehend the meaning and consequences of such an act,” lawyer Fırat Söyle told the Hürriyet Daily News earlier this week.

According to Gülbahar, all mechanisms in Turkey should have a gender-equal perspective.

“In the Üzmez case [in which 78-year-old daily Vakit columnist Hüseyin Üzmez was tried for allegedly raping a 14-year-old girl], there was only one woman involved in the judicial process and she had to resign due to the pressure,” she said.

Gülbahar also said concepts such as protecting one’s purity should be eliminated from the law as well.

“Turkey immediately needs to open sexual abuse crisis centers and bring more women into every state mechanism, she said.

Process at the European court

Because the N.Ç. case has drawn reaction from many people from different segments of society, some say the final decision could still change if the Supreme Court of Appeals’ chief prosecutor takes the issue to the uppermost General Board of Crime or if the Justice Ministry intervenes in the matter.

Still, N.Ç.’s lawyer, Reyhan Yalçındağ Baydemir, said they had already taken the issue to the European Court of Human Rights.

“Certain parts of the case are already at the [European court], after the Supreme Court’s approval, we will take all of it there. I am sure that Turkey will do what is necessary once the case is finalized there,” she told the Daily News.

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