Prime Minister Erdogan often portrays himself as a father figure for his citizens, and particularly for the women of Turkey. He has – with good reason – publicly spoken out on reported attacks on women wearing headscarves. He worries about their faith and their health, urging them, for example, to drink ayran, a healthy yoghurt drink, rather than alcohol. He gives them fatherly advice on how many children to have and about the most intimate health issues. Apparently, however, his paternalism has pretty clear limits.
For example, neither Mr. Erdogan nor his government have taken steps to address the serious, wide-spread, and well-documented allegations of sexual harassment and violence by Turkish security forces as part of their crackdown on protests in Turkey.
As Amnesty’s landmark report on the Gezi protests documents:
The majority of women detained by the police that Amnesty International spoke to in the course of researching this report, reported that they had been sexually harassed by law enforcement officials. Almost all referred to the repeated use of sexual insults, several to the threat of sexual violence, and a few … to actual sexual assault.
The accounts are chilling. Here for example, is the account of Eylem Karadağ:
Eight plain clothes police officers, wearing police vests came up to us and grabbed us by the arms. They took us in the
direction of an armoured police vehicle. They hit me on my head, they hit D.K. on his back, I’m not sure what they hit us with. All the time they were swearing at us. I felt the hand of one of the police officers on my breast, it was obvious that he did it on purpose, then I felt a hand on my bottom, then on my sexual organ.
Another victim profiled, Deniz Erşahin, recounts:
They shouted sexual insults like “bitch” and threatened me with rape. There were journalists taking pictures but the police kept on swearing at me. A police officer felt my bottom. I looked at him. He was wearing a gas mask. I said “what are you doing?” but he kept doing it.
Amnesty notes that, in both cases highlighted in the report, “police either initially refused to record the allegation, or challenged the character of the complainant. It is very likely that incidents of sexual harassment – both physical and verbal – will be significantly under-reported.”
Indeed, it appears that the widespread and well-documented practice of sexual harassment by Turkish police is subject to the same culture of impunity that has marked investigations into police brutality. The Amnesty report notes:
Though the abusive use of force by police has been widely documented, the likelihood of those responsible being brought to justice remains remote. Police officers in Turkey have long
enjoyed de facto immunity from prosecution, especially in the context of demonstrations. The lack of effective investigations and prosecutions of abuses by law enforcement officials and the absence of genuinely independent complaints mechanisms has been noted with concern in recent years by both the UN Human Rights Committee and the Committee against Torture.
For his part, Prime Minister Erdogan has described the police response to protests in Turkey as heroic, and indeed, “legendary.” One needn’t be a father to know that something has gone terribly wrong in Turkey.
Department of History
St. Lawrence University