“State consent” in sexual abuse of children

According to the figures provided by TÜİK (State Statistics Institution), the number of children who have been exposed to sexual abuse has arisen from 562 in 2009 to 11.095 in 2014. Since April this year, sexual abuse of children has become a current issue following the unveiling of a scandal in Karaman, where a primary school teacher abused 10 male students who were staying in dormitories affiliated with the Ensar Foundation and KAİMDER (Alumni Association of Karaman Religious Vocational School). Ensar was founded in 1979, with the intention “to serve for the raising of generations devoted to humanitarian values”. Today, it is registered as a public benefit organization, is active nationwide and in possession of an enormous capital, providing mainly education facilities and shelter for particularly poor children all around Turkey.

The immediate response from the government was to focus on the principle of individual criminal responsibility and to highlight the good services of the Foundation to prevent its loss of public reputation. An AKP MP argued that there is no need to accuse such a successful organization and “they will continue to support Ensar out-of-spite”. The Minister for Family and Social Policy said that a one-time incident was not enough to blemish the Foundation. However, just after the scandal in Karaman broke out, news about two provincial headmen of other Ensar branches were arrested on the same grounds. A daily newspaper published an interactive map showing the links/relations of the executive members of Ensar to the government and to the leading persons and institutions in Turkish business and politics, which was immediately banned from access. Despite public reaction, the government continued to back up the Foundation and eventually, the perpetrator was sentenced to more than 500 years imprisonment right at the first hearing of the case- an unusual speed and determination at Turkish courts.

Although the Ensar case revealed the situation in officially non-recognized dormitories affiliated with religious foundations, there have been many other cases brought into light recently, where students –boys and girls- have been exposed to sexual abuse, even violence by their teachers and principals in state schools, particularly boarding schools. The latest case was disclosed with the personal effort of a female teacher in Izmir: A retired school principal was arrested and brought to justice for having sexually abused 6 of his students, aged 6-11, two years ago. The court wants 102 years imprisonment for him. According to compilations of recent cases, after teachers and principals, the perpetrators of child sexual abuse crimes in schools are deputy principals, canteen keepers and school bus drivers.

Although the jail term demanded for those perpetrators is considerably high, it is difficult to say that those sentences provide a disincentive for potential perpetrators, because the real problem has an institutional and broader legal basis: While educational institutions and affiliated shelters are being given authorization, no single measure is taken for the sake of child abuse prevention. Neither do official inspections in those institutions exist.

This being said, it must also be noted that the state policy towards sexual abuse of children is far away from having a vision to protect the victim, in general. In a latest recommendation report by the Parliamentary Commission for Investigating Divorces and Strengthening the Family Institution, which was  accepted in the Parliament in May, it has been stated that although sexual abuse of children is a crime, the act itself may be based on “consent”. In case that the perpetrator marries the child he has raped, and stays in a “trouble-free” and “successful” marriage with her, he may make use of “probation”. The report also provided that the perpetrator himself is under 15 years, the abuse stops being defined a crime, which according to legal experts and social workers is actually paves the way for “de facto” child marriages.