A 24-year-old rapist has escaped a prison sentence in Turkey while the only female judge was on leave on the grounds that the sex was consensual because the victim did not scream.
For two years, the woman, who is a mentally disabled widow and mother, was raped by her neighbor, who threatened to kill her and her 3 children when she said she did not want to have sex with him. It was only after discovering that the woman was 8 months pregnant, that he was arrested. Prosecutors were able to convict him based on the DNA evidence taken from the baby.
Without considering the woman’s mental state, the fact that her life was being threatened and that her children’s lives were being threatened, the court has relied on a rigid, outdated misconception on the definitions of rape. In a country where 45 percent of girls and women between the ages of 15 and 60 have experienced physical or sexual assault, it can be difficult to see how Turkey is making inroads for gender equality. Yet, despite the troubling statistics, the voices of Turkish women and girls continues to grow in the face of increasing inequality for women. Additionally, 78 members of Turkish Parliament elected last year were women. Since the lone female judge’s absence may have carried significant sway regarding the lack of justice the rape survivor received when the rapist was released early, it could have easily played out differently had more female judges been present.
It may still be an uphill battle ensuring women have adequate legal protections from rape, domestic violence and harassment, however, as more women continue to enter the workforce, run for public office and make up almost half of college students, Turkey’s legal system will gradually be forced to acknowledge the rights of women.