Turkish pop star's domestic abuse case highlights growing violence against women

Turkish pop star's domestic abuse case highlights growing violence against women
The case of the alleged abuse of Turkish pop star Sila by her partner, which has highlighted increasing violence against women in Turkey, will go to trial on Thursday.
4 min read
07 March, 2019
The alleged murder of Sule Cet is another case which has highlighted violence [Anadolu]

The case of a Turkish pop star who reported her partner's alleged violent abuse will go to trial on Thursday. Sila has highlighted the issue of violence against women in Turkey, which claimed 440 lives last year.

When she reported her abuse by Ahmet Kural, a famous actor, to the police, it was a rare moment mirroring the #MeToo movement in Turkey - a celebrity speaking out against her abuse in a country where many victims do not come forward.

Kural is accused of beating the singer, whose full name is Sila Gencoglu, in October.

His trial begins on Thursday in Istanbul, one day before International Women's Day, which will be celebrated with a march in the metropolis and rallies in other cities.

Kural faces up to five years in jail for charges including actual bodily harm, which the television and film actor denies.

While rights groups say Turkish laws protecting victims of abuse have improved, the number of women murdered by their partners in the country has increased in recent years, while thousands of women face physical and sexual abuse by partners or male relatives.

"It is extremely significant that a woman who experienced violence freely sought her rights and took legal action, and for her case to be at the centre of debate," Sila's lawyer Rezan Epozdemir told AFP.

Canan Gullu, head of the Federation of Women Associations of Turkey (TKDF), said that after Sila sought legal action, the NGO's emergency hotline had a significant spike in calls from victims of abuse.

More women had become aware of their rights and laws designed to protect them from violence, she said.

Violence is the biggest problem facing women in Turkey, a 2018 poll by Istanbul's Kadir Has University said.

In 2018, 440 women were killed in murders linked to their gender, according to the women's rights group We Will Stop Femicide. Less than half that number were killed in 2012.

At least 31 women were killed in domestic violence incidents in February alone, the group said.

A 2014 government study found 38 percent of Turkish women had been subjected to either physical and/or sexual violence at some point in their lives. Eleven percent said they had faced abuse from their partners in the past year.

While the spike in cases over recent years could be down to an increase in reports rather than an increase in incidents, critics of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) fear that women's rights are being eroded by the government, leading to increased violence against women.

The government insists violence against women is taken seriously and Erdogan has lambasted it as a "betrayal of humanity".

Turkey was the first country to ratify the 2011 Istanbul Convention, the world's most progressive binding accord to prevent and combat gender-based violence.

Feride Acar, an academic at Middle East Technical University (METU) in Ankara who contributed to the text, said improvements had been made, but more needed to be done to build on the convention's promise.

The convention calls for more shelters, but she said more access to the shelters was needed.

Lawyer Gunce Cetin, who works with victims of violence, claimed police officers were not applying the law in practice.

"Sometimes police don't remind women they have a right to a lawyer," she said.

Another concern for women's rights activists is lenient sentences and time off for good behaviour for men who have committed violence against women.

Activists also criticise attempts to discredit victims during trials by defendants' lawyers or the suspects.

Cetin and Acar called for more training for police and judiciary personnel to handle gender-based violence cases.

The case of Sule Cet, a university student found dead in May, provoked uproar from women's rights activists in Turkey.

Two men went on trial last month accused of her sexual assault and murder after claiming she had fallen from the 20th floor of a tower block in Ankara.

One of the defendant's lawyers speculated that Cet was not a virgin.

Sila's lawyer also criticised parts of the media for dishonest reporting of her case.

"I hope that the outcome of the case will reveal the truth and a decision will be given in the interest of justice," said Epozdemir.