Digital assaults ‘a new form of violence against women’ in Turkey
Barçın Yinanç - ISTANBUL
‘When you look at the stories of violence, you see that not much has changed. At the end of the day, the vicious circle continues to reproduce itself in the society,’ says Gülsun Kanat Dinç (L).
Digital violence has added to traditional forms of violence against women, requiring new methods to apply to fight this, says a woman activist. Migrant women also subjected to violence have been added as a challenge for women’s rights movements as they are not prepared for this, according to Gülsun Kanat Dinç from Purple Roof Women Shelter Foundation.
Q: Tell us briefly about Mor Çatı.
A: After the first march in 1987 by women on violence against women, feminist women founded the Purple Roof foundation as a women’s shelter. The first women’s shelter was set up in 1995, and thanks to campaigns by women’s movements, law number 6284, which was an important achievement in terms of legal framework, was passed by parliament.
Here at the Purple Roof Foundation [“Mor Çatı” in Turkish], we show solidarity to women who want to stop the violence they face or want to get away from it.
When they come here they can be listened to without any prejudice. They first recount what they have been subjected to, and if they decide on what to do, we try to help them. We try to support them in cases when they do not know what to do or if they are not aware of the means they have.
If they are in need of a shelter and if there is space, we send them to our shelter. Or we tell them about how they can secure a decision for a restraining order, talk about the legal support they can get from the bar, and explain the state’s means in terms of shelters.
Q: Do you have only one shelter?
A: We just have one. We did not want to open a second one, because our aim is not to open shelters.
Our aim is to show how women can be empowered by feminist methods and how solidarity among women can stop violence against women.
Q: What have your observations been throughout the years on violence against women?
A: In 2001 there were only nine shelters. Today there are around 130. No one knew about the law that enables the restraining order. But thanks to all the campaigns we have done, women, lawyers, police officers, judges, all know about the law. There have been many changes in favor of women in the civil code and criminal law.
But obviously there is also some backpedaling, such as on the issue of abortion. The legal period for abortion has been decreased from 12 weeks to 10 weeks.
Especially in certain cities, it has become very difficult for a woman to have an abortion in state hospitals. There is pressure on private clinics too.
Q: What do you think about women murders? There is a debate on whether they are on the rise or whether they have become visible.
A: They are on the rise, but they have also become visible. The rise in women murders is also the result of the empowerment of women. Women who say “I don’t want to go on like this anymore” take action, but it is exactly at that point that they jeopardize their lives.
But then the murderers gets reduced sentences, violence against women is still internalized in the society.
Q: In the course of the past 20 years, what are the things that have changed and those that have remained unchanged when you think of the personal stories?
A: When you look at the stories of violence, you see that not much has changed. At the end of the day, the vicious circle continues to reproduce itself in the society. We are not taking radical steps to disrupt that cycle. While there are some efforts to raise awareness, there is still the normalization of violence in songs and TV series.
But the means to fight violence have developed and diversified. The new law has taken a prominent role in our lives and the women’s movement has strengthened. It became easier to access the necessary information. But there is a rise in digital violence.
Q: Is this a new form of violence?
A: It is incredibly intensive and a violence form that is very speedily applicable. It provides also a means to control and monitor women: Where did she go, where is she hanging out? Men tell women, “I have to know where you are going,” he tries to follow her via certain mobile apps, etc.
When a woman wants to escape a man, he makes use of the digital means to trace her. Men try to reach out to women via her friends and acquaintances on social media. Women are insulted and threatened via social media. There are also cases in which pictures of a woman can be taken and used to blackmail her.
Digital violence has increasingly become a very frequently used tool in the past decade unfortunately.
And we have to develop our own way to respond to this new type of violence. One of the first things we ask the victim of violence is to whom their phone belongs and how they use social media. We have to include this dimension as well in our security plans.
Q: What do you think is the one most important issue that needs to be tackled in order to improve the fight against violence against women?
A: If we could solve the problems pertaining to the judiciary the situation can improve much faster. Access to legal means and the implementation of legal rights remain problematic. And also if we could have the right understanding at the top, then this could reflect itself from top to bottom in all stages.
Q: Are you talking about the impunity of violence?
A: Not just that. First we need to take preventive action in the legal sphere. A woman gets a decision for a restraining order but it is not properly implemented. For example, a woman places a complaint about a potential perpetrator, the prosecutor listens to the guy and then lets him go. But then she ends up as invalid with five bullets in her body. If the man was put in jail or his gun was apprehended maybe the result could have been different. Men go through these kinds of examples and end up thinking, “nothing will happen to me.”
Q: When you listen to the stories, what is it that you find to be the most common aspect?
A: Access to justice remains insufficient and the state’s misguided policies in the shelters turn out to be like prison for women. The shelters are not women-friendly. They face prejudice there as well. This prejudice — the conviction that if a woman was a victim of violence it was most probably her fault — prevails in shelters, in police stations or even in bars among lawyers. A woman can have bad intentions, she might lie, and if you don’t like that attitude, you just go away; if you resort to violence you are to blame. Wherever they go they can face some approaches based on “if you had not behaved like that, you would not have ended up like this.”
In the state’s shelters for instance, women are under constant control and treated as individuals who have taken the wrong decisions. They are not treated with respect.
Q: What is the situation with migrant women?
A: This is a huge challenge for us.
There is a language barrier. We are not prepared at all. We do not have a translator. This is a tremendously vulnerable community. Their access to the state’s means is not easy. Their status as refugees is not clear. The law on the rights of the refugees is not properly implemented. There is a lot of domestic violence. If the husband is Turkish, he knows everything and deliberately leaves the women outside of the legal processes. Syrian women remain isolated. They have a lot of legal problems and we are not well equipped for that. We had a few staying in our shelter, and even if other women suffer from the same problems you can still see a certain degree of racism. We have experienced this problem in the shelter as well.