An alleged gang rape of a 15-year-old girl by 27 men, including non-commissioned officers, police officers and village guards in Kercews near Êlih, is currently causing uproar among women’s rights activists in Turkey.
According to media reports, the girl was raped for months and became pregnant. However, the fifteen-year-old’s pregnancy was only noticed at a late stage. The girl was already seven months pregnant when she complained of abdominal pain in November and was taken to hospital. During the examination, the doctors found out that the girl had been raped repeatedly over a long period of time. She was then taken to the police in the provincial capital Êlih (Batman) and filed a complaint against two of the suspects, V.A. and M.A., who live in the same village as the girl. The latter already confessed to raping the teenager and was arrested. During his interrogation, the man gave further names who were said to have systematically committed sexual acts against the girl. According to the women’s news agency JinNews, which was the first to report on the case, only eleven names appear in the investigation file. As the public prosecutor’s office has already classified the documents as “sensitive and secret”, the girl’s lawyer, Alaattin Şimşek, cannot comment further on the case for the time being. In Turkey, it is common for investigation files to be classified as soon as the accused include security forces or government circles have a hand in the case.
Also forced prostitution in Kercews
During their research in Kercews, JinNews correspondents also found evidence that two adult women from the town had been forced into prostitution by at least some of the alleged rapists. Both women would work in the same textile factory where the fifteen-year-old girl is employed. Residents from the town, speaking to JinNews, said that the incidents had been known for months but were kept quiet for fear of revenge by the security forces involved. The suspects include the owner and the driver of the textile factory, as well as the owner of a café next to the factory, who is a sergeant in the Turkish army. Until a year ago, the owner of the café ran a kiosk near a school, but closed the business after several complaints about children being molested. This three-man pimp network allegedly procured the two women into forced prostitution and offered the 15-year-old girl for rape. A reporter from the feminist women’s news agency was also harassed by several officers from the police special unit PÖH on the instructions of the café owner, and urged to stop her investigation and leave the city.
State authorities deny allegations
Meanwhile, the fifteen-year-old is in the care of the “General Directorate for Services to Children”. The state agency is affiliated to the Ministry of Family, Labour and Social Affairs. According to JinNews, the girl is demanding an abortion and wants to return to her family. Several questions remain unanswered against the background of the secrecy order on the investigation file.
Women’s rights activists are appalled and criticise the fact that the incidents in Kercews were not brought to the attention of the relevant organisations. This could have been done anonymously. However, this is probably also due to the fact that there are hardly any organisations in Northern Kurdistan to which victims of violence can turn. In 2016, several women’s organisations were closed down by government decrees in the slipstream of the alleged coup attempt. The only remaining women’s organisation in the region that provides support and actively fights violence against women is the Rosa Association in Amed (Diyarbakir). The organisation has already announced that it will stay on the case until all the culprits are uncovered and punished. “Regardless of whether they are civilians or state officials, we will pull out all the stops until these crimes are completely cleared up and the perpetrators end up in court,” the association said yesterday.
Who brought the girl to the hospital?
It is also unclear who took the girl to hospital after she complained of abdominal pain and why the pregnancy was not noticed by anyone for months. Especially in view of statements by residents of the city that this is already the girl’s third pregnancy.
Meanwhile, the Turkish governor’s office denies that security forces are involved in rape and forced prostitution in Kercews. They are “mouthpieces of the terrorists” who reported the incidents and are generally only out to denounce police officers, soldiers and village guards. None of the accused are civil servants.
Parallels with the Ipek Er case
The reports about the gang rape of the 15-year-old girl bring back memories of the case of Ipek Er, who also lived in Êlih. The 18-year-old Kurdish girl had been raped several times by Musa Orhan, a sergeant in the Jandarma (military police) stationed in the neighbouring province of Sêrt. Ipek Er had tried to take her own life on 16 July. In a suicide note, she had said that she had been held captive by Musa Orhan for several days, drugged and sexually abused. On 18 August, she died in hospital as a result of her suicide attempt. The perpetrator, an avowed supporter of the right-wing extremist “Grey Wolves”, had been arrested briefly, but was released because he was not a flight risk. The rape had been confirmed by a forensic medical examination. After massive protests, Musa Orhan was arrested again on 19 August. A week later he was released by court order. The trial against him has been going on since 15 October in Sêrt. He is charged with “qualified sexual assault”.
Women’s organisations see “amnesty for child abuse” responsible
Reports of sexualised violence are increasing in Êlih. Women’s organisations link the increase to the Turkish government’s plan to make rape of minors exempt from punishment under certain conditions. The bill, which women’s rights activists aptly call an “amnesty for child abuse”, exempts sexualised violence from punishment if the perpetrators subsequently marry their victim. This would also make the notorious child marriages unpunishable. A similar law had failed in 2016 due to protests by the women’s movement. Since then, the Islamist-nationalist government coalition of AKP and MHP has repeatedly tried to introduce the bill in parliament and to amnesty sexual abuse of minors through marriage.