We Were Both 13

In 2002, a 13-year-old girl in Turkey's southeastern city of Mardin reported to the authorities that she had been raped, multiple times, by 26 men over a period of 7 months. Two women had facilitated the abuse in exchange for money and were immediately sentenced to nine years in prison. The men, who were identified as soldiers, teachers and village guards among other professions, were sentenced to three to six years in prison.

The case went on for almost ten years and during that period, it resurfaced several times, and never in a way that was positive for the victim. A few years ago, a court ruling contained the sentence: "The victim exchanged sex to earn money," after which her lawyers decided to take the case to the European Court of Human Rights, where it is still being considered. But last week the entire country was outraged once again with the court ruling to lower the sentence of the rape convicts because they came to the conclusion that the victim had given "consent."

Even though the laws regarding rape in Turkey were slightly improved in 2005, since the incident took place in 2002 it cannot be subjected to the new laws. Following the ruling and the public outrage, government officials have been speaking out about how disturbing the outcome is, how much they regret it and also about the fact that the ruling is not definite. Journalists, notable feminists and the victim's lawyers have been voicing their fury and disappointment about the unfathomable verdict for the past week. It is excruciatingly hard for anyone with a conscience and with the ability to get their voices heard to stay silent about the situation.

My initial response, like so many others, was one of pure indignation. Justice has no meaning when it leads to the conclusion that a 13-year-old could have possibly consented to be raped multiple times by 26 men. How is it possible to have faith in the judiciary system when loopholes are abundant, especially with regards to the laws concerning rape, sexual abuse and domestic violence? This case came to the attention of the masses because the victim was able to contact the authorities, and also because she was assaulted by such a large number of identifiable persons. What about the girls who are never able to escape their abusers, let alone reach the authorities? How can we trust that justice and protection are ever going to reach the voiceless victims when even a known case cannot reach, at the very least, a tolerably acceptable conclusion?

I read so many articles over the past week with regards to the verdict, but none of the outraged voices were able to convey anything besides outright anger, which will hopefully bring enough attention to the case for the lawmakers to review the laws currently in place for further improvements. People have also been trying to provide evidence, including bringing to light the number of surgical procedures the victim had to go through. Such information was available from the beginning, but the court ruling has forced her defendants to the point of helplessness. We've become completely immersed with the case, the laws and trying to find righteousness, and understandably so.

Then I began to think about the time when news of the case first broke almost ten years ago. When I read the news in 2002, I was a 13-year-old, sitting comfortably across from my mother around our kitchen table, eating breakfast. The photo of her pixelated face, crouched on the floor, a molested child, a young girl who had been reduced to a toy by monsters, never escaped my mind. I had a room that was mine, a door that could offer me privacy even from my parents if I wanted to. I had books, clothes and CDs that were mine and nobody else's. And she had been deprived of her own body.

The justice I was searching for was not in the number of years the convicts would stay in prison. No amount of prison time could possibly redeem their crime or make them fit enough to return to society in my eyes. I was searching for something else.

Yesterday, I came across an article by Pinar Ogunc, a columnist and reporter for Radikal, a Turkish newspaper and I realized that I was searching for her, the 13-year-old-girl, and for some sort of proof that her life had been given back to her, that her life was not controlled by her suffering.

The girl in question, now a young woman in her early 20s, spoke to Ogunc along with her lawyers who are also her foster parents. The title of the article is a direct -- and powerful -- quote from the interviewee: "Even If Their Sentence Was 60 Years in Prison, It Isn't Possible For Me To Have Peace About The Situation." I found out that she has almost completed her high school education and wants to go to college to become a lawyer. What disturbs her the most is that her life is constantly being disrupted and in ways that fail to bring better results. She has been tantalized with the promise of a conclusion to the case, a conclusion that does not disrespect her and her humanity. Each broken promise brings renewed suffering as more articles depicting her past situation comes along. She has to relive the past even though progress is nowhere in sight. The article continues to say that she wants to talk about other things, about her future and her interests. She has lost the willpower to believe that the case that was supposed to bring her justice will bring anything other than pain for her.

Hopefully the attention the case receives will be productive and this time its resurfacing will lead to actual change with regards to the laws and to this particular case. The case is about a living, breathing, human being who actually went through the things that shakes our being even as we read about them. She is the young woman who wants to move beyond her past and make her own future. I hope everyone is aware of her presence, each time they talk about her.