The agender agenda blog
My friend, Kemal, the amazing Turkish trans and sex work activist
[CW: rape, assault, transphobia, whorephobia]
It was just a week before our Polish Miss Trans Pageant, when we heard the news about Istanbul PRIDE and how the police brutally attacked those who wanted to celebrate diversity and express their freedom to be, freedom to love and, what I think is most important, the right to live. And not just right to a proper and fulfilling life, but rather the right to actually be alive.
I learned about the attacks from my dear friend Kemal Ördek (one of the founders of the Red Umbrella Sexual Health and Human Rights Association, Kırmızı Şemsiye, in Turkey), with whom I had the pleasure of working in the Steering Committee of Transgender Europe and who themself taught me a lot about human rights, especially relating to sex work and the question of trans people as sex workers and the right to safety in that profession. Ever since I’ve known Kemal, I have admired their bravery, independence and their pride. They are a strong and amazing person who without a doubt knows the value of being human. Kemal seeks beauty in everyone and I tried to learn that from them as much as I could, especially when times were tough.
Sadly, their virtues were not recognized by everyone. In many aspects Kemal had always been on the radar. I even remember one Skype call in which we were trying to communicate about recent demonstrations in Turkey and had to be very creative about the way we described the situation. “This may not be safe for me, let’s keep it under 25 minutes” they said, a bit nervous. I never doubted or questioned their concerns, knowing that for a number of years Turkey had been one of the most dangerous places for trans people (trans women especially) in Council of Europe region. It still is and, unfortunately, it will remain so until an actual outrage is created. And we see it happening before our very eyes. And not only with trans people, we see it with other groups. And hopefully, it will lead to new ways.
But new ways are a thing of the future and we need to think about safety now. I don’t think I have ever mentioned this to Kemal, but between 2010 and 2014 when we had cooperated together in Transgender Europe, I checked my Facebook chat and Skype at least twice a week to see whether they were online. I didn’t send any messages but would rather look up what was happening on their timeline, just to get a glimpse of what was going on. Whenever drastic news from Turkey came, whether it was about our communities or general political safety, I tried to get some information whether Kemal was ok.
Three days ago, on Tuesday, I (and more than forty other people) received a message from Kemal, which began almost officially:
i am writing this e-mail to you to inform you that on july 5th, at around 23:30, i became a victim of theft and sexual violence by 3 young men in my flat. My mobile was robbed, i was raped and threatened to be killed.
My heart stopped. I tried to breathe, but got angry instead. I clenched my fists and had no idea what to do. How dare this shitheads do this?! What the actual fuck! I wanted to scream. This anger and feeling of helplessness left me absolutely dumbstruck. I gazed at the message and simply couldn’t write anything. I wrote Kemal a private message a few minutes later, but hesitated to do anything in the group conversation. I waited for someone to react first. When that moment came, I responded almost immediately. But I just needed someone to be first. Because, honestly, what do you do in this situation? How do you react? What can you say? Can you actually say anything? You obviously express outrage but does that help someone who has just had this horrible experience?
All I could say was that I was sorry and started immediately asking whether there was anything I (or my organization) could do in terms of safety, whether Kemal wanted to get out of Turkey as soon as possible. I started thinking like an activist and wanted to help as effectively as I could.
I soon realized, I did not have words for all this that happened and that my heart aches every time I think of my dear friend.
But Kemal asked us something in that group message. We were asked to share this story to our networks and to the world. We couldn’t do much, but at least we could let everyone know about this horrible injustice.
For privacy reasons, I will not post the whole text of the message that some of us received, but I will paste what Kemal themself wrote and what was published by their organization and later reposted and translated by LGBTI News Turkey.
Please share this widely.
It’s so difficult to write this when my body, my soul aches.
All I want to do is scream. I want people to hear me and then I want to hide in a corner, break away from this world.
How many times does a person cry after all that happened? How many times does a person shake and shiver when they think of what happened?
For years I have been engaged in rights advocacy to bring visibility to the rights violations LGBTIs and sex workers face. So it’s not that I don’t know what this is; I know what discrimination and violence mean.
Up to today, I’ve been beaten twice and hospitalized. I’ve been raped twice. I know very well what rape means, the dominating way manhood descends on me, and the pain of being in the midst of helplessness, alone.
Two men who came to my house… Three men who stole my phone… One more man waiting outside the house. One man who raped me. Three men who wanted to take my cash along with my phone… Three men who threaten me with death… One man who strangled me… One man moaning “I will fuck you, take your money, and come and fuck you again!”… Three men who are at my door and who say “think about what will happen” if I refuse to give them money… Three men who are the same as threats, rape, death.
In the middle of this hypocritical manhood, a sex worker, an LGBTI… A rights advocate…
What I will tell you is not a simple robbery case. It’s not a mere rape case either. This is the story of a series of events that could possibly end in murder. It is a story of the apathy and the denial and ignorance that come after—the story of the surrounding paralysis of a lonely sex worker and an LGBTI.
“We’ll fuck you, take your money, and fuck you again…”
Two people, they stole my phone. One raped me. At that moment, they spoke to another person, who I found out was their relative, on the phone. They gave him the address of my house. I tried to resist and not open the door when the third came to my house. I somehow managed to convince the two people who insulted me and who were in my home. This time, they demanded money along with my phone. They threatened to kill me. When they realized I did not have cash on me, they took me out to withdraw money from the ATM. The third person joined them. They threatened me on the way to the ATM and said they wanted all of my money. One took me by the arm and said he’d “fuck” me. They told me the three of them will come back to my house after taking out money and “fuck” me. They said if I resist “my ending will be bad”.
I saw a police patrol car at the corner of the road ahead. The people taking me to the ATM through threats became anxious when they saw the police. They said that we’d take a different road and find another ATM. I spoke softly and told them I would not make a complaint and give them the money. I don’t know how but the person in charge believed me. To get to the ATM, we’d have to go near the corner where the patrol car was parked. As we were passing the police, I screamed and ran to the police. I told them they detained me, that they wanted to rob me, that they stole my phone.
“Officer, we’re manly men. You understand us, don’t you? Don’t listen to what this faggot has to say…”
As I tried to explain myself to the police, the police shut me up. They said, “Be quiet. Don’t speak unless you’re spoken to!” In the meantime, the policemen calmly listened to the perpetrators as they said: “Officer, we’re manly men. You understand us, don’t you? Don’t listen to what this faggot has to say…”, “Officer, he invited us in, you know how they are…”
One of the two police officers searched them loosely and somehow they did not find the cellphone belonging to me on the assailants. I told the police to search them properly and that they had my phone. The police who was searching them said he searched them and could not find the phone. He asked me several times if I was sure that they stole my phone. They found a pocket knife on one of them and when they asked about it, the assailant said “it’s nothing important, officer” and the issue ended there. One of the perpetrators repeated “Officer, he’s lying, don’t believe him”. The police officers started to put us in the car. Two police officers in the front, three assailants in the back, and me in the “cage” at the very back of the patrol car, sealed off with iron. They thought I deserved to be in the place reserved for the guilty. When I said “I feel nauseous, officer, I think I will puke, why I am in here, I’m not well”, the police complained “what, are we going to deal with you, just get in, look at the trouble we found ourselves in”.
“Don’t even dare to make a criminal complaint, we’ll kill you…”
There was a thin iron bar between the perpetrators and me, stuck in the back seat, and an intimate chat between the police and the perpetrators… “Where are you from, officer?” “We’ll be fine, right, brother policeman? I mean, we have families and everything,” “Don’t make us suffer because of this faggot, you and us, we understand each other, right brother?”
As this conversation went on, one of the perpetrators turned to me and threatened me, “I’ll kill you by fucking you over and over, don’t even dare make a criminal complaint, I’ll chop off your head, we’ll kill you.” When I shouted, “They are threatening me, don’t you see, officer?”, one of the police said “Cut it out, don’t annoy us,” and the other told the perpetrators, “Don’t be scared, if he makes a claim, you’ll also make a complaint for slander.”
“I’m the head of an association, what you are doing is a crime, you have to stop them from hurting me”
When we arrived at the Esat Police Station, I told one of the officers that they witnessed that the perpetrators threatened me many times in the car and that they have to do something if they do it again. I said that this was not the first time I experienced something like this, and that I, as a head of an NGO, knew the steps that should be taken against this type of crime—also that their tolerant attitude towards the perpetrators constituted a crime. The two officers, who treated me really badly only 10 minutes before, started to say that they friends of LGBTIs/sex workers: “I know a lot of transvestites, I know you. I don’t discriminate in terms of kind, don’t you worry.” I was astonished.
We’ll bounce you on our lap, who the hell are you, faggot!”
The perpetrators kept threatening me even though we had arrived at the police station. They made threats and insulted me many times in front of the police. “Drop this case. You know what will happen if you don’t,” “We know where you live now. They’ll release us anyway and you’ll have to deal with the consequences.”
I stated to the police repeatedly that they must prevent this, that I do not feel safe, do not understand how they could make me sit with the assailants and they will be responsible if something happens to me. Nothing changed except they kept a one meter distance between us. I waited for several hours for processing while being threatened.
“Will you drop the charges if we find your phone?”
While they were continuing to threaten me, one of the perpetrators kept on approaching me, saying they’d find my phone, and asking me to drop the criminal complaint. Almost all of these dialogues between me and that person happened in front of the police. The perpetrator confessed that he had the cellphone and would eventually give it back to me if I dropped the complaint and met him outside the police station. I told the policemen who were listening to record the talks that they witnessed since it was finally understood that they actually had my cellphone. Nonetheless, all went up in thin air.
While this conversation kept going on, one of the police officers went out with one of the assailants, talked for five minutes. Did some kind of bargaining. Then came inside and called me outside. Took me near the police vehicle and started to talk: “Will you drop the charges if we find your phone?” I told them that I want to first see the phone. The police officer took the phone out of his pocket; my SIM card was taken out. I took both of them back at that moment. Turns out the assailants had thrown the phone inside the police vehicle when they were taken in. The police told me that. I said I will file criminal charges.
“Enough with this Tribe of Lot”
I called my lawyer and sat on a bench in the garden of the station while waiting. In the meantime, a police vehicle came and the police who arrived in it passed by me. After learning about the case, one of them passed by me saying, “Enough with this Tribe of Lot”. I started to shake because of anger. I came to the police station to find justice, found myself in the middle of prejudice, hate and partisanship. Additionally, the assailants came out to the garden and started to verbally attack and threaten me.
“These people rose against the government during Gezi…”
When my attorney arrived, we sat together outside of the station to talk. It was time for the pre-dawn (sahur) Ramadan meal and there were officers sitting around in the garden and eating… Oh, they began… They were talking about me, laughing out loud, saying things like “Look what a big deal he made out of a small incident of robbery”… One of the policemen said loudly to the others, “These people rose against the government during Gezi”. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I started to shake and cry out of anger.
“You were not raped…”
While the assailants were taken to the hospital for a health check, the policemen who were going to take my statement came up to us and asked what happened. My lawyer stepped in and said I am a victim of violence so I should not be traumatized repeatedly, therefore an explanation cannot be given to him. The police officer got angry and said, “I did not ask you, Ms. Lawyer”. A loud argument began. Like this was not enough, the same police told me, “You were not raped, how are you coming up with all this…” The police, the ones who would take my statement, were telling me whether I was raped or not.
“What kind of lawyer are you, do not make our job difficult!”
After going to the hospital to get the health report on the beating and rape, we went back to the police station. I was raped and 6 hours had passed. My statement still was not taken. After surviving such a crisis, we waited for hours at the police station to deliver the statement. There wasn’t even any other work at the station… Since we first arrived at the police station, there was no one else there except me, my lawyer and the assailants. Which strong willed or patient person could wait this much when there are a victim of rape, threats, robbery and psychological violence? When is it reasonable to make a person wait this long? What part of this is correct or understandable? It seemed like they were saying do not make a criminal complaint and just leave.
An officer came out from the statement room and came to ask for our signature for the police report. When I read it, I saw that the police wrote the report from a one-sided view. Most of it were the assailants’ statements. I told them that I would abstain from signing it. The officers got angry and started to yell at me. When my lawyer stepped in and stated that I do not have to sign it, all of a sudden 5-6 officers surrounded us and started to snap at us. At that moment, one officer yelled at my lawyer, “What kind of lawyer are you, do not make our job difficult!” This psychological torture went on for five minutes. I did not sign the report, demanded that the police write down a statement with their own handwriting saying that I abstain from signing the report. They did that.
“This statement is too long, keep it short…”
We were taken to the statement room 7 hours after I arrived the police station. I started to give my statement. Sure I was giving my statement but the officer who taking the statement and who had told me a few hours before “you were not raped…” kept on interfering. Towards the middle of the statement, he “warned” (!) me saying, “But this statement is too long, keep it short. I am being lenient and understanding here. Just describe it briefly”. My lawyer intervened and said I can give my statement however I want, that all the details are important. The officer got angry at my lawyer, raised his voice and said he has to deal with a lot of work and that things like this are not done this way. I was in the middle of seeking justice in a system that does not even allow me to give my statement as I want…
“You’re free to go…”
I signed my statement and applied for a decision of protection and restraining order. The day I wrote these lines, the day after the attack, I found out that the perpetrators were let go without even being sent to the court by the prosecutor. That means that the three people who tried to rob me, who raped me, and threatened me with death are free and walking around in Ankara. But I, the victim, have to hide. I can’t go to my house since the event. The perpetrators keep calling me on my cell number… I don’t pick up but I’m scared.
Thank you for all the genuine messages…
I’m not answering my phones. I’m not picking up calls from anyone other than my friend who I’m staying with, one or two close friends, and my lawyers. I’m not ready to talk. I’m not picking up calls from numbers I don’t know for security. It’d be good to text me if you want to cover this for news.
I’m crushed psychologically. I know so many people tried to reach out, they gave their kind messages through others. I thank you all. Feeling you by me strengthens me.
So how am I now?
How am I?… Not well. I feel lost in between. I have not rested either. I aim to rest but I can’t. I am scared of the people I see when I walk on the street, I keep checking what’s behind me, I’m at my friend’s house and I can’t go anywhere other than this neighborhood, I can’t go to my usual sports, I’m cleaning out my social media accounts…
In short, I’m scared, I have nightmares, I wake up, I have nightmares again. I feel stuck. Every conversation reminds me of what I lived. I want to be alone and get away from everything but at the same time, I want to get rid of the fears I have when I am alone.
My dear lawyers are following the investigation. Of course I can’t stay out of it. I need to get away from it all but I can’t. I have gotten used to running around for victims but when it’s me, I can’t. My psychology is not well, my physical strength is not there…
The perpetrators are free. What am I going to do? What’s the attitude of the prosecutor, will they take the steps we want? How will the trial process be? Why doesn’t it all go quicker? Why are people not sensitive to sexual assaults? Will I forever lead a nomadic life? Do I have to change cities? Why don’t the legal authorities make the effort to solve this situation of stuckness that I feel? How correct or healthy is it to try to prove rape? Isn’t that raping my brain?
I can’t go to the association’s office, I can’t do my work, I can’t follow the process, and when I do, I am traumatized again. I relive what happened a thousand times a day.
I’m not well…
A short but important final note… “Do I have to get killed for you to say two nice things”
“Why did they take so many people into their house”, “What was their goal?”, “There, you can’t get rich easily…”, “Did they willingly invite them in, who knows what actually happened that this happened…” I heard these from LGBTIs, sex workers, activists. If you can still ask these questions after such a terrible experience, if you still try to say that I “made a mistake” after all this, if you cannot say “get well”, then I don’t need you around me.
If we don’t make each other feel better, then we don’t need to continue our struggle together. Know that you, also, have tired me as much as the perpetrators of the violence and the police.
Kemal Ördek, trans – sex worker – rights advocate