A court ruling has provoked outrage in Turkey, and in a minute you'll be fuming too. Last week, judges from Turkey's Supreme Court of Appeals agreed that the sentences of 26 men convicted of having sex with a 13-year-old girl should be reduced because the girl consented. Now feminist and human rights activists are fighting the decision and starting a new debate about the meaning of "consent."
CNN reports that in 2002, 26 men from the town of Mardin were accused of having sex with "N.C." over the course of seven months after paying two adult women for access to the girl. The two women have already been sentenced to nine years in jail, but the fate of the men, some of whom are teachers, soldiers, and civil servants, is still unclear. In 2005 Turkey's penal code was updated to require harsher sentences for those who sexually assault children, but men are now being sentenced under the law that was in place when the crimes occured. Pinar Ilkkaracan of the group Women for Women's Human Rights explains:
In the old penal code there was a very clear article which said it didn't matter if you were under 15 or over 15... if any rape or sexual assault happened with the consent of the girl or the woman, then the sentence would be reduced.
In the new Turkish penal code there is no question of consent, that is incredibly important for us ... In terms of girls and boys under 15 it says very clearly any violation of the body for sexual purposes is defined as sexual abuse in the new code. Which means that sexual assault or the violation of the body should have a higher sentence.
Of course, by definition, one can't agree to be raped or sexual assaulted. Thankfully, many Turkish officials are also attacking the idea that a child can give consent. President Abdullah Gul said the ruling make him "deeply uncomfortable," and Family and Social Policies Minister Fatma Sahin was less sheepish, saying the verdict is "unacceptable" even under the old law and adding, "I would like to remind the judiciary that its primary task is to protect the victim and the rights of the one who was sexually abused."
Some of the men have been acquitted and others have been sentenced to one to four years in jail, but there's still a chance the ruling can be overturned. According to the Hurriyet Daily News, the Supreme Court of Appeals' chief prosecutor can take the case to the uppermost General Board of Crime, or Turkey's Justice Ministry can intervene. N.C.'s lawyer said parts of the case are already being considered by the European Court of Human Rights. Two human rights activists who have acted as foster mothers to N.C. said she's still traumatized and was shocked by the decision. At 19, she's recently finished high school and plans to become a journalist or a lawyer.
On Friday people gathered outside Istanbul's palace of justice to demand that the decision be overturned. Nilgün Yurdalan of the Istanbul Feminist Collective said:
"Is it necessary to discuss consent when 26 men rape a 13-year-old girl? We think that the government itself has committed a serious crime. This does not concern only the five judges, but the laws of this country, the mentality of the government and their view of women."
Juvenile Rape Appeal Causes Uproar In Turkey [CNN]
Rape Cases Need Mental Change, Say Law Experts [Hurriyet Daily News]
Turkish Court Reduces Sentences For Men Accused Of Raping 13-Year-Old [The Guardian]
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