Whilst the Boğaziçi University protests against the rector who was appointed directly by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan continue to shake Turkey, brutal police violence and sexual violence targeting the students has been the subject of discussion by human rights defenders in the country.
Women students and LGBTI students of Boğaziçi University who have supported the protests against Melih Bulu – the new unelected rector of the university – have been specifically targeted by a lynch campaign. Several women and LGBTI students have stated that they were sexually abused whilst under police custody.
When the new rector’s appointment caused outrage among Boğaziçi students, thousands of students reacted to the decision alongside hundreds of Boğaziçi academics. They called for the resignation of the appointed rector. The protest campaign has been continuing since 1 January.
To date, more than 500 people have been detained throughout the country in various solidarity linked protests. Several LGBTI students from Boğaziçi University have described the discriminatory treatment they have been subjected to in the police station. They have stated that they were threatened with rape after they were set free. Several women students also highlighted the sexual abuse they experienced during detention.
Eren Keskin, a prominent women’s rights lawyer and the Co-Chair of Turkey’s Human Rights Association (IHD), spoke to Mesopotamia Agency about the sexual violence and harrasment that has been committed by state officials.
‘Sexual violence’ by state officials ‘are all aimed at breaking social resistance’
Having worked on cases of sexual violence that have been committed by state officials for over 30 years, Keskin and other human rights advocates established the Legal Aid Office Against Sexual Harassment and Rape in Custody in 1997. “Sexual violence committed by state officials is a method that has been used for many years in Turkey”, she observed. “Sexual torture, harassment and strip-searches of women are all aimed at breaking social resistance”, she stated.
Seventy five women applied to the IHD in the first ten months of 2020 in relation to instances of sexual violence committed by state officials, whilst 50 women experienced it whilst they were in custody; 20 women were subjected to sexual harassment in prisons, and five women were raped by a law enforcement officer, according to data provided by the Legal Aid Office Against Sexual Harassment and Rape in Custody.
“Only 29 lawsuits were filed against these perpetrators: 46 of these files were closed before the perpetrators could be brought to justice”, said Keskin, and she noted that this reflected the attitude of the Turkish judiciary to sexual violence cases.
‘Now, many women are not afraid to reveal the sexual violence targeting them’
Eren Keskin remembers the conversations she and her colleagues had with Kurdish women during the 1990s. “They were stating that soldiers had done very ‘bad things’ to them. However, they were not able to explicitly state what the soldiers had actually done to them”. After years of struggle and defending women who have been mistreated and sexually abused by Turkish state officials, Keskin noted that things have changed in Turkey. “Now, many women are not afraid to reveal the sexual violence targeting them and this is a topic many women can openly discuss”.
When Keskin and her colleagues first established their office, women in the prisons started telling them about their experiences of violence. Later, a large number of women from Kurdish provinces began to apply to their bureau, she noted. To date, 800 women and trans people have applied to their office, reporting sexual violence they were subjected to by state officials. “But we know that the real number is higher, because there are still many women who feel ashamed or afraid to open up. It is not easy to talk about it since we are still living in a feudal society”, she said.
No perpetrators brought to justice
Among the 800 applications that the IHD has received, no perpetrators have been brought to justice regarding the sexual violence crimes they were charged with. Keskin points to the policy of impunity that exists by citing these statistics and case application outcomes.
“The courts accept the Forensic Medicine Institute (ATK) reports for sexual torture. However, the Forensic Medicine Institute is also a state institution. It does not document and report the sexual abuse cases”, Keskin said. “Even if there is a report, the perpetrators are not brought to justice. Not a single perpetrator of sexual harassment or rape has been punished in the lawsuits we have filed so far”, she confirmed.
Despite these types of problems that they face in Turkey’s courts, Keskin remains hopeful concerning their struggle for justice: “Jurisdiction does not end with only domestic law. There are many cases that we have won at the European Court of Human Rights”.