Women’s Honor and Survival: When a Woman Kills her Rapist in Turkey

This past September, a Turkish woman shot and beheaded the man that had blackmailed and raped her for months. The woman, identified as N.Y., was also pregnant by her rapist; she had “repeatedly stated her to wish to abort the baby,” according to news reports, but her request was denied by a Turkish court. In Turkey, women are permitted to abort a pregnancy that was the result of rape up until the 20th week; since N.Y. was 29 weeks pregnant, the court said she could not legally obtain an abortion. Last month, she gave birth to a girl; N.Y. has said she will not raise a child that was the result of rape, and the girl will be placed in state foster care. (Interestingly, the widow of the man that raped N.Y. had initially offered to raise the baby, but her children objected so much that she withdrew her offer.)

In Turkey, as well as other countries, the context of a rape victim’s survival is very different from the one in the West: there, a female rape victim may indeed be put to death in a so-called “honor killing” because, having been raped, the woman can be considered a disgrace to her family. N.Y. raised the issue of honor in some of her statements, saying, “I saved my honor. … They will now call [her children] ‘the kids of the women who saved her honor.’” After she beheaded her rapist, N.Y. also showed his head to the inhabitants of the village, to make rumors and threats stop and to protect herself and her children.

This story has drawn many reactions. In both the Western and Arab worlds, women and men felt it was bad enough that N.Y. killed her rapist and that she shouldn’t “kill a child.” In the West, some were not able to understand such violence. But there have also been very supportive reactions from people all around the world; in Turkey, she has even become a heroine to the feminists. And others around the world have expressed admiration N.Y., who “deserves a medal.” It is certainly a double admiration, because in general it is extremely difficult for a victim to confront his or her rapist, and in this specific situation, the legislation is generally very unfavorable to women. Compassion has also been expressed for a child conceived through rape, with some people pointing out that responding to violence with violence solves nothing. (One might say that if all rape survivors acted like this, there would be many fewer men on Earth.) But violence has always existed, and when a man commits a vendetta, it seems to be almost banal. But when a woman uses violence to face up to the violence she has suffered, it is still not accepted.

Ways to survive

These different comments suggest that violence and its legitimacy are gendered. But in this case, this violence also raises two perspectives, which could lead to further thoughts. A rape survivor’s background and environment – geopolitical, cultural, religious, etc. – influences what happens to her, such as in terms of legal and medical resources. However, the role of personal resilience should not be neglected; it should even be considered as the main exit from such a hell, especially given the unfair social status of the victim and the guilty. In fact, this story perfectly illustrates that on the one hand, we are not equal before a legislation made by men for men, and one the other hand, we have our own capacities for resilience.

What N.Y. did proves that regardless of one’s country and one’s background, it is possible to survive after a rape and even find enough courage to protect oneself and one’s family from the consequences of rape. And beyond that, she was able to brave a dominant system in place for centuries. In addition, N.Y.  has obviously found enough strength to stay alive and even give birth.

Some have written, “It is also her child, she [the victim] must keep it.” But in the case of a rape, does the father take care of the child? Some might say: “But she killed the father!” Well, she did not just do that: in adverse circumstances she killed her rapist, saved her honor, protected her children, gave birth to a baby as a result of a rape, and survived.

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