Turkey stunned by child rape allegations involving scores of men

Turkey is reeling from a series of child abuse scandals as scores of men in two cities stand accused of having been involved in the sexual mistreatment of children for up to two years.

By Thomas Seibert, Foreign Correspondent,

Source: The National

“Those are signs of social insanity,” Birsen Gokce, the head of the Sociological Association of Turkey, said this week. “Cases of violence are turning into sexual violence.”

Last week, up to 100 men in Siirt, in south-east Anatolia, were questioned by police regarding accusations that at least four underage girls from poor families had been systematically raped over a period of two years. Eighteen have been charged so far; three officials of the victims’ school and another public servant have been suspended.

A local court in Siirt ordered a news blackout concerning the case this week, but news reports said the girls had been handed from one man to another, that local notables were among the accused and that the abuse was an open secret in Siirt. A kind of “solidarity of the rapists” had ruled in the city, the reports said, adding that officials were reluctant to talk about the case.

The investigation started last year when one of the girls told a teacher about her plight. The girls have been taken under state protection and moved to another city.

Local authorities in Siirt denied accusations that they tried to sweep the scandal under the carpet. But Necati Senturk, the governor of Siirt, is reported to have told a group of parliamentary deputies from Ankara that he had the impression the administration of the school might have known about the abuse long before police got wind of it.

“What surprised me was that the school principal and the teachers said they had no idea that this was taking place,” Mr Senturk told the deputies, according to yesterday’s Cumhuriyet newspaper.

Other news reports have said a deputy principal took part in the abuse.

Also in Siirt province, pupils of a local primary boarding school between the ages of 13 and 15 are accused of raping two children of two and three years old and killing one of the victims.

The crime in Pervari happened one year ago, but was widely reported only this week.

Ismail Bilen, Pervari’s mayor, caused an outcry by saying there had been no rape, but only “child’s play” and that the case was closed as far as he was concerned. “We have solved the matter among ourselves.”

The prosecutor in Pervari was quoted as saying he had not received a formal complaint by the families of the victims.

A few days after the two abuse scandals in Siirt became public, a court in the province of Manisa, in western Turkey, ordered the arrest of 26 people accused of having abused two girls and one boy between 14 and 16 years and forced them into prostitution.

Dilek Cindoglu, a sociologist at Bilkent University in Ankara, said in an interview this week: “In places where violence is a part of daily life, violence against women is considered to be within the realm of normality, as shown by the latest research on domestic violence in Turkey. But it is still a puzzle how a hundred people from respectable backgrounds can be involved in this without a whistle-blower for a such long time.”

Turkey has seen other cases of sexual abuse, but the revelations in recent days have shocked the public because it is regarded as an eye-opener for a problem that has been ignored in its significance. “It is not only a problem of Siirt, and it is not only a problem of children,” wrote Ayse Arman, a columnist in the daily newspaper Hurriyet. “Just take a look at page three in the newspapers. They are filled with news about rape from top to bottom.”

According to a study made public this month, one in three children in Turkey is physically, psychologically or sexually abused. Up to 70 per cent of the victims are girls, and most victims of sexual abuse are between eight and 12 years old, said the study, the conclusions of which were posted on the website of the Psychiatric Association of Turkey. Poverty, unemployment, a lack of social support and a tradition of family violence are among the factors that lead to violence against children, the study said.

Ms Cindoglu of Bilkent University said there is a growing awareness in society as a whole that “domestic violence is an issue in Turkish households”.

A decade ago government officials were reluctant to concede that there is a problem, she said. “But there has been a change in Turkey, especially since the start of the EU accession process.”

Demands by the European Union, which Turkey wants to join, forced Ankara to address the phenomenon, she said.

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