This piece is written as a farewell to Ozgecan Aslan, a twenty-year-old university student, who was stabbed to death after she was raped. Her remains were found on 13 February, burnt and thrown into a river by three men.
I slept with a heavy heart that night and woke up even grimmer and more outraged. Another terrible piece of news from Turkey, my home country, where nearly every day men brutally kill, sexually harass, and rape women. Where everyday acts of walking on the street, taking a bus, visiting a neighbor, wearing a pair of jeans, or holding the hand of your lover might easily be a “reason” for being raped, harassed, and murdered if you are a woman, transgender, queer, and/or a sex worker. Where we are continuously undone by desiring looks, swearing words, and grabbing hands of men, and their biggest protector: the juridical system.
The experiences of being women, which transgress national, regional, and cultural boundaries, teach us to expect sexual and physical violence—from strangers, from acquaintances, from loved ones. In Turkey, as in other parts of the world, there is hardly a woman who hasn’t quickened her steps at least once in her lifetime, afraid of walking alone on a remote street in the dark. We all know the fear of being the last passenger on a bus alone with a male driver, especially at night.
Ozgecan Aslan was a psychology student at Çag University. On 11 February, she took a bus from Adana to Mersin, her route from school to home. As the last passenger got off the bus, she was left alone with the driver. The driver changed the bus’ regular route and drove the vehicle to a remote location. When he attempted to rape Ozgecan, she fought back and used pepper spray against the rapist. The driver then stabbed Ozgecan several times and bludgeoned her to death with an iron pipe. After the murder, his father and a friend came to help him to get rid of the body—the evidence. The three burnt Ozgecan’s body and threw it into a stream.
The horrendous brutality of this murder raised public outrage in Turkey. It also revived the memory of another sad, outrageous murder, in March 2009, of eighteen-year-old Munevver Karabulut, whose body had been dumped into a waste container in Istanbul after her head had been cut off by her boyfriend Cem Garipoglu with the help of his family. It was partly the extreme brutality in these two cases that created a deep sense of outrage and frustration—and it must, of course, be condemned. Yet I want to emphasize here that what happened to Ozgecan is exemplary rather than exceptional. In Turkey, violence, sexual harassment, rape, and murder are parts of our everyday life. As I was writing this piece, and as my friends in Turkey were marching and mourning for Ozgecan, I came across the news of the murder of twenty-seven-year old Meryem Yilmaz by her husband, who stabbed her to death on 14 February in Diyarbakir, Turkey. There was not even enough time to mourn for Ozgecan.
According to Bianet’s male violence monitoring report, men killed twenty-seven women in Turkey in January 2015. In 2014, men killed 281 women, raped 109 women, battered 560 women, and sexually harassed 140 women. In 2013, men killed 214 women, battered 241 women, and harassed 161 women. Since 2010, men have killed 853 women in Turkey. Note that these are only cases that are reported by news agencies in the national and local media. What is even scarier is that a great majority of rapists and murderers are acquaintances of the women they rape and murder. In 2013, for instance, fifteen percent of slain women were killed for seeking divorces or breakups. Again in 2013, fifty-two percent of rapists were friends, relatives, ex-husbands, and ex-lovers. In 2014, while sixty-one percent of women were slain by their husbands, sixteen percent were slain by their ex-husbands or ex-lovers. Male violence is not “over there.” It’s here: in our homes, in our beds, in our kitchens. Too often, the perpetrators are not unknown murderers with dark and sick souls coming out of nowhere. They are our lovers, ex-lovers, husbands, ex-husbands, brothers, fathers, and neighbors.
As these numbers illustrate, sexual harassment and violence against women are parts of our everyday life in Turkey. None of these violent acts are exceptional, nor are they individual or sporadic. Rather, they are chronic, systematic, and structural. They do not happen because of Turkey’s supposedly “traditionally patriarchal culture,” backwardness, or low level of literacy, as some may argue. They do not happen either because of the frustration of men whose masculinities are shattered due to unemployment, or the repression of men’s sexuality by Islam. Sexual violence is neither cultural nor religious nor unique to Turkey. The systematic killing of women and girls with legal impunity in Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala; increasing numbers of rape cases in India; and the fact that out of every five women in the US has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime shows the prevalence of sexual violence across nations, regions, cultures, religions, and economic and political systems.
Violence against women, transgender people, queers, and sex workers is first and foremost political, which is too often justified and reproduced by political and legal institutional arrangements. Framing sexual and homophobic violence outside the realm of politics renders them “private” issues to be solved between partners and/or families, which explains why marital rape has been most difficult to legislate even in the most liberal regimes. Feminists have noted that to frame such violent acts as non-political is to ignore the structures of power and inequality at play, and to obscure the complicity of masculinist and patriarchal state structures in generating and maintaining forms of violence against women, transgender people, queers, and sex workers.
Male violence is protected, legitimized, and perpetuated by a variety of political and legal institutional discourses and practices in Turkey; among those I want to emphasize are the ineffective implementation of the law that falls short of protecting women, and legal impunity for perpetrators.
Ineffective Implementation of the Law
In 2012, Turkey took the step of becoming the first country to sign and ratify the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence (commonly known as the Istanbul Convention). Turkey then adopted a new domestic criminal law, the Law to Protect Family and Prevent Violence against Women, a truncated version of the Istanbul Convention. The domestic law outlines a series of measures to protect women, such as the provision of services like women’s shelters, financial aid, and psychological and legal guidance; the issuance of protection orders that require an abusive partner or other family members to remain at a set distance from the woman; and the imposition of various criminal sanctions for anyone who breaches protection orders. The law also requires that police must regularly monitor the implementation of protection orders.
In practice, however, the effective implementation of the law, as well as protective and preventive measures, remains woefully inadequate. For instance, the number of women’s shelters is still far below the number required. Moreover, police and the courts still regularly fail to protect women, even those who have been granted protection orders. In fact, protection orders are loosely employed and state officers willfully neglect threats coming from intimate partners and family members. There are numerous cases in which policemen do not take calls from women seriously because they tend to treat violence in the home as a private affair between spouses. Let us remember Guldunya Tore, a twenty-two-year old woman killed by her brothers in 2004 for having a child as a result of rape by a family member. Her brothers shot her on the street, yet amazingly, she survived the close-range attack. From her hospital bed, Guldunya successfully asked for police protection, arguing that her family would try to kill her again. She was moved to another hospital—but her brothers stabbed her to death in the hospital room, where she was supposed to be under police protection. The heartbreaking case of Guldunya demonstrates how the implementation of the law systematically fails to protect even women who are at obvious risk. Women are still being killed despite the filing of complaints or the issuing of restraining orders against aggressors.
Inadequate law enforcement has often-deadly consequences for women, yet it is by no means the only problem. Even if it is implemented properly, the domestic law itself has many shortcomings that mainly stem from the masculinist and sexist mindset of the state, which is not only unable but also unwilling to protect women’s well being. The masculinist bias of the law is obvious in the categorization of attacks on differently gendered bodies. As Ayse Parla aptly puts it, attacks on the female body are considered an infringement, not of individual rights, but of the family order. Even the name of the domestic law indicates that the Turkish state is still protecting the family, not women who are not perceived as separate legal subjects.
Legal Impunity and Leniency
There is a pattern of impunity and leniency for violence against women and hate crimes in Turkey that perpetuates violence against women, as well as hate crimes against queers, transgender people, and sex workers. The criminal justice system systematically fails to hold abusive men accountable for violence to their partners, ex-partners, or family members. Murderers and rapists who are charged with a violent act often benefit from a release through acquittal, amnesty, judiciary control, or a prison leave permit. As Dicle Kogacioglu notes, judges tend to reduce sentences if the suspect who has committed murder is a relative of the woman. Moreover, Kogacioglu reminds us that the sentence may be reduced by two-thirds if the suspect has committed murder because of “uncontrollable grief” or as a result of “provocation.”
Article 29 of the Turkish penal code, regarding “unjust provocation,” states that punishment will be reduced if “a person commits an offense with an affect of anger or asperity caused by the unjust act.” The interpretation of what counts as “unjust provocation” is arbitrary at best. There are numerous cases in which even a low-cut neckline or a miniskirt counts as “unjust provocation,” and in such cases judges tend to reduce the sentences to the minimum, if not acquit the perpetrators. This is of vital importance, especially for queers, transgendered women, and sex workers who are subjected to deadly hate crimes, since assailants in these cases often invoke “unjust provocation” and, as a result, receive lenient sentences. In April 2012, for instance, transgender sex worker Nukhet Kizilkaya was stabbed to death with broken glass near Izmir. The assailant, Ozer Ozcam, was given a reduced sentence due to “unjust provocation,” because, as he told the judge, “Nukhet wanted me to be passive during anal sex; this drove me crazy. That is why I killed [her].” Similarly, in the case of gay journalist Abdulbaki Kosar, who was stabbed twenty-two times in February 2006, the murderer stated in court that Abdulbaki Kosar offered him homosexual intercourse. The court subsequently decided that the murderer committed the crime “under unjust provocation caused by Abdulbaki Koşar,” and therefore reduced the penalty for the murderer from life imprisonment to eighteen years. In addition, because of the murderer’s good conduct in the courtroom, the Court made an extra reduction, and the sentence for the murderer was reduced from eighteen to fifteen years.
These legal practices imply that anything that might threaten the masculinity of the murderer (like offering anal sex), or anything that might incite desire in him (like dressing in a miniskirt), are interpreted by judges as “unjust provocation.” It is important to emphasize that none of these masculinist and homophobic legal practices are specific to Turkey. Critical legal studies show, for instance, how “The Homosexual Panic Defense (HPD)”— the assumption that hatred of homosexuals is a psychiatric disorder and thus classifiable as an accountability-reducing illness—is widely used as a legal defense in the US courtrooms for justification of the behavior of defendants who murder queers. Similarly, impunity for crimes against women is a widely shared transnational legal practice in many other parts of the world. As Kogacioglu compellingly puts it, what is at play, in Turkey and elsewhere, is “a juridical convention, an established way of interpreting laws” that places value on family honor, masculinity, and heterosexuality at the expense of the lives and bodily integrity of women, queers, transgender women, and sex workers.
To invoke “unjust provocation” is not only to reduce the sentence but also to put the blame on the victim for being raped or harassed. Another similar—and equally problematic—legal practice is interpreting women’s attitudes, speech, or dress as signifiers of “consensual sex.” For instance, having a pre-existing relationship with the rapist or not shouting loud enough for help count as women’s implicit consent to sex—in other words, their invitation to be raped—and therefore they operate as legal excuses to reduce sentences. In October 2012, for example, the Supreme Court of Appeals ruled to reduce sentences for twenty-six men convicted of raping a thirteen-year old girl, N.C., on the grounds that she had “consented” to sex. Again, these cases are not exceptions but are exemplary of the systematic workings of a masculinist, misogynist, and homophobic juridical system, which systematically creates a culture of impunity and leniency for rape, hate murders, and the killing of women.
The impunity with which sexual violence is committed is not limited to civilians; it is at play for civil servants as well. Human rights lawyer Eren Keskin says that since 1997, 387 women who have been sexually harassed by civil servants, including police and the military, have requested legal aid. Yet, as she reminds us, not a single policeman or soldier has been punished because 1) either no case is brought against the perpetrators, or 2) there is such a time lapse between the crime and the cases being brought to court that suspects are acquitted. Legal impunity for civil servants renders especially transgender women and sex workers more vulnerable to sexual harassment by police. As the Red Umbrella Sexual Health and Human Rights Association, founded and led by sex workers in Turkey, reported, fifty percent of transgender woman sex workers are exposed to physical violence by the police, while thirty-one percent of them are subjected to sexual violence by the police. Yet, not surprisingly, not a single policeman has been punished. Military impunity in cases of violence—including rape, execution, torture, kidnapping, and disappearance—against indigenous women in Mexico, acquittal of the military officer charged in the “forced virginity tests” trial in Egypt, and sexual abuse by guards with impunity in women’s prisons in the US are only a few examples of notorious and widespread sexual violence sanctioned, protected, and legitimized by the state.
These legal practices not only leave acts of violence unpunished, but also create a culture of impunity in which sexual violence is allowed to flourish. They encourage even more crimes by whitewashing and legitimizing sexual and homophobic violence and thus rendering them socially acceptable.
“Ozgecan Aslan Is Our Rebellion”
As I was writing this piece, the Ministry of Family and Social Policy (which was recently transformed from the Ministry Responsible for Woman and Family) sent condolences to Ozgecan’s family. Given the skyrocketing number of killings of women in the last ten years, and given the gendered and masculinist policies of the Ministry of Family and Social Policy, it wouldn’t be wrong to argue that the Ministry of Family and Social Policy in Turkey has already turned into the “Ministry of Slain Women.” Meanwhile, right-wing and ultra-conservative journalists, politicians, sociologists, and “experts” have already started to give their sexist and misogynist insights into the issue. Some called for women-only “pink buses” as a solution, arguing that spatial segregation along gendered lines would bring an end to sexual harassment. (They must have forgotten that Ozgecan’s rapist was not a passenger but the driver.) Some blamed “Western-style life” (read: women’s immodest dressing and illicit relations with men), which is believed to be responsible for rape and the killing of women. Others suggested bringing back capital punishment as a preventive measure.
The raping, stabbing, and burning of a woman is not an unthinkable event in today’s Turkey. In addition to a patriarchal judicial system that protects male perpetrators, political discourse also plays an important role in normalizing and legitimizing sexual violence. Just to give a few examples: “Her family should have looked after their daughter,” said former Istanbul Police Chief Celalettin Cerrah, blaming Munevver Karabulut’s family for her brutal murder; “Violence against women is in fact a selective perception,” said the ex-Minister of Family and Social Policies, Fatma Sahin, accusing feminists and the media of exaggerating the crimes; “Women who are impregnated by rapists shall give birth; the state would take care of the babies if necessary,” said the Minister of Health, Recep Akdag, as a response to those who criticize the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) attempts to restrict women’s access to abortion; “Teach your kids how to scream loudly,” said the Minister of Family and Social Policies, Aysenur Islam, as a solution to children’s subjection to sexual abuse.
As I was writing this piece, women in Turkey were shouting slogans and holding posters reading: “Ozgecan Aslan is our rebellion.” We are dying, we are being raped, we are being harassed. Our lives and bodies are continuously undone by male violence and its guardians: the juridical system, the state, the police, the military, and politicians. And yet we continuously struggle to redo ourselves through the care, solidarity, comradeship, love, and support of other women, feminists, dykes, fags, transgender people, and sex workers. As millions of women who took to streets today demanding accountability and justice for Ozgecan’s murder have shown, we are angry, we won’t forget, and we won’t forgive.
Ozgecan is our rebellion! May she rest in peace and power!
 For a comprehensive analysis of how hegemonic discourses of “masculinity in crisis” render illegible, misrecognize, racialize, and depoliticize the social realities in the Middle East, see Paul Amar, “Middle East Masculinity Studies: Discourses of ‘Men in Crisis,’ Industries of Gender in Revolution,” Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies 7.3 (2011): 36-70.
 For a careful comparative analysis of the state and legal structures of Muslim countries in terms of domestic violence, see Lisa Hajjar, “Religion, State Power, and Domestic Violence in Muslim Societies: A Framework for Comparative Analysis,” Law & Social Inquiry 29.1 (2004): 1-38. See also Deniz Kandiyoti, ed., Women, Islam, and the State (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1991).
 Ayse Parla, “The ‘Honor’ of the State: Virginity Examinations in Turkey,” Feminist Studies 27.1 (2001): 65-88.
 Dicle Kogacioglu, “The Tradition Effect: Framing Honor Crimes in Turkey,” differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies 15.2 (2004): 118-151.
 See Turkish Penal Code, article 29: “Unjust provocation”: “(1) If an individual undertakes a crime while in a state of anger or mental anguish induced by an unjust action, their aggravated life sentence penalty can be reduced to eighteen to twenty-four years, or their life sentence penalty can be reduced to twelve to eighteen years. In other instances, the sentence can be reduced by [an amount ranging from] one-quarter to three-quarters.”
 See Turkish Penal Code, article 62: “(1) Good behavior can lead the reduction of a life sentence to twenty-five years. It must be reduced to one-fifth of other crimes. 2) The past of, previous social relations of, and actions of the culprit after arrest will be recognized when evaluating sentence reduction.”
 Kara S. Suffredini, “Pride and Prejudice: The Homosexual Panic Defense,” Boston College Third World Law Journal 21.2 (2001); Cynthia Lee, “The Gay Panic Defense,” U.C. Davis Law Review (2008).