Conflict & Justice

In Turkey, reporting harassment can be worse than being groped

turkey bus station.jpg

Credit:

Sean Marshall

Bus station in Istanbul.

One day last winter, exhausted after a long shift at the hospital where she works as a doctor, a woman we’ll call Ezgi got on a crowded bus to go home. It was just like any other day, except for the shifty young guy sitting next to her.

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Ezgi knows what a potential threat looks like. Being groped on Istanbul public transport isn’t exactly uncommon, and women learn to be especially vigilant on congested buses and trains.

Before Ezgi knew it, the man had slipped his hand under her skirt and it crept up her thigh near her crotch. She lost it.

She yelled at him, got others on the bus involved, and kept him on the bus until they got near a police station.

“I think, he must have been afraid of me.”

When Ezgi and her harasser finally got to a police station, things got worse.

First, the cops said they couldn’t do anything. One officer even told her, “of course you’ll get groped on a bus." The officer said she must make enough money as a doctor to drive her own car to work.

“That’s the main reason no one goes to police after harassment," Ezgi said.

Nihan Guneli is Ezgi’s lawyer and a friend from high school. She says the vast majority of harassment and rape cases go unreported in Turkey in large part because the police station experience can be more traumatic than the harassment.

“When you go to the police station, you give your address and personal information to the police in most cases,” says Guneli. That information becomes part of the public record, making it easy for suspects or their families to find victims and pressure them to drop charges.

In Ezgi’s case, the suspect’s mother showed up at her work place. The woman begged Ezgi to drop the charges.

But Ezgi and her lawyer pressed on and, surprisingly, won. Guneli says it was a rare victory. “The reason, I believe, that he got one year and eight months in prison is because Ezgi is a doctor, and she didn’t know the guy.”

Guneli says it’s likely a higher court will overturn the verdict. Still, the win is a huge one.

In a recent survey about harassment, two thirds of the women who responded said they were pestered on Istanbul streets and in public transportation more than once a month.

Ezgi says she went to court for them, to make sure there’s one less harasser out there. But she still thinks about her safety, and avoids taking public buses these days.

Ezgi laughs nervously looking back at the experience. “Now, I still wait for something to happen," she said. "And I bought [a] motorbike.”

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