I’ve always been appalled at the fact my Turkish father’s aunt was forced to marry the man who raped her when she was a teenager. I try to console myself with the fact this was a Turkish village in the 1950s and that a lot has changed since then, but with a "marry-your-rapist" bill set to be introduced in Turkey in a matter of days, I’m having difficulty.
This bill will release scores of men who have been sentenced for committing statutory rape – Turkish newspaper Hürriyet estimates this currently stands at around 4000 – on the condition they marry their victim. Whether there will be a limit as to the age difference between the two parties is still undecided. If there is to be one, it will be set at either 10 or 15 years – a small, yet still utterly detestable, concession.
This whole bill is detestable. In fact, even that word fails to convey the absolute anger, horror and disgust felt towards the bill by many women – and men – of Turkish heritage. In an age where sexual harassment against women is finally becoming taboo, where countries who have a more conservative culture, such as Palestine or Egypt, are finally repealing easy escapes for rapists, why would you bring in such a law? Why would you take such a step back? And it is a huge step back for Turkey. In 2004, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s AK Party actually doubled the sentence for child abusers and removed the very law they are now bringing back.
Looking at Erdoğan’s political views as a whole, I believe there can only be one reason: the notion that marriage and children will put Turkey on course to become a major player in the world. He states that "strong nations come from strong families". It’s also why, time after time, he has advocated for Turkish families to have three children, and why, two weeks ago, he declared that having children or living together outside marriage is not in the Islamic – and therefore Turkish – culture. Yet forcing a girl to marry her rapist is not accepted in today’s Turkish culture either; it is seen by the majority as sexual abuse.
Erdoğan, who claimed last week that he will never allow a reduction in sentencing for crimes such as terror or sexual abuse but who is allowing this "marry-your-rapist" bill through, clearly doesn’t see it as such. Instead, he considers it a way for his aims to be met, a way for the population to rise. A rapist marrying his young victim not only means that any child borne from the incident will be legitimised but, with the girl still possessing many fertile years ahead of her, she will also be able to produce more children.
To say this is extremely alarming is an understatement. The main implication of this law is that women in Turkey are not to be valued; they are simply baby-makers and nothing more. With the president and the law conveying this message, it will only be a matter of time before society believes it, which will consequently have a devastating impact on women’s rights across the country.
Men will feel far more dominant over women and the female body than they already do, which will lead to a growth in rape as well as domestic violence or abuse. The rate of femicide will rise despite it already being very high – according to one Turkish women’s platform, around 474 women were killed in 2019, nearly four times the number of women killed in the UK in 2018 – and self-harm and suicide amongst women will increase as a result of them being stuck in unhappy homes with a man, and possibly children, they didn’t ask for.
That the president and parliament thought not to consider the repercussions of this "marry-your-rapist" bill is shameful. They should realise that forcing families, once again, to push their young daughters into lives of misery because they are seen as "damaged goods", is reprehensible.
Turkey used to be progressive on the topic of women’s rights. In the past 20 years, the ban on headscarves in state institutions or in the army has been lifted and mothers have found a work-life balance through the introduction of “milk leave” – 1.5 hours out of every working day to feed their new baby. But this new law will actively erode nearly all of that progress.
The "marry-your-rapist" bill is taking Turkey back to the 1950s. Regardless of what Erdoğan might think about the value of such a law, it’s actually ruining any chance Turkey has of being a truly modern player in the world. So, solidarity to all those women who will be affected by this and a great big thank you to those that have taken to the streets in protest. This is a huge fight for women for so many reasons – we won't give up now.