Sexual harassment is illegal in Turkey. Those committing it, especially if they are in a position of influence over the victim, can actually be sentenced to three months in jail. Unfortunately it is one thing to pass a law, and another to change the mentality of every man in a society. The most common types of sexual harassment in Turkey are
- Making kissing noises
- Honking by men in passing cars
- Touching or groping on crowded buses or other forms of public transportation
- Insistent advances
Being friendly, making eye contact, smiling, and talking to a man may be perceived as sexual interest, since most Turkish women don't behave this way around men they don't know--in fact, they come across as being rather cold. Turkish men who are well-educated or are familiar with western cultures will likely understand that friendly communication is not a come-on, but men from villages or Eastern Turkey may not. So when addressing a Turkish man you don't know well, be formal and serious, and avoid smiling when making eye contact.
In Crowds or On Public Transportation
Crowded buses, subways, and trams are the usual places women are touched or groped. Since everyone is pushed together, it's difficult for a victim to know exactly who was doing the touching. To prevent such incidents, long-distance bus companies don't seat women next to men. On city buses, the front seats are traditionally reserved for women.
While Turkish women walk unaccompanied during the day in larger towns and cities, they seldom do so at night. When they go out, it's with friends or family. If you walk the streets alone at night the probability that you will be harassed is much higher.
Women occasionally report being followed. This can involve a man walking next to you, making advances and refusing to go away, or someone stalking you from a distance. While rape is rare in Turkey, being followed in such a way can be a very scary experience.
What To Do If You Are Harassed
Make a scene. Speak loudly. Point at the man and let others around you know what is happening. Public shaming will cause most harassers to stop and go away. Other Turks may come to your aid and deal with your harasser in their own way. The phrase to use is Çok Ayıp! (said as "choke eye yoop"), meaning "shame!" or "shame on you!" Others around will quickly understand what is going on.
If you think you are being followed, get to a safe haven, such as a restaurant, hotel, or other such venue, and let someone know you are being followed. You may also call the police, but at minimum, take a taxi home. Thankfully, for every Turkish man who engages in such behavior, there are many more who will come to your aid.
Mugging and Robbery in Turkey: A Turkey Central article which includes tips to prevent yourself from being a victim of robbery, but may also be applied to situations when a woman might be followed.
Crime, Safety, and Terrorism in Turkey Forum: If you have questions about sexual harassment in Turkey, please post them in the forum.
iHollaBack.org: An organization dedicated to ending street harassment through education, media exposure, training of government officials, and providing a place where women can write about their own experiences.