Kemal Ordek on Bianet: “I’ve been trying to prove that I was raped for 2 years and 7 court hearings”

Kemal Ordek on rape, law and activism nearly two years after being assaulted in their home. The interview with Bianet was published a day before the court ruled on the case of sexual assault. Ordek claimed that one of the assailants in the attack on their home had also raped them. On May 24, the court ruled that there was no sexual assault. All three defendants were sentenced to 7 years and 6 months in prison for attempting to plunder.

Source: Çicek Tahaoglu, “Tam 2 Senedir, 7 Duruşmadır Tecavüze Uğradığımı Kanıtlamaya Çalışıyorum,” bianet, 23 May 2017,

The final verdict will be given on the president of Red Umbrella Association, Kemal Ordek’s case, on May 24.


Kemal Ordek, a sex worker, a defender of sex workers’ rights for many years, was attacked at home by three people in 2015. One of the attackers seized Ordek’s mobile phone, also sexually abused them. Then they took Ordek to an ATM to take money from his account. Ordek saw a police patrol car at that moment, and managed to escape from the attackers.

Three days later, when we talked to Ordek, they were explaining in fear and anger how the attackers threatened him at the police station by saying, “We know where you live, we will be released anyway, think about it,” and what kind of dialogues were between police officers and attackers, “Don’t waste us for this poof, we understand each other right, my brother?”

That night, the attackers were released. They continued to disturb Ordek via phone for a while. And a nonsuit motion was granted for police officers who tried to argue Ordek out of their criminal complaint and were making Ordek wait and sit with the attackers in the same car and saying “the people of lut are still alive”.

Ordek, as an experienced human rights defender, pursued the violation that they were subject to at this time. Lawsuits were brought against three attackers, two of them were charged with robbery, threatening, and limiting a person’s freedom, the third was charged additionally with major sexual assault, and they were arrested.

Following the decision of the local court, prosecutor Turkay Turkler appealed the sexual assault verdict with the allegations of non-existence of “an evidence above suspicion, complete, certain and credible”.

On May 24 at 14.00, the trial will resume in Ankara for a summary judgment. Before the trial, we met Ordek and discussed the court’s approach to the sexual assaults, the consent issue and the vague borders of “activist Kemal and victim Kemal.”

“There wasn’t a discussion on consent, it was very important that the penalty was imposed according to the testimony”

Your lawyers described the fact that one of the attackers was punished for sexual assault as “leading case.” Could you explain the reason?

This was a leading case because it reflected the things we wanted to say as activists. In the legal struggle following the things I experienced, the concept of consent wasn’t questioned at court, and verdict was given according to the testimony. The court committee said “there is a sexual assault, it is a major sexual assault, there is a limitation on a person’s freedom, and there are crimes like threatening and insulting,” in consensus and approved a punishment that wasn’t requested, or predicted by the prosecutor.

From these points, it’s a leading case, but it ignored the robbery, which was lacking. Also, they didn’t issue an arrest warrant until the last hearing.

Your lawyers had made a presentation on the consent debate on the sexual assault cases, Do you think it had an effect on the court and the fact that it didn’t questioned the consent?

Definitely. The president of the court said “You explained very well, I haven’t seen any other presentation where the elements of a crime are defined that clear” after that presentation. The fact that a presentation was made and 50-60 pages of report was prepared on this issue also impressed the court.

In the report, issues such as my claim that only one of the people committed sexual assault rather than all the people I had sexual intercourse with, that I consented to sexual relationship with the other person, flow of events, the physical structure of the house, and the contradictions between the defendants’ and attorneys’ testimonies were elaborated on. In the meantime, defendants used very contradictory statements and what they said proved that I did not give consent.

Furthermore, many reports were presented through supplementary petitions. A file including my job, documents related to the group that I represent, my writings, etc. It was stated that it wasn’t logical for me to make a claim around sexual assault that would ruin my life for no reason, and that for that reason my statement needs to be considered.

How do sexual assault cases against sex workers usually proceed in Turkey? Do courts accept sexual assault against sex workers? Is there a positive improvement about this?

There is a change. I can’t say this for all courts, but especially in cities where there are associations and local networks, court boards cannot behave ‘comfortably’ in cases where women’s associations take part. I don’t believe court boards are conducting trials with a bad intention, but they of course have a phobia. They don’t know about the matter, and whatever they think in the heterosexist, patriarchal plane is reflected in the rulings. They are not different from the society. Therefore, it is necessary to explain well, and to stand by sex workers strongly.

I have of course witnessed biased and unjust proceedings. I heard sex workers be scolded, I heard questions implying that being a sex worker means rape, and that it is illogical to press charges against rape. I frequently witnessed questions emphasizing the monetary transaction between the victim and the defendant, the protection of the police by prosecutors in the cases where police are present as witness or defendant, or attitudes by the court board such as “they are the state’s official, why would they rape?”.

In some situations, we see that there is no fair trial, but if the victim has connections with associations, if they have a strong relationship with the media, we see that more careful rulings are given. Recently, I know of cases where the necessary punishment was given, where no abatement was provided.

“The victimhood of married women and sex workers is quite similar in terms of sexual assault”

I find sexual assault cases of sex workers to be quite similar to marital rape. What do you think?

Exactly. There is the perception that “You are there to engage in a sexual relationship with your husband and nobody will ask for your consent. You need to get married with that awareness”.

The perception that “the prostitute’s mission is to engage in sexual relationship for money and this cannot be called rape. The married woman’s mission in bed is prostitution” is quite common.

Actually, the victimization of women who are married and who are allegedly moral, and that of sex workers who are allegedly immoral, around sexual assault is quite similar. Cultural codes and social dynamics that propel these two groups to victimisation are very different, but counter views are the same. It is very important to decipher this and to build common arenas of struggle.

“No, many people who are raped don’t yell, some tell it 20 years later”

Let’s go back to your file. The local court imposed penalties on many charges including sexual assault, but the public prosecutor at the court of appeal stated that they were unable to find “satisfactory and credible evidence” for sexual assault. How did this process evolve?

During the first hearing at the court of appeal, the issue of sexual assault was not mentioned at all. There was a debate around adding provisions pertaining to the crime of looting to the criminal charge, and it was ruled that two other defendants who were not under arrest would be arrested. We were happy. As sexual assault was not discussed, we thought they had no doubts about it. Therefore, there was a positive outlook.

In the second hearing, the prosecutor said that the defendant should be acquitted of the charge on sexual assault. Despite the local court’s reasoned decision.

This is what has caused all rape victims to languish in court corridors: What and how are we going to prove?

Rape mostly happens where there are no witnesses. If not so, an intervention occurs at the point of rape. This is an issue all around the world, the women’s movement always says this.

There is a perception that “the person who is raped yells.” No, many people who are raped don’t yell, in fact many people tell that they have been raped 20 years later. They [may] yell, but they don’t have to, they freeze, get paralyzed, fear that they will be murdered if they yell…

Many of my friends have been in similar situations of domination, and have been murdered. I lost five friends to murders committed following sexual assault.

So I did not yell in order to not die, I assumed a submissive attitude. Furthermore, the defendants are using conflicting statements, they are not credible. However, their acquittal is demanded on the grounds that “there is no satisfactory and credible evidence.” If I am claiming something, I of course need to prove it, so I present my psychiatric report.

The defendants, on the other hand, because they have no evidence to provide, have systematically argued that I am an activist and that I am trying to gain favour via this case. Am I nuts? My family has not seen me since that day. I went through a lot of other things besides the trauma of rape. I couldn’t stop by that house ever again, my friends moved my belongings, I couldn’t find an apartment, I stayed at my friend’s place for two months, I could not go out on my own for more than a month. All of this is in my psychiatric report.

And I have been trying to prove that I have been raped for 2 years and 7 hearings.

“Activist and victim Kemal are separated from each other along very ambiguous lines”

You have been working in civil society for a long time, you are an activist. You usually deal with making other people’s victimisation visible and with finding solutions thereto. This time, you are the subject. What kind of a procedure was it for you?

Activist and victim Kemal are separated from each other along very ambiguous lines.

During the weeks that I could not leave the house I was not an activist. I couldn’t have been, I wasn’t able to think about these things. When I was at the police station that night, I called a friend whose number I knew by heart. He posted it on Facebook, and called for people to go to the police station. Nobody had witnessed me going through such a heavy incident. The incident’s turning into a campaign happened outside of me.

My family thought that I was someone who defended the rights of sex workers, but not someone who practiced it. Even if they knew it, we did not talk much about it. When the incident got spread this much, they approached it with [the attitude] “We have been disgraced because of you, I wish we had no child like you.”

The ambiguity between activist Kemal and victim Kemal started to become clear during the time when I recovered myself a bit more. I am a victim, I am receiving psychiatric treatment, at the same time I receive requests to be interviewed. After you talk to one or two people, you cannot help but engage in activism. You say, “Sex workers in Turkey are exposed to this.”

Frankly, I started to write more, and share more opinions after a couple of months. I also started to give suggestions to friends who made this into a campaign. In other words, I started to advocate the issue.

Did activism help you to move past your trauma?

Yes, it did contribute to that. It was as if it wasn’t me, as if I was supporting another case.

Of course, this also happened: When one talks about it, one feels like they are not being affected, but it leaves something deep inside. That’s what psychology is like. When I’m alone at night, and when I put my head on the pillow, I question myself from the somewhat moralistic point, “Kemal, you are remembered with rape,” because people started to look at me with pitying eyes.

On the one hand you engage in activism, because you know that it is not only your issue, but also many other people’s. On the other hand, while tens of people are watching you in the courtroom, you tell the victimhood you experienced, and you cry.

The process really wore me out. I already work at a difficult job. I witness a very difficult social group try to survive with difficulties, including me.

And I continually explain my rape, I develop strategies to remain more visible, because there is also the concern to be helpful to others.

So I went through the conflict between being an activist and a victim a lot. I still think about it as I talk.

Tomorrow, there will be the summary judgment. Is there anything you would like to add as your final words?

In all cases there is something like this, as the cases drag on, interest wears off. That’s what happened with my file as well. Political conjuncture was not available either, people are being attacked, taken into custody, they are losing their jobs…

The ruling that will be given at the hearing tomorrow will have an effect both on my emotional world, and my physical safety. Will they remain arrested? Will they be acquitted of the sexual assault charge? I think that people’s coming to the hearing will have an impact on the decision. It will sound a bit reproachful, but I feel a bit lonely in this.

Courtrooms are the real arenas of struggle. I’d say come to the hearing.

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