“Violence Stories from Turkey” is a project by Intercultural Research Association that aims to archive and document the phenomenon of violence in Turkey; to prevent events of violence and their victims from “becoming ordinary” and “turning into statistics”; to investigate the conditions of violence in order to make future projections; and to bring together NGOs, civil society, and advocates for the defense of victims’ rights. The project publishes photographs and interviews with victims or witnesses in a simple and flexible format that allows the interviewees to express themselves.
Source: Doğu Eroğlu, “Trans bireysen şikayetçi olmak gereksizmiş, öğrendim,” (“If you are a trans individual, I learned that it is useless for you to complain,”) Türkiye’den Şiddet Hikayeleri, 12 December 2012, http://www.siddethikayeleri.com/trans-bireysen-sikayetci-olmak-gereksizmis-ogrendim/
Trans sex worker Görkem went to the police repeatedly concerning the violence she is subjected to while she is working. Each time, she was either forced to make peace with the people she was filing complaints against because of their threats or her complaints were not even taken into consideration. Görkem talked to “Violence Stories From Turkey” about the insensitivities of the police and the judicial institutions as well as the unsafe environment that sex workers live in.
I am a sex worker because I have to work. I work especially on side streets. I do not really think I am worth this little but I have to do it. I am subjected to violence when I am working as a sex worker. This past July, I got into a car and made a deal. We went to his place. He did not pay the price I wanted, we argued. I slammed the door and got out. Because my outfit was revealing, two drunk people who were passing by said: “Come, stay with us.” I sensed they were going to do something nasty. Whether I stayed or not, something bad was going to happen to me. So I sprayed their eyes and got into a cab immediately. I had also been drinking during that time. Somehow the cab turned round and round and took me back to the people I was running away from.
So the people you were running away from were there when the taxi stopped…
I had argued with these people at Köroğlu Street. I got out of the taxi at Mamak but the same people were standing in front of me. With the influence of alcohol, I could not comprehend what was happening. The only thing that I can remember is the people I had argued with taking me out of the car. They attacked me immediately. They wounded me on the face, arm and leg with a knife. I got away from them and took shelter in a building. I hid in the dirt and filth until the morning without making any sound. I was bleeding but I could not even think about it, I was just praying that they to not find me. I waited and waited, when I was convinced that they were gone, I came out.
Did you call the police while you were hiding?
No, how could I? I was hiding in a secluded place between the buildings and they were walking around looking for me. If they heard me talking on the phone they would seize me and attack me again and most likely they would have killed me. I got out of my hiding place when it was brightening around 5 or 6 am. I made it to an avenue on foot. At that point a police car stopped near me, they said: “Ma’am, let us give you a lift.” And I said: “Please, take me to the nearest hospital.” They told me they cannot take me and I understood why later. Apparently I was covered in blood all over. A car passing by gave me a lift to the nearest cab station. The taxi driver also did not want to take me. I got angry, I said: “Isn’t it with money?” He is also right, he probably thought that “blood will flow and the car will be a mess,” it is natural. I got home by taxi, we went to the Numune Hospital with my friend. If I were alone they probably would not pay any attention to me but because I was with a friend, they did. They cleaned my wounds, stitched them up, and stapled the open cuts.
What did you go through during treatment?
When I first got there they did the emergency intervention at once. However, because of the new arrangement that took place last year, my green card was deemed void. They would not do anything without a deposit. My head was throbbing with pain but they kept telling me “you have to make a deposit.” The new general health insurance system took effect in January but apparently because I applied for it in August, I had to pay the accumulated amount of 400 TL (220 USD) for those 8 months. We did not know about this in the first place. We thought paying 35 TL (19 USD) would be enough. It turns out that we had to pay our past debts as well. So we somehow found the 400 TL from here and there, the treatment started after that. We went to the Ministry of Finance and insurance office for days.
So after the first intervention, you could not get any other treatment until you paid your insurance debts. What did you do during that time?
I waited for a month and I went from one official department to the other in my wounded state. Just one chief physician took the responsibility and treated me temporarily. My treatment continued after I paid all my debts. I was not able to sleep from the pain, I was banging my head against the wall.
Did the attack you experienced leave a permanent physical damage?
I am able to use my arms and legs, but I have aches from time to time in my daily life. There is also a general weakness. During treatment, the wounds on my face got inflamed a couple of times. Currently I do not have pain in my face but leakage happens. Apart from that, there is no sensation in some parts of my face. Doctors did not say anything either. It does not move at all, kind of like a part of my face does not exist.
Did you encounter any discrimination during your treatment?
Being a transsexual creates a difference of course. Most of the doctors treat you differently than the normal patients. Some of them do not see it as a problem but some of them do not even want to touch you. Because I earn money as a sex worker, I have to accept certain things that happen to me. I go there because of the violence I experience on the streets, on top of it I get discriminated against by health workers. Doctors should begin their careers by knowing that they have to serve the entire community; if they are going to be discriminative, they should not be doctors in the first place. Of course, people you are not accustomed to, people you find different, will come to you as well. However, it is required that you not be wanton. I forgot about my own problems in the hospital and was upset about the other people who were not taken seriously by doctors. An elderly woman was saying “I have to be hospitalized!” but the doctors did not deem it necessary; instead of explaining that to her they were laughing. This is more than discrimination against trans individuals, it is a common problem among low-income citizens. Doctors deal with you more or less but if you had more money you would get better service.
Let’s go back to the violent event you talked about earlier. It was clear the event was a bashing. Did you get a battery report? Did you file a complaint?
When you show up in a state like that, the police immediately come and ask about it. They asked me “Did you see the attackers? Are you going to file a complaint?” Who was I going to file a complaint against? I did not know the men. I should have filed a complaint, I learned about it later. Because if I had, the case might have reached a conclusion. I went to the same place after leaving the hospital and looked for those men. If there had been a camera or something, maybe I could have found them. I looked everywhere in Mamak but could not find them. Of course getting over that shock was very difficult for me. That was not the first, I have been through a lot of things but it affects you anyway. You do not care about it that much when you are young but after a certain age these violent events make a lasting scar on you. I was attacked because I answered negatively to sexual demands from men. Of course there is also domestic violence like “you are a disgrace to our family, you are this you are that.” My brother did not hug me again after I became transsexual. He rejected me and he still does. That is also violence, he does not need to beat me up.
Do you keep in touch with the rest of your family?
Both my mother and my father passed away. I am not in touch with my brother. I do see my other siblings, my nieces and nephews though. My brother asked my sister once “Everybody has a brother. Why is mine like this?” Everybody has a brother but I am not a brother. What can I do? I see my sisters. They are more understanding but men are harsher.
You have stated that this was not the first violent incident you have experienced. Have you filed complaints on the previous ones?
Let me tell you about an incident I went through last year. I went out to the street with my friend to work. I saw my friends coming. I did not realize that they were arguing with the people next to them. 6-7 people, they were going to the military service or something and my girlfriends were arguing with them. When they got closer I found myself on the ground without realizing what was happening to me. I saw them running away but I was beaten up in that chaos while on the ground. I got up and crossed the street. I fell into a stupor there. When I was able to breathe and gather myself, two of my friends took me home. I lay in bed for two days but got worse; I was not able to get up, so much so that I was not even able to go to the toilet. My back was aching. I had the green card back then, I called an ambulance and went to hospital by myself without a companion. While I was in the ambulance health officers were snickering. They said, “Open your right side” then they laugh. They said, “Do that” then they grin. After all, there is a transvestite in front of them. I am in pain but they are laughing as if there is a play being staged. Because I did not have a friend by my side I could not say anything, could not argue; after all I was dependent on them. It turned out my ribs were broken. However, I did not file a complaint on that incident either. Once again I was not able to see the attackers as I took a beating in a flash.
Have you ever appealed to court following any of the incidents you have been through?
In the event of an attack, if we are able to recognize the attacker, we go to the police station anyway. But they make us reconcile in the station. When I was working in Etlik in 1995, I went out with a friend around 18.30. A car with 4 people stopped in front of me and they forced me into the car. We are driving and I was between two people in the back seat. I was thinking, “How can I get out of this situation?” and they were saying, “Let’s take this one away and kill it.” (TN: The Turkish language does not have gender pronouns, which makes it difficult to understand if the attackers thought of Görkem as “he” or “she.” In this context, they use the word “bunu” which translates into “it” and “this one.”) When I heard these words I reached for the knife in my bag but they grabbed it from me. Now I had the knife snatched and I got punched. When I figured that I had nothing else to do, I pulled the emergency break. Then the car flipped over. I got out and hid in a repair-shop there. I told the people there, “They are kidnapping me, call the police at once.” The man in the shop said: “It is none of my business” before I could say, “What kind of a person are you?” The men from the car came after me so I locked myself in a bathroom. There were no mobile phones then so I could not call anyone. I had to get out at last. While they were trying to get me out of the shop by dragging me by the hair, I kicked one of the shop windows and broke it. I snatched a piece of glass from there and crossed the street. I was trying to save my life. I thought, “Since I am going to get killed in their hands anyway, I may just as well stand here.” So I sat cross-legged in the middle of the street. I saw that they were still coming after me. I was covered in blood all over. My arm was cut from the window, later I got 12 stitches. I saw that there was no escape for me and that least I could kill myself so I cut my throat with the piece of glass. Then I threw myself in a cab passing by. The last thing I remember is arriving at the hotel, I passed out there because of blood loss. They took me to hospital and I got treatment. The next they I went to the Anafartalar Police Station and filed a complaint. We found the people who kidnapped me. As it turns out they were jerks from İsmetpaşa neighborhood. Following my identification of the men the harassment in the station began. The police threatened me and said, “Withdraw your complaint, this business will take a long time, you will be the one who is sorry.” I knew that if those people asked for it, the police would give my address to them and they would come harass me. Besides I had to work the next day and I did not want them to bother me. This or that way, we dropped our case. One of the boys was called Vedat and the other’s Tahir. I could never forget that.
So the police not only ignore the violence you are subjected to but also try to keep you from bringing the incidents to the judiciary.
They thought, “These are the boys of our neighborhood” so they put pressure and saved the boys. We stayed there till the morning for nothing. My friend had intercourse with some of the policeman in order to get our job done. But nothing came out of it. It’s like we just lay and crawled there.
You learned in 1995 that filing a complaint was useless.
I know it is useless. I will go there and just lose my sleep and I will not get any results. That is what happens all the time. We did not have an association or anything in the past. Now it is different. Before, we would try to defend our rights by screaming and shouting. Now there is association, there are lawyers. Our lawyer says, “If something happens to you, try to recognize the place and the people. Take note of the license plate if they get you into a car, try to recognize the places you are passing through when you are kidnapped.” After all, you need a certain amount of evidence in order to file a complaint. There was no one counseling us before, we did not know how to seek justice. Now I do. If I knew all this in 1995, I would have taken them to trial, I would have made sure the attackers were put behind bars because I had found them and identified them but the station prevented me. They said: “Let’s make peace between you, this will take too long and will cause you trouble otherwise, you work on the streets something bad might happen to you.” You have your life after all and you get scared. If I knew that I know now back then, I would have been more fearless, and I would do anything to make sure they got their punishment.
You say you are much more informed about your rights now. Are the judicial processes getting better and how do lawsuits you file conclude?
After the gang incidents took place in Eryaman, we organized many protests and filed lawsuits. What did we gain? Nothing really. We made our voices heard, people we filed complaints against did one year each and then got out. Those people tormented us a great deal but we are still running into them on the streets. We made our voices heard but we did not gain anything significant. The state was on their side once again.