'Femicide does not recognize viruses': violence against women increases in Turkey during the COVID-19 pandemic
Demirkol, Esra. 2021. ‘Femicide does not recognize viruses’: violence against women increases in Turkey during the COVID-19 pandemic. MoLab Inventory of Mobilities and Socioeconomic Changes. Department ‘Anthropology of Economic Experimentation’. Halle/Saale: Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology.
Download via DOI: https://doi.org/10.48509/molab.7362
According to several studies, lockdowns have caused an increase in violence against women in Turkey, and other countries worldwide. Starting on 14 April 2020, Turkey released almost a hundred thousand prisoners to serve their sentences at home, in order to limit the spread of the virus. This helped contribute to an increase in violence against women. “The number of domestic violence complaints has spiked in the 20 days following a bill that allowed the release of some 90,000 arrestees and convicts from prisons as part of the measures adopted against the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic,” according to one report. Releasing these prisoners, some of whom were convicted of violence against women, and sending them back to their homes put their wives and/or children’s lives in danger even more than the virus, because they were locked down. Furthermore, women were not informed of the releases. Within 20 days since the release, 2,506 applications for protection were filed to the Ministry of Family, Labour and Social Services, including for violence against women.
The perpetrators of violence were sent back to their homes under a law passed by Parliament on 13 April 2020 to amend the law on the execution of sentences. With the new amendments, all prisoners – except for political convicts who are currently serving their sentences in open prisons – were put on leave until 31 May 2020, with a potential extension until 30 November 2020. Due to this amendment, 75% of those sentenced to a prison term for sexual assault, sexual assault against minors, and sexual harassment, as well as those who were convicted of crimes against sexual inviolability, returned to the crime scenes, that is, their homes. Even though the legislation defines it as a temporary ‘leave’, there is a risk that this could turn into an absolute release, since by the end of the seven-month release period their sentences might be over, and no penal sanction is contemplated for non-returnees. Women’s shelter foundation Mor Çatı (‘Purple Roof’) also denounces the lack of institutional resources and attention necessary to protect the women put at risk by these releases, even when they seek help from the police.
According to a survey conducted by the Centre for Socio-Political Field Research, violence against women has increased by 27.8% during the pandemic in Turkey. This increase has also been highlighted by professional chambers and NGOs in Turkey.,  According to the We Will End Femicide platform, the number of women calling the telephone support lines increased by 55% in April and 78% in May 2020 compared to the previous months. The main reasons were sexual violence in April and psychological violence in May; and husbands were the main perpetrators. A report by the Women's Federation of Associations in Turkey showed that psychological violence increased by 93%, physical violence by 80%, and the demand for shelter by 78% in March 2020, compared to the previous year. There have also been concerns about an increase in violence against children, although we do not yet have enough research on the topic.
Besides the release of convicts, another key problem is that official support mechanisms have been negatively affected by the epidemic. Around the world and in Turkey, women’s organisations report that it has become difficult to reach women’s shelters. Previous experiences elsewhere also show that violence against women increases during epidemics and natural disasters, while protective and preventive activities decrease. Furthermore, this trend of increased violence might still continue for a year after this crisis comes to an end.
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