Thursday, May 5, 2011

"He Loves You, He Beats You"

Human Rights Watch has released a report on domestic violence, a problem that has been gaining increased attention in recent years. As HRW reports, police too often neglect their responsibilities to protect women against violence, which has led to a plethora of stories of women who ended up dead despite their efforts to seek police protection. Following a June 2009 decision of the European Court of Human Rights, it is a state obligation to protect women when they report such violence. As HRW's report documents, problems with implementation of the ruling continue. From the report's summary:
“It always happened at night,” Hamiyet M. told Human Rights Watch. For 24 long years, Hamiyet’s husband had abused her by severely beating her and raping her almost daily. When she finally summoned the courage to go to police in her town in eastern Turkey, they sent her home, twice. The beatings continued, in one instance proving so severe she wound up in hospital where she spoke with a police officer for a third time. Yet again, she received neither sympathy nor help. “Are we supposed to deal with you all the time?” the officer scolded.

Some 42 percent of all women older than 15 in Turkey and 47 percent of women living in the country’s rural areas—approximately eleven million women in total—have experienced physical or sexual violence at the hands of a husband or partner at some point in their lives, according to a 2009 survey conducted by a leading Turkish university.

Female domestic violence survivors, lawyers, and local experts on family violence interviewed for this report described husbands and family members inflicting brutal and long-lasting violence on women and girls that in some cases lasted for decades, affecting several generations of women. Researchers documented women and girls as young as 14 being raped; stabbed; kicked in the abdomen when pregnant; beaten with hammers, sticks, branches, and hoses to the point of broken bones and fractured skulls; locked up with dogs or other animals; starved; shot with a stun gun; injected with poison; pushed off a roof; and subjected to severe psychological violence. The violence occurred in all areas where researchers conducted interviews, and across income and education levels.

In recent years Turkey has taken important legislative steps towards addressing violence against women. But despite these impressive advances, most notably Law 4320 on the Protection of the Family (“Law 4320” or “protection law”), remaining gaps in the law and failures of implementation make the protection system unpredictable at best, and at times downright dangerous. Furthermore, this legislative process is undermined by the government’s failure to better prevent abuse in the first place, change discriminatory attitudes, and effectively address the barriers that deter women and girls from reporting abuse and accessing protection.

This report focuses on the civil remedies available in Turkey to survivors of domestic violence. These options—which aim to provide immediate protection from harm, create space for a victim to decide her course of action, and prevent an abuser hampering criminal or divorce proceedings with intimidation or threats—take two main forms. The first is physical protection in shelters, the second is civil protection orders—emergency measures intended to stop further abuse, which is common in domestic violence cases, including instructions to an abuser to stay away from the house and refrain from violence against the victim.

The research found that implementation of Law 4320 regularly falls short because enforcement officers, judges, and prosecutors neglect their duties, often due to lack of expertise or will to deal with cases of violence against women and girls in a manner that is effective and sensitive to the needs and human rights of victims. Women who do report family violence to police risk being turned away, and face poor enforcement of protection orders: indeed, some women have been murdered after obtaining a protection order against their killer. Shelters are lacking, and those that do exist often exclude certain groups of women, restrict movement and communications, and are vulnerable to security breaches. Environments in which women are supposed to report violence—particularly police stations and family courts—often lack the private space necessary to do so. In addition, differing understandings of the law—specifically, the scope of eligibility for protection orders—undermine its effectiveness and can exclude the most vulnerable victims of domestic violence.
Implementing Law 4320 was supposed to be a priority of the Ministry of Women and Family. Last March Selma Aliye Kavaf, who heads the ministry, said many women who reported abuse were not properly protected because the police to whom they reported did not in turn report to the Ministry, and so proper procedures were not followed. As far as I can tell, little progress has been made here. Further, under Turkish law, each municipality with a population of over 50,000 people is supposed to have a women's shelter, though this is still far from the case (see this post from last March). For news coverage of the report from Hurriyet Daily News, click here.

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