Turkey’s women take to social media to seek justice for gender-based violence

Women in Turkey have increasingly been using social media to speak out about the harassment and violence they encounter in their daily lives, as they feel state institutions have failed to support them.

Ahval compiled the stories of five women who used their social media to recount the violence they have experienced at the hands of men, and spoke with experts on gender-based violence.

The first story comes from 22-year-old Derya, who lives in Turkey’s northern Bursa province. Derya wrote on Twitter that a man named Harun Deniz attacked her with a bottle and raped her.

“The man who raped me should be ashamed, but instead I am, I feel like I was disgraced when I found the courage to file a complaint,” Derya wrote. “I am losing my mind.”

The man went on to face trial, but was not arrested, Derya explained: “How could he go about freely, have my witness beaten up, cut me off on the street and offer money (to drop the charges)? How could (the police) let him go?”

Screenshots Derya added to her posts show messages like, "I wish I had killed you that night, I wish I had buried your body. Cursed c***, you ruined my life,” and “Never forget that pain and that you begged me like a dog”.

The 22-year-old, who is studying to become a teacher, wrote that she had been prescribed sedatives so she could continue her daily life, and asked why the Prevention of Violence against Women Act No.6284 did not protect her.

After Derya’s tweets went viral, the Bursa Directorate of Family and Social Policies contacted her, which led to the detention of the suspect. But the man was released after he gave a statement, and continued with her threats, according to Derya, who filed another complaint.

The man was detained again, but was again released on parole.

Lawyer Kardelen Başak, said she had been mocked and accused of lying when she wrote about her experience with a cab driver, who was drinking beer while driving and attempted to abduct her.

Başak said she pursued legal action after the incident, and shared a copy of the court ruling sentencing the driver to five-and-a-half-years in prison for sexual harassment and deprivation of liberty.

“This ruling is a source of pride for me. But before this, I had run after another man in a dark street after he jumped on me and fought in court until I got him convicted, too,” Başak explained.

Gülay Mübarek from the southern province of Hatay went to the police over death threats she received continuously for two years. The suspect, Erdoğan Küpeli, was detained only after Mübarek took to Twitter and thousands of women rallied to raise awareness for her case.

“It was good that you shared the matter on social media, you spoke to a larger crowd and the prosecutor took immediate action,” Mübarek said a police officer told her.

Gülay won the case against Küpeli, but the man was not arrested. In his appeal to the ruling, Küpeli argued that he did insult Gülay, but he didn’t threaten her.

“In just one two-minute voice recording I have, he says he would behead me and play ball with my head, he would not go to prison before he f***s me, it wouldn’t be over until he killed me, etc.,” Gülay wrote. “The result: He was not arrested, and I am terrified.”

An anonymous 22-year-old woman with the Twitter handle “I want somebody to hear me” wrote that she was attacked at a lawyer’s office.

“People have thought of me as ‘lucky to not have been raped’ for a year now,” she wrote.

According to the woman, her lawyer tried to touch and kiss her following a consultation appointment. When she pushed him away, he flung her to the couch in the office and climbed on top of her. The woman fought him, ran for the door and eventually managing to get away.

She went to the police, who called the lawyer to invite him to testify. The lawyer told the police on the phone that she had slandered many other lawyers this way, all the while sending her threatening messages.

She was sent to three different police stations that night, and had to tell her story several times.

Police officers told her that prosecutors wouldn’t want to take on the case because the man was a lawyer. She has received a court summons and the proceedings are set to continue.

Women are turned away when they file complaints with the police, who often fail to effectively gather evidence and run an investigation even when a case is opened, Lawyer Esin Yeşilırmak from Women’s Assemblies told Ahval.

“Because the legal mechanism favours the men during both investigation and prosecution, as much as we occupy the agenda we cannot achieve desired results,” Yeşilırmak said, pointing to continued impunity for violence against women.

Another woman using the name Canısı T. from the eastern province of Erzurum, took to social media to share a five-page letter she wrote detailing her fear that Murat Y., who assaulted her in front of the supermarket she worked at, could be released from custody.

Co-worker Murat Y. started harassing her when she turned him down. He was fired after she complained to the store manager. One day, he turned up at the supermarket with a knife and repeatedly stabbed the young woman.

In her letter, Canısı T. wrote that Murat’s family offered her family money so she would drop the charges. Canısı said she would have to change her name and move out of Erzurum if he was ever released.

Social media gives women a platform to have their voices heard, as they struggle to find institutions to understand and support them when they are subjected to violence, Umut Yılmaz from Turkish Psychologists Association told Ahval.

“The widespread use of social media, the speed of reaction, and online solidarity networks enable women to bravely take on ‘male empowerment’ and receive results,” Yılmaz said.

Police failing victims of violence, working not to protect the women but to get them to make up and go home with men who assault them, lead to anywhere between depression and suicide, Yılmaz said.

The framing of incidents in both mainstream and alternative media creates trust issues as victims are sensationalised, Yılmaz added.

Women use social media because they want to get widespread coverage for their search for justice quickly, according to the head of the Media School at Istanbul Bilgi University Aslı Tunç.

“Social media removes the hierarchy (of traditional media) and creates a horizontal medium for communication, rapidly allowing objections to injustice to reach necessary institutions, which in turn mend their broken faith in justice as people despair,” Tunç told Ahval.