soL news interviewed Assoc. Prof. Dr. Koray Başar, the general secretary of the Psychiatric Association of Turkey, on the recent news on violence and sexual harassment against children in Turkey.
The Psychiatric Association of Turkey (TPD) pointed out in its recent statement "We highlight that a special attention should be paid to the coverage of death news in visual and written media, given that violence begets violence." The recent events had been quite hurtful, and their coverage in the media was a lot more distressing. What is your evaluation regarding that?
The media coverage of all types of violence news, not specifically death, is a sensitive issue. We recently saw several negative examples of news on sexual violence towards children and violence towards animals. The news that cover violence like these over and over give the details of the event, including audiovisual elements as well. I believe, they think that this will make that specific news a trending topic. However, news like these have several inconveniences. Firstly, the victim and his/her family are being an object of display countless times in a way totally out of their control. In addition to this, not only direct witnessing but also recurrent witnessing through media has trauma like consequences on the people. Therefore, medical associations advise the coverage of news like these without giving detailed identity information, details on the method of violence, photographs and images. TPD had released statements on this in the past.
We know that the coverage of news, especially on suicides, influence the prevalence of similar cases. We witness this especially if suicide is romanticised. Detailed storytelling may ease violent acts of people with different motivations. In some other cases, it may also cause desensitisation. It may result in perceiving violence as a natural aspect of daily life.
Another problem in media coverage is about the emphasis on the perpetrator's or the victim's identity and actions. This may cause an overgeneralization regarding certain groups, and a false perception that a certain group is more prone to violence. For example, emphasizing that a perpetrator is a Syrian refugee, or an unemployed person, or a transgender person may support unfair prejudices against them while these traits have in fact nothing to do with the action in question. The urban legend that some identity groups are more prone to violence has no result other than that more powerful groups in society vindicate their reputations.
In addition to this, emphasis on the certain actions of the victims may cause the perception that violence is more agreeable in certain situations. For example, there should be no difference between the social reaction against sexual assault on a woman depending on whether she was going home from work or had just departed from her boyfriend when she was attacked. Being a victim of violence has nothing to with innocence, and portraying some situations as if they are less innocent may legitimise violence. This is unacceptable.
'SOCIAL MEDIA HAS THE ROLE OF AN AREA OF EMOTIVE DISCHARGE'
Another aspect of the issue is how these news are shared on social media. Messages containing violence and the expressions of horror are quite uncontrolled in social media. Can we say that violence begets violence in social media as well? Does social media have another effect in this issue?
Today, most of the news and images become widespread through social media. I believe the real danger is that professional reporters leave their own responsibilities aside given that each and every individual may share posts and news containing violence in the way we discussed above. Social media shares may reflect a collectively felt mood that becomes widespread and influence others. This causes social media to become an area of emotive discharge especially in cases that trigger intense emotions like sexual assault towards children.
THE BASIC PERCEPTION REGARDING CRIMES THAT ARE DIRECTLY CAUSED BY THE SOCIAL SYSTEM: PORTRAYING IT AS A SINGULAR MISFORTUNE
Castration and capital punishment demands were voiced in the statements of the ruling party and its ally, and in the reflections of these statements in the society. We see that the political power oscillated between two extremes, both of which are quite problematic, like obfuscating a crime and punishing it with capital punishment or castration. We also know that the political power had sidestepped regarding legal regulations on sexual assault towards children. How do you evaluate this?
The identity of the perpetrator is clear: Man. The perpetrator is the masculinity that dominates the society. In cases of sexual assault against children, and the general sexual crimes, the issue is not about sexual desire or sexual drives. It is a way of an exhibition of power for the ones who have strength and power. Legitimizing and obfuscating such crimes, or finding extenuations for a crime are all related with masculinity. This attitude is seen in all ages and countries where masculine ideology is dominant. It is not related with the ruling party; it is a supra-party issue. Sexual assault is not an individual act, but systematic.
The basic approach of the ones in power regarding crimes that are directly caused by the social system is this: portraying it as a singular misfortune. The illusion that the severe punishment of scapegoats enable prevention of that crime results in the maintenance of the power of the real perpetrator.
That the increase of punishment is not effective in deterrence has been proven countless times by the rate of crimes in countries where capital punishment is in effect, and by the comparative studies conducted in the past. Therefore, it is not true to portray discussions on capital punishment for sexual crimes as if this punishment is related with sensitiveness about children or sexual assault. When the political power is so relentless to put in effect the existing punishments, it is a pure fantasy to hope for a solution with heavier punishments.
'MAKING PEOPLE FEEL DESPERATE IS A WAY OF NATURALISING SUCH CASES'
Can we say that the society is being pushed towards an immense desperation by means of the way the political power and its ideological apparatuses handle sexual assault of children. Is the society that helpless?
Making people feel desperate is a way of "naturalising" such cases. It means explaining sexual assault by means of the 'wicked nature of humans' as seen in every society. This prevents all kinds of questioning and struggle that may lead to a solution. The Psychiatric Association of Turkey stresses that only through a whole scale change in the society we can prevent violence. Considering that the existing conditions we live in are the final stage of the humanity is a naivety; and defending it is a betrayal of the society and humanity.
The discourse of the media and its reflection in the society cloud the socio-economic background of these crimes. Can you evaluate the issue in terms of it? Are there any researches that compare societies with less and higher inequality?
There are obvious differences in terms of the prevalence of sexual crimes against children in different countries and regions. Scientific researches and legal cases reflect only a small portion of the real situation. In general, only one in ten cases are reported to an expert around the world. Around 8 percent of the men below the age of 18, and 19 percent of women had experienced sexual assault around the world. Sexual assault does not only cover rape, but any sexual act that a child cannot perceive and thus cannot object to. It is believed that figures on men are lower since it is more difficult to report. Large scale studies show that these rates are between 9-10 percent in the European countries and the US, 24 percent in Asian countries, 34 percent in African countries. These figures are based on socio-economic conditions, and differences on social structure.
Studies conducted in several countries including Turkey reveal another aspect of the problem not mentioned in the heated sensitive atmosphere. An important part of the sexual assault of children, around one-third of it, happen within the family. Even if the perpetrator is not a member of the family, s/he is a trusted person for that family. In less than one-tenth of the cases, the perpetrator is a total stranger to the family. The social structure and the dominant ideology masks and supports the disregard of this important aspect.
What can be said about the relationship between religious and nationalist ideologies and violence in general, and sexual assault of children in specific?
I noted above that violence and especially sexual violence is a problem of power relations. Not a religion or a nationality in itself, but the relation between the prevalence of violence and the inequality caused by an ideology based on a religion and nationality is not a coincidence. It is obvious that every ideology that restricts human and children rights, and downgrades their value creates a ground for violence. In addition to this, if an ideology sides with masculinity, it is impossible for it to be sincere in solving sexual violence problems and their effects.
'THE RESULTS OF SOLUTION ATTEMPT BASED ONLY ON INCREASED PUNISHMENT CAN BE DREADFUL'
Experts note that sexual assault of children are intensely hidden in Turkey. The political power explain such concealment as preventing outburst of 'public indignation'. What can be said about the real picture?
The recent events create the image that sexual assault of children is on the increase. But it was also the reality of previous periods and had been more common than it met the eye. Outburst of public indignation does not have any solution other than providing emotional and shortcut solutions. However, the awakening of the society to such problems is the first step towards a solution. However, the conditions that create and enhance problems, and necessary solutions need to be discussed extensively. This cannot be done only through legal steps. Legal steps are also important but professional associations, scientists and non-governmental organisations need to be employed both during the definition and solution processes.
Some of the recent reactions show that some people believe insufficient concealment of sexuality is the reason behind sexual crimes. But studies conducted in other countries prove just the opposite. The public opinion has been discussing what parents need to do to prevent sexual assault of children, and this is important. But the sexual education of children is important as well; the children need to be told what is sexuality, how s/he can protect him/herself, that s/he is not the responsible party if s/he faces with sexual assault, and that s/he won't be held responsible if s/he reports it. If you leave aside sexual education so that sexuality is less discussed, you pave the way for sexual assault of children. When you portray being a LGBT person as a negative thing, you also portray the sexual assault inflicted on these children as legitimate and their own guilt.
Worst of it, a solution based only on increased punishment may prevent reporting victims of sexual assault and taking necessary steps. It may also cause the perpetrator to engage in more violent act so that s/he won't be caught. A child may abstain from reporting a case of sexual assault within a family since s/he knows that the person s/he reported the case might be punished by the perpetrator similarly. The family may also choose to keep silent as well. Therefore, increasing punishment may not decrease a crime, but instead may increase the severity of that crime and cause concealment of it.