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Amy

Sexual Harrassment

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Sorry, I'm not sure where to put this... but I was wondering if we could have a discussion about how to deal with harrassment on the streets of Turkey.

I found it quite a minor thing during my last 3-month visit, but the few times I experienced it were scary and I wish I'd known how to deal with it. I put it down to the way I look and dress, because I have also experienced harrassment in the UK, too, but in the UK it's a lot easier for me to defend myself. I don't freeze up when someone touches me on the streets here, I hit them. But in Turkey, somehow, it seems different, and I can't seem to get the words out.

I'm used to walking around Istanbul and being stared at and whistled at, people yelling "fistik" or actually saying to me "I want to f*ck you" or "are you a virgin". This is all innocuous to me. I was 17 last time, and I'm 21 now, and I've developed a hard attitude towards it, as long as it's all non-physical. But I never know how to react when touching starts.

Two main incidents come to mind. They may both sound harmless. But they both made me feel threatened and tense, and made me freeze up and say nothing. Both happened on public transport.

1) I was on the bus in Istanbul, going from Taksim to Besiktas. I wasn't on my own, I had a male friend there with me. You know how the buses are jam-packed at the best of times, anyway, I was stood up, facing the window, holding onto one of the supports overhead. I felt someone's hand on hip, but ignored it, figuring they didn't realise they were touching me. Then their hand moved furthur down, and stayed there. The guy was kind of pressing himself into me. I tried to lean forwards slightly but there wasn't anywhere to move to. I also kept wanting to turn around and slap him off me but it just wasn't happening, the words weren't coming out. I don't even remember how it ended, but I think he got off at a stop before me, and the whole time I said nothing.

2) This one happened on the bus in Antalya. I wasn't alone this time, either, but the person I was with had gone furthur up the bus to talk to someone, iirc. Anyway, I was sitting alone, and I noticed a group of five men standing closeby talking, and a couple of them looking at me. I blew it off, whatever, I'm used to people staring at me here. But soon, they had moved closer, until all five were stood around me in a circle. It was literally like they'd trapped me, and I don't know why I didn't just stand up and push my way through them. But they were all staring down at me, and I remember being so freaked out, I couldn't even look up. I just stared at the ground until my stop came, and again, I don't remember how it ended then, either.

This is so frustrating to me. I know how to say f*ck off, don't touch me, in Turkish, although I've never said it before. I say these things in English, in the UK, but something about being in Turkey seems to put me on lockdown and I don't hit out at anyone messing with me.

What do you think people in this situation should do? I guess I need a bit of reassurance that I'm not pathetic for having this happened. It's very upsetting to just write it down even though it was a while ago, and I'm really hoping I can deal with this situation, should it arise again, this summer when I go back to Istanbul.

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Sorry to read of your experiences it's not nice and you aren't being pathetic. I think it's natural to freeze and just pretend it's not happening. I don't know how you dress so don't know if that may be part of the problem. If you are on a bus/train try and sit with, or stand by another woman. If you can't do either and some man starts touching you say cok ayip very loudly or even start talking loudly in what ever language you speak just to draw attention to yourself and move away if you can. Of course the man will say he isn't touching you but he will move away from you, which is what you want to happen. It's probably best not to strike out as you don't know what could happen next. If you are on the street it's best to duck into a shop or ask an older woman if you can walk along the street with her until the person goes away.

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I agree with what Abi has said and whatever you do don't swear, that will make you seem a lower type of person, use the "çok ayıp" loudly as Abi says.

Also, I know it goes against the grain of a UK brought up person but if you are in a city I would recommend wearing more conservative clothes than you would wear in the UK or at a seaside resort, that is, not very short skirts and strappy, revealing tops. Remember and respect the culture of a lot of people in the country, as in most areas of the country women cover a lot of their body and often head and if you are revealing too much then you may get unwanted attention.

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Sunny made a good point about not swearing however tempting it is. Also I forgot to mention about making eye contact. Whilst it's normal for us to look at people especially when walking along the street, it's not a good idea to make eye contact for longer than a second or smile at a man unless you know them. Some men it take it as a sign that you may be available for other things.

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Last Sunday I was on a bus with Mrs Fil going through Antalya. We were standing. A young man who had been standing in the middle of the aisle near the front moved to stand just in front of us, with his coat over his arm, next to a young woman in her early twenties. Suddenly Mrs Fil slapped him twice on the arm and pushed him away. She shouted what are you doing get your hands away from her (in Turkish). She then told the driver to stop the bus and get the young man off the bus. The bus stopped and the young man got off without saying a word. He had been touching the young woman’s bottom using his coat as cover. The young woman did not move a muscle and remained silent throughout the incident. She said nothing at all to mrs fil, not a word of thanks or anything.

Four years ago in the morning on our way to work on a crowded dolmuş a young man (standing) was rubbing his groin against a young woman (sitting). She sat motionless and silent. Again mrs Fil ordered him to stop and made him get off. Again the young woman said nothing.

In both these cases the passivity of the young woman was very surprising for us. They seemed to be in denial. I think it is important for people to recognise that this sort of behaviour is happening, probably on a regular basis. It is not acceptable in Turkish society. Responses to this behaviour need to be talked about and a suitable response discussed. We have talked it through with our daughters.

Mrs Fil’s advice if this happens on the bus is:

[*]Make it stop immediately. React quickly and move away in a determined and forthright manner.

[*]Let other people on the bus know what has happened. Identify the perpetrator and in a loud voice point to him and say what he did. Definitely do not swear.

[*]Go to the driver, tell him and gesture that you want the perpetrator off the bus. They know this happens and should respond appropriately.

I suggest speaking English because you will be able to express yourself most effectively and strongly in your first language. Spluttering out something in Turkish may not have the desired effect. In any case, if the driver doesn’t want to understand, someone on the bus should be able to explain what you are saying.

The aim of the woman in all this should be firstly to protect herself and stop the assault, and secondly to find a response that may discourage the perpetrator from doing it again.

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Many women who are sexually harassed or abused appear passive when in fact it is dissociation which is the the sense that one is separate from one’s body or feelings, so that threatening and distressing events are not experienced directly, Shame is also attached to what is happening and the fear that other people we see the victim as being complicit in what has happened. This fear is real as many times victims are re-victimised by family and the community as they believe that the victim causes or allows the assault or abuse to take place.

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I agree Aston -- I think the victim feels shame, and fear that she may be considered to have enjoyed such attention. Amy, I agree with the others above -- speak loudly & point to the offender without actually swearing. He will either back off quick smart, or else other passengers around will do something to him on your behalf. Some suggestions may be to wear a ring that looks like a wedding ring, and talk (or pretend to) on the phone so that the men will know whatever they say may be heard (?).

Mrs Fil is to be commended for her actions in defending those women in public, albeit with no thanks or acknowledgement. I'm glad bus drivers have the gumption to put assailants off the bus when a compaint is made. Women should be encouraged to speak up more, although I'm afraid societal values at present seem to be a disincentive.

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This is a great string, is there any way it can be pinned so it doesn't eventually fall to the bottom and disappear?? As the father of a 10-year-old daughter, i worry (like any good father should) about her future, especially being here in Turkey, when we live in a world where most people are content to look the other way and say nothing when this kind of assault happens (yes, it's assault). BRAVO to those who have been brave enough to speak up when the victim was too afraid!

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Thanks for the responses, guys. It's so great of you guys to help out. I'm wondering why more people don't seem to.

The way I dress doesn't seem to make a difference, the second time yes, I was wearing a dress because I'd come from the beach (in Antalya), but the first time I was wearing jeans and a hoodie with long sleeves.

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Perhaps you just too beautiful? :)

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I wanted to write this last night but found it difficult. It happened to me several times in the metro in Paris and every time it was the same thing, I was frozen and unable to do what I knew theoretically. I knew that what I should do was to say something loudly and make the other passengers look up from their newspapers, but would they? And every time I was tetanised and incapable of just saying "Stop doing that". Was it the fear of being the centre of attention? Of making a fuss in public, which is not my thing and goes against the way I was brought up in the UK? I don't know but I couldn't do it and then felt ashamed and guilty about why I couldn't.

Some time later I was in a bus in Rome with a female friend. We were just chatting normally standing in the packed bus, when suddenly she span round and said something very loudly to the man behind her, an ordinary suit and tied guy with a briefcase, who rang the bell and hurriedly got off the bus. All the bus had gone silent and everybody was studiedly looking out of the windows. My friend told me that the man was a frotteur (like my experience in Paris) and that she had told him that his mother would be ashamed of him. I felt ashamed that I had been incapable of doing what she had done and angry that every other person on the bus was pretending this was not happening.

Amy, both times I was wearing jeans, trainers and a shapeless sweater - nothing that would turn any normal man on. My friend in Rome had been living there long enough to know that Rome is a highly conservative city and that no nice girl would show shoulders, bare arms or knees and she was dressed very conservatively. So don't necesarily think you are bringing it on yourself by the way you dress.

The optimistic thing about Turkey is that people don't tend to step over your dead body when they are late for work, they do stop.

I never experienced sexual harrassment first hand in Turkey but in my town if a young lad doesn't get up quickly enough out of his seat to stand up for an older woman, the whole bus rounds on the lad and makes a huge fuss. Luckily Turkish people do care about what is happening to the person next to them, whoever it is, and a group of furious teyzes is a force to be reckoned with.

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When I lived Qatar I was shopping early in the morning in the bazaar with a woman friend who was seven months pregnant. There was a crowd of people around one of the stalls so being nosey we went to have a look at why they were so busy. I was craning to see what was going on when my friend grabbed my hand and said the man next to her was rubbing himself against her. I learnt later he also touched her with his hands.

She looked terrified and was starting to cry. I swung my shopping bag and hit him hard and shouted get your hands off her. The people in the bazaar turned on the man and started hitting him as he escaped from the bazaar. A lady from one of the stalls took over, sat my friend down and sent for tea and water and spoke soothingly to my friend, The first thing my friend said to me when she had calmed down was " Don't tell my husband" In the taxi on the way home she said she felt dirty and again asked me not to tell her husband. I never did and I believe she never told him.

Then only a couple of years ago my neighbour was walking her dog in the day time when a man accosted her and made obscene gestures. She came to my house in a dreadful state. I wanted to call the police and her husband who was at work and she said no and made me promise not to tell anyone especially her husband.

I know my neighbour has never told her husband.

Both of these women were in long term relationships my neighbour married for twenty five years , yet neither woman wanted the person closest to them to know, that they had been assaulted.

A poll carried out by the website Mumsnet in 2012, found that 83% of women who had been raped or sexually assaulted, failed to report it to police, and 29 per cent did not even tell friends or family what had happened. More than half said they would be too embarrassed or ashamed of the incident to admit it

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The Rome/Paris post made me think that SOME of it may be pickpockets? Getting that close may not be a sexual thing, but just a way to distract and then take your belongings. Especially if they know the vicitm tends to freeze. And, if you are clearly a foreigner -- be it sweatshirt OR dress -- they may think you have a lot of cash on you. So I'd make sure that at least you are keeping your money where it's difficult for them to gain access.

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Pickpockets are definitely a big problem in many countries (17.954 cases reported in the Paris metro in the first half of 2011).

Only 461 sexual offences, including "frotteurs" reported in the Prais metro in 2010, but the Paris police take it seriously and arrests are increasing. DEAD LINK

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I also posted about this on italki (language learning site) without actually going into specifics, just saying men touch me too much in istanbul and it upsets me.

And some guy replied saying I'm exagerrating the situation and he's offended... well, I don't think he was there! He also said "Istanbul is a modern city, no one can touch you without your permission", I think he might need a wake up call. Of course HE says that, he is a guy, statistically he will get less of this kind of attention.

What is it with people trying to tell me what did or didn't happen? o_o

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He's a smart a*se, Amy, that's what! It's not just you, what about all the similar stories by the others above? He's totally ignoring them & dismissing it all.

The stories above made me recall a time it happened to me too -- I was only about 15 and dressed in school uniform, going home on the bus. A guy sat next to me & started to slide his arm down around my waist. It felt really slimy. He was an older guy from our school. I absolutely froze, then got up & pushed past him & sat down elsewhere. I never told anyone & put it out of my mind all these long years.

No-one can tell you what did or didn't happen! Posted Image

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I was in Korfu many moons ago and I did parasailing. The guy who strapped me into the harness had exposed himself to me! Posted Image

Look at all the media attention recently with India. Hopefully, things will change. In the mean time (and always, really), it's best not to be alone when traveling. Look at what happened to the woman from NYC in Istanbul...

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This is something that absolutely infuriates me in Turkey. While people in the street are more than willing to interfere in almost every facet of a stranger's life, when it comes to physical, verbal or sexual harassment they are very happy to take on the role of silent observer.

While walking in the centre of Ankara last summer, at a very crowded intersection early in the evening, i noticed a man repeatedly pushing and shouting at (what I assume was) his girlfriend or wife as she was trying to walk away from him. They then stopped at a corner (where at least 30 people were waiting to cross) and began pushing her forcefully against an iron fence (slamming her head and shoulders against the bars) and yelling at her to go home. I waited a few seconds, thinking surely one of the men in the crowd would step in but it became obvious that all were happy to stand and watch. I walked over, yelled at him to leave her alone and put myself between them. He responded that "It's nothing" while the woman crouched down and cried. NOT ONE OTHER PERSON came to her assistance. Eventually, after a police car drove by, he walked away, swearing at me. I asked the woman if she wanted help, but she seemed embarrassed and said she was going to her sisters house and ran off.

I tell this story not to portray my actions as heroic or whatever (in fact, I should have interfered earlier) but to point out that while so many people on the street are willing to comment on the way you dress, or how you look, or any number of ridiculous things, as soon as it comes to protecting their mothers, daughters and sisters they fall silent. it's an attitude that screams "she probably did something to deserve it", an attitude that I saw while teaching English - when discussing the topic of violence against women with my students, one of them (who is employed as an "expert" at one of the State Ministries, highly educated and holds a position of some power) replied "Yeah, but they do talk alot.". This is what we are dealing with here - in the street, women should expect sexual harassment because, hey, what are they doing out there in the first place? And in the house they should expect it because they talk too much, they wanted to leave me, they spoke to a man outside the house. It is the status quo, and until there is a change in general societal attitude, unfortunately it will continue.

Apologies if my rant got slightly off track, but I'm quite fired up about this stuff!

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I suppose a man wouldn't interfere as it's a sort of taboo to have anything to do with someone else's woman, but it would have been nice if some of the women had tried to help her. There really needs to be education about this attitude of it being the woman's fault for one reason or another.

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On 05.03.2013 at 5:25 PM, 'sunny said:

I suppose a man wouldn't interfere as it's a sort of taboo to have anything to do with someone else's woman, but it would have been nice if some of the women had tried to help her. There really needs to be education about this attitude of it being the woman's fault for one reason or another.

I've noticed this too -- an attitude that "no-one has the right to intervene in what's between a husband & wife" -- and that includes violence! On the street one cannot know if they are a couple, so the men feel they shouldn't interfere. I agree the women should try to do something though ! Posted Image

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