Friday, 20 July 2007

gender violence

It was only a couple of days ago, when I was writing the post on gender archaeology and feminist archaeology and was looking for this post to link to, to testify to the everyday gender violence that women and the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community are subject to in Turkey, that I realised I'd never put it up in the first place.

I already have posts documenting violence against women in Turkey and gross exploitation of immigrant communities in Cyprus, the most vulnerable and violated members of which are women, who are trafficked and trapped as sex workers or as domestic servants. I'm not claiming that these places are exceptionally unpleasant or dangerous for women; indeed, I fear that these are unexceptional. I'm still on my way round to explaining how gender archaeologies and feminist archaeologies contribute to ending this violence.

This is a fieldwork note, from which I've cut off the end, which is irrelevant here, but which will be included when I put it up as a fieldwork note extract on human rights archaeology; it begins with the main reason I hadn't put it up, but I think I may also have been concerned what impression it gave of me, as I just couldn't find any other words to express it with.

I originally tried to write about it immediately after the incident on the morning of the 2nd of June 2007:
The morning it happened I tried to write about it but couldn't; although I had been drinking and was tired, it was because I was simply too furious to write, even to talk to friends who contacted me while I was trying to write. I moved out of my flat later that day and have been on the train from Istanbul to Tatvan and the dolmuş from Tatvan to Van for the past two days, reading J. Douglas Porteous and Sandra E. Smith's (2001) domicide: the global destruction of home (London: McGill-Queen's University Press); I'm still infuriated.

I took the wine I had left in the flat, met a friend and went to a party on a rooftop in Tünel. It was a lovely evening with beautiful views over the city as we worked our way through bottles of Dikmen and Angora; towards the end, my friend had a little beer and I tried my cheap red [that I'd left until after the good stuff was finished]. Early in the morning, we decided to leave and began the walk to Taksim, the remains of the wine in my hand; I was on my friend's right and I assume that's why I saw it first.

On the left side of the street, near the turning for my flat - and the police station - I saw a man with his arm raised. When I looked at his fist, I realised one end of his belt was wrapped around it, the other swung back; following his arc, I saw someone on the ground, trying to shield their already-bloody face with their left arm as they leaned on their right. He was beating, whipping someone, with his belt.

I went over, now glad that I had the bottle on me, but great minds think alike and one of the victim's friends saw it, took it off me and smashed the end on the ground. At the same time, the victim found their pepper spray and managed to disable their assailant; although I and I think my friend were slightly affected by the pepper spray, I began to run to get the police, but just a few seconds up the road my friend rang me to tell me the police were (already) there.

I found my friend and walked her to a taxi, delivering an expletive-ridden, spittle-flecked rant on the way, then walked home. Just before I got home, however, I changed my mind and went round the corner to the police station.
I walked up to the desk inside the entrance and told them that 'someone attacked someone [else], someone wounded someone [else] on İstiklâl [Caddesi], but that the police, you didn't do anything'.
They told me that 'we weren't there'.
I accepted that 'you weren't there, but your friends were there, but they didn't do anything, anything at all'.
They said that 'they hadn't been able to do anything'. They asked me, 'how much did you drink?'
I replied, 'I drank a bottle of wine'.
They told me, 'you're drunk' and I told them, 'I'm not drunk, fuck you... You did nothing... Sorry, your friends did nothing.'
They were utterly unimpressed with my mastery of colloquial Turkish and the youngest of them tried to calm things down by taking me outside to talk to me alone, but I just made the Greek and Cypriot hand gesture for casting demons or shit [I'm still not sure which] at them and stormed off.

From our arrival to the assailant's disablement, it had been less than thirty seconds, maybe less than fifteen. While I cannot be absolutely certain - I didn't see the police behind us and was too caught up in the incident to have thought to look for them then - as far as I can see, even if the police were not "at" the scene of the crime, they must have been nearby, able to see and hear it; but they did not intervene (until after the incident).

I chose to refer to the victim in gender-neutral terms because they were either a transvestite or a transsexual and I did not and do not know which terms they would have preferred me to use. The (transgendered?) identity of the victim may have been one of the reasons the police did not intervene; indeed, when I was searching for definitions of gender violence and sexual violence (Google: "gender * violence" transvestite transsexual), the first hit was for a UN(?) report that referred to mistreatment of transvestites and transsexuals in Istanbul.

[It's been displaced in the search listings, but I was referring to Peter Gordon and Kate Crehan's (2005) paper for the United Nations Development Programme on "dying of sadness: gender, sexual violence and the HIV epidemic", which noted that 'the winner of a human rights award has sued police for assault drawing attention to the systematic harassment of Istanbul’s transvestite and transexual community'.]

Then again, the previous two incidents I recorded here were both of acts of violence against women, one of which the police failed to intervene in (until afterwards), one of which the police committed; perhaps from wherever they were, the police could not identify the victim as a transvestite or transsexual as opposed to a woman and their action, or inaction, was not a sign of their attitude towards the LGBT community specifically, but more generally towards both the LGBT community and the community of women.

What struck me most about this incident was not, sadly, police inaction; despite the impression my rant at my friend and the encounter at the police station might give, I expected that. It was that, had the transvestite/transsexual not taken my bottle from me, I would have used it.

I said before that, 'at the first moment I didn't know what to say or do, though I don't think I can defend my inaction on either and wouldn't try to'. When I saw the police hitting a woman, I just watched; when I saw a drunk kicking a woman, I didn't begin to act until after his foot had hit her face, whereupon he left. 'I only hope that, next week, when I see this happen again, I say or do something.'

I didn't know him/her at all. I wasn't angry or frustrated or in any way in the mood for a confrontation. I saw a violent act and was moved to one myself. I saw the belt-whipping and I wanted to bottle the attacker. (My action, had I been able to perform it, would have been justified to stop the attacker's violence and defend the victim, but it would still have been very violent.)

I was furious and disgusted. It wasn't a stupid, empty fight between drunks. He had assaulted and immobilised his victim and had had the presence of mind to unbuckle and undo his belt, to wrap one end round his hand, as all the while they bled prone on the ground, then to start whipping them with his belt. His actions were so cruel, vile and inhumane. I wanted to stop him; I wanted to hurt him.

In the moment between moving to act and having the bottle taken away from me (and many times over after the event), I saw in my mind what I expected to happen. I would walk over, turning the neck of the bottle in my hand so it was held like a club. I would give him a last chance, shouting at him to stop, but, if or when he ignored me, I would strike him over the head with the bottle, if needs be striking him again on the nose or the side of the knee, preventing him from continuing his attack, so that we could see what state his victim was in and help him/her get away to receive medical treatment.

As I said, I didn't know him/her at all. I cannot begin to imagine how I would have felt had I known him/her, if it had been a friend or relative. Nevertheless, that's precisely the situation that so many people are put in every day of their lives. They see their friends and families and community exploited, humiliated, abused, even raped and murdered; they may experience it themselves. I would still object to unjust counter-actions to these inhumane practices, however, I can understand where the deep well of anger that drives even unjust counter-actions springs from.

1 comment:

  1. What a sad story -- thank you for sharing it. I'm appalled at the level of hate and violence against women (in general) and the LGBT community. Exhausted with the outrage of it all, really.