Conflict & Justice

Turkish honor code allows legal sale of daughter to rapist


A Turkish girl wearing a wedding dress and covered with fake bruises stands in front of other protesters holding placard reading ''end violence'' during a demonstration to protest against rape, killings and domestic violence against women, in Ankara in 2011. A recent rape case has brought the topic of rape to the forefront of political debate again.



ISTANBUL, Turkey — When a father heard that his 13-year-old daughter had been raped and tortured by a close relative, he felt more remorse than rage. He said the violation of his daughter’s body has tarnished one thing above all: honor, a code that when broken reduces female worth to nothing.

A few miles outside of Turkey’s eastern city of Erzurum, the man’s daughter Emine, lay in a barn, soaked in a pool of her own blood. A local villager found the girl with her hands and legs bound tightly, whimpering helplessly through a gag.

Her 15-year-old cousin, Fatih, had brutally raped and tortured her some 30 minutes before she was discovered, Daily Sabah reported. He later escaped fearing that his actions could result in a blood feud within the village.

When the news reached Emine's father, instead of running to his daughter’s aid, he went straight to the rapist’s house, and demanded compensation for the dishonoring of his daughter. The family summoned the village elders, who suggested that the rapist’s family pay Emine’s father generously with land and livestock to prevent a feud. After accepting the offer, Emine’s father sold his daughter to the rapist’s family, saying he wanted a new daughter whose honor was intact.

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Turkey has witnessed a groundbreaking shift in the legal approach to violence against women in the last decade. But in some rural communities the old Turkish penal code, constructed upon the notion that women belong to their families and husbands, is still applied. Too often, modern laws are not implemented and perpetrators go unpunished. 

In Emine's case, the rapist was eventually arrested after a local witness informed police of the incident, but this by no means guarantees justice or Emine’s safety.

“The attacker is only 15, they will use his age and loopholes in the law to get him out as soon as possible,” said women’s advocate and entrepreneur Meltem Bayrak.

The “loophole” Bayrak refers to is Turkish Penal Code, Article 29, which lists “unjust provocation,” as a reason a sentence can be reduced by a quarter. This means that if a crime is undertaken in a state of anger or mental anguish, it is thought to be induced by an unjust action.

“Unjust provocation” is not likely to be used in Emine’s case, according to lawyer Habibe Yilmaz Kayar, who says the attacker openly admitted to his actions and was not in any way provoked by the victim.

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However, there have been cases of honor crimes where attackers have manipulated Article 29 and used such excuses as provocative dress or behavior as reasons for an attack, which have, in some cases, resulted in reduced sentencing.

Sentences for rapists are usually 15 years and above, according to Kayar. But in this case, because of the attacker’s age, reductions will automatically be put into place and therefore Fatih’s sentence is not likely to exceed 12 years. Regardless of when Fatih will be released, the laws fall short of implemented support mechanisms for the victims.

Emine was returned to her family after Fatih was arrested, for a lack of other options, but Kayar says rather than be in the custody of her family, the victim needs to be protected from them. “They basically participated in human trafficking and should be held accountable,” she added.

Although much progress has been made in Turkey, it is disconcerting that the gap between laws on paper and implementation remain so vast. It is encouraging that Emine’s attacker was arrested, but while his fate is being decided, Emine has been placed unprotected in the middle of a feud where her “tarnished honor” could cost her a full life.

Ceylan Yeginsu is a Turkish/British multimedia journalist based in Istanbul. She has worked as a writer, producer and editor covering breaking news, politics, foreign policy and culture at leading global publications and has also penned a weekly column on gender equality issues for the Hurriyet Daily News — the English arm of Turkey’s most circulated broadsheet newspaper. She is a graduate of the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. You can follow her on Twitter @ceylanwrites.

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