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Analysis: International media ignores rape of 9-month-old Syrian refugee baby girl in Turkey

A 9-month-old Syrian refugee baby was raped in Turkey. The Turkish Birgun Newspaper and the journalist who broke the story Huseyin Simsek have faced countless threats since covering this story. Meanwhile, not a single international media outlet in the English language has covered this story.
Syrian refugee camp in Turkey Photo Credit: Faridan Abbas

On August 19, 2016, the Turkish publication Birgun reported that a 9-month-old Syrian refugee baby was raped in Antep’s Islahiya District. The baby’s family fled the Syrian Civil War and settled in Antep, where they worked on a farm as daily laborers. They set up a tent for the baby near the field where they worked and according to the Gatestone Institute, they left their baby with an 18-year-old Turkish man before going to work in a field 100 meters away. When the baby’s mother came to the tent in order to check on her daughter, she encountered the devastating scene. Turkish doctors have confirmed that the baby was in fact raped.

Since the publication of this story, Hurriyet Daily News on August 20, 2016 reported that a suspect was arrested by the Turkish authorities. The suspect is reportedly a shepherd on the same farm. According to the Gazientep’s Governor’s Office, “The family and the baby were put under protection by the Family and Social Policies Ministry.” Turkish Family and Social Policies Minister Fatma Betul Sayan Kaya stated: “An inhuman incident has happened. This disgusting incident created indignation in the public and in my conscious. We will follow the case until the end.” AKP Gaziantep Deputy Samil Tayyar added: “I hope that the death penalty will be reintroduced and he will die.” However, even though doctors confirmed the rape, Hurriyet Daily News still referred to it as an “alleged rape.”  

According to the Gatestone Institute and Hurriyet Daily News, both the Birgun Newspaper and the journalist who broke the story Huseyin Simsek have received countless threats since covering this story. Simsek tweeted: “A 9-month-old baby was raped in Antep. There is a medical report. I am being sworn at, informed on and threatened with death. The incident is real. The doctors say the baby is 9 months old. We will keep writing.” Some Turkish twitter users had called Simsek “a PKK terrorist,” “a Gulenist terrorist,” “a traitor,” “a son of a bitch,” among other names.  They called the Birgun Newspaper “toilet paper” and declared that their building should be destroyed.

Despite the shocking nature of this story, none of the major international media outlets has chosen to write about the rape of the 9-month-old Syrian refugee baby in Turkey.  According to the Gatestone Institute, the Islahiya Penal Court in Gazientep has even declared a media blackout on this rape: “All kinds of news, interviews, critiques and similar publications regarding the investigation file have been banned in the written, visual and social media as well as on the internet.” As a result, a google search on the topic in English shows that only Birgun, Hurriyet Daily News, the Gatestone Institute and now JerusalemOnline have covered this heart-breaking story.

The Gatestone Institute reported that the rape of Syrian refugee children is widespread within Turkey. In May 2016, it was reported that 30 Syrian boys between age 8 and 12 were raped in the Nizip Refugee Camp in Gazientep. A cleaning worker at the camp payed the refugee children a few Turkish liras in order to sexually abuse them. 8 of the victims’ families filed complaints but Birgun reported that many of the families did not due to the fact that they were afraid as they were asylum seekers in Turkey. AFAD, the organization that runs the refugee camp, confirmed the rapes and stated that they gave psychological support to the affected families from the beginning.

Shortly after the incident at the Nizip Refugee Camp, Gatestone reported that 5 Syrian refugee children were sexually abused by an 87-year-old Syrian national multiple times at the Islahiye Refugee Camp in Gazientep. 2 of the children were his own grandchildren.   Apparently, he made the children sit on his lap as he sexually abused them in front of everyone. According to the report given to the local Police, “an elderly man sexually abused a 2 or 3 year old girl while sitting on his chair in front of the camp.” The children told the authorities about the abuse and it was also documented by surveillance cameras. Nevertheless, the elderly Syrian sexual predator was acquitted by the Turkish authorities on the grounds that there was “not enough evidence for a conviction” related to his grandchildren and he was acquitted for abusing the other children due to his “good behavior during the trial.”

As bad as the situation is for Syrian victims living inside refugee camps in Turkey, HDP MK Mahmut Togrul hinted that the situation is even direr for Syrian refugees who live outside of the camps: “The Syrians staying outside of the camps are going through a real drama. People are staying in the streets unprotected. We tried to tell the authorities but unfortunately no one does their duty and they do not deal with the fundamental problems.”

According to the Turkish Sun, the plight of women and children who have been raped in Turkey is very grave in general and this does not only apply to Syrian refugee children. Mustafa Dimirdag, the head of the Turkish Supreme Court of Appeals that overseas sexual crimes in the country, reported that at least 3,000 women and in some cases children have been forced to marry their rapists in Turkey: “This type of marriage is not acceptable. It is cruel to force someone to marry a person that she does not want to and to force her to spend the rest of her life with him.” 

The report notes that the practice of rape victims being forced to marry their rapists is widespread within Turkey. In 2015, Global Policy and Strategy found that there were 908 incidents of violence involving 1280 victims and 1117 perpetrators in Turkey but they stressed that the statistics are likely to be much higher as many cases go unreported. Between 2003 and 2010, there was a 1400% increase in the number of murdered women in Turkey with the leading cause of deaths for females being honor crimes.  In many Muslim majority societies, it is a custom to force rape victims to marry their rapists so that the woman’s honor that was lost during the rape will be redeemed and thus an honor crime will be prevented.

Last August, the Independent reported that Turkey’s Constitutional Court undid a law that automatically categorizes sexual acts with children between age 12 and 15 as rape.  In January, the law’s reversal will take effect. Numerous human rights organizations have condemned the move, stressing that it will lead to a number of pedophiles not getting punished. Professor Bahar Bokler, Chairman of the Association to Prevent Child Abuse and Neglect, told the Andolu News Agency:  “Seeking a child’s consent in cases of sexual abuse is out of the question. Every individual under the age of 18 is a child under the international conventions.”

All of these developments have occurred in the background of the failed coup attempt in Turkey, which according to the Clarion Project and Amnesty International led to the systematic rape of political dissidents opposed to the AKP-led government. The Clarion Project reported the following testimony from a detainee named Mazlum Dagtekin: “They put my head in a well. They raped me. They stripped me naked. They inserted a nightstick in my anus. They made me sit on an armchair. They tied my feet with construction wires. They shackled my hands to the armchair. They hit my stomach and chest cavity with nightsticks and punches. Later, they tied my hands with a wire and made me swing into a well. They urinated on me. One of the police officers took out his penis and told me to lick it.”  According to the report, the authorities gave Mazlum a gun and told him to kill himself. He was suffering so much that he pulled the trigger but there were no bullets inside of it. The Clarion Project noted that 5 female detainees were also exposed to heavy sexual torture but due to the issue of honor and shame within Turkish society, none of them wanted to be quoted publicly speaking about it. However, their testimony will be included in a UN report on the subject.

Erek Keskin, the Vice President of the Human Rights Association, told the Clarion Project: “I have been working in the field of torture for the last 20 years. But I did not hear of some of these torture methods even in the 1990’s, when torture and rape was very commonplace. We see that torture is a state policy and it is systematic.” Around the same period of time, the Express reported that around 10,000 Turkish soldiers were being punished for their role in the failed coup attempt by being starved, tortured and raped. John Dulhuison of Amnesty International told the Express at the time: “It is absolutely imperative that the Turkish authorities halt these abhorrent practices. Reports of abuse including beatings and rapes in detention are extremely alarming especially given the scale of the detentions.”


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