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When we asked our hotel for a recommendation on a place to celebrate the new year, our concierge warned us off Taksim Square/Istikal Street because it was too unsafe. He recommended a place close to the Osenbey metro stop. The fireworks show came to a close shortly after midnight, my cousin and I try to get a jump on the crowd and leave a little early. Apparently, others had the same idea. It turned into a swell of people pushing and screaming. It was hard to keep your balance…the whole thing was out of control. As I get swept up into the mayhem, the group of 6 guys in front of me asked if I’d like to exit thru them onto the main street. I erroneously thought there were being kind. What happened next still has me in shock. The first 2 guys step aside so I can pass thru, then the guys close in around me and start groping me and grinding on me as I struggle to escape. My survival instinct kicked in and I started screaming & punching at those that I could make contact with. I wanted them to know that I am a survivor and it is not okay to take advantage of me. The fact that this happened in such a public venue was shocking. My screams didn’t spur anyone to help me. If anything, it was as if watching multiple men grab a woman’s crotch & breasts while trying to rub their erections on her were okay. But it’s not. And I refuse to keep this incident silent.
When I was finally able to escape, I realized that I was separated from my cousin and alone on the streets with my perpetrators following me. I started to run and panic then prayed to God for protection. As I’m walking, more men notice that I am alone and begin approaching me. Which spurred me to move quickly in large crowds. I was able to find a big group of people who spoke English and they kept me safe until I was able to get back to the hotel.
Istanbul — you have a problem. Just like India & Egypt have a problem. Having read stories of women being raped in those countries recently, it always seemed like something so foreign…until now. Women have value…we deserve respect AND protection.
This trip has taught me a valuable lesson. Always be aware of your surroundings and travel with mace. The world is a dangerous place…and that is something that I had forgotten since my travel experiences had always been so wonderful.
While those men may have violated me, I refuse to consider myself a victim. I may be struggling to make sense of this, but I refuse to stop travelling. Fear and joy cannot reside together and I am choosing to be HAPPY. I absolutely refuse to allow this event to define me or my travels. I believe having a positive attitude can turn this traumatic event into a mere annoyance that I can use as a reminder for myself and others to stay vigilant. So, instead of thinking about how bad this year has started off, I am choosing to believe that my year can go nowhere but up. Safe travels, everyone.
I was followed by a guy who just started staring at me on the ship. When I got down he was walking in front of me but still looking back. When I stopped he stopped and waited for me. I understood this and I got a bit scared, he looked quite crazy. It was afternoon and a lot of people on the street in Kadıköy I tried to get rid of him. I turned back from a corner and I let him go ahead. İ asked few guys about some shop and I wanted to continue my way, sure that the man has gone. Surprise! he was waiting at the corner. İ screamed at him: “What do you want?” and suddenly 3 guys from the shops came: “do you have any problem abla?” İ explained the situation and they went after him; the guy ran away. They were feeling very proud that they protected me: “Don’t worry, they said, he will not come back anymore.” I felt really good and it is not for the first time when I encountered the kindness of strangers here. After a while I saw the man again, in the boat, he stared again but he was with his wife and kids.
After spending 3 weeks in the country of the free (relatively free) – Russia- where people wear anything they want (up to pulling colorful tights over their heads) without fearing the public opinion, I returned to Istanbul. Going for 2 days without being harassed in public (probably because of not going out much) I gathered all my courage had my hair cut short (despite all those promises to myself that I will never do it again before I left Turkey for good), put on a pair of shorts and a bright t-shirt and went out to a supermarket ALONE. I must have breached all social norms in Turkey by having my hair short like a boy, revealing my legs, and- tövbe- wearing something that attracts attention (A BRIGHT T-SHIRT!). As expected, not even 5 min passed when I heard a rude comment from a garbage collector boy. I would have ignored him if he didn’t repeat it three or four times. I turned around and came up with something I thought is the biggest insult to a Turkish man’s masculinity- I called him “a gay”. His face revealed confusion. His friend, another garbage collector, started laughing. The first guy mumbled something like he had a sister; without hearing the rest I asked him if he would be okay if someone said that (what he said to me) to his sister. The second guy intervened saying Dogru konusuyor (“She’s right”). My harasser apologized to me. And as I walked away I heard him yelling Orospusun sen (“You’re a bitch”) twice.
(image taken from radikal.com.tr)
I cannot think of a single female friend in Istanbul who has not faced verbal or physical harassment in the streets of this incredible city at least once. Whether it was my friend who was trapped in a minibus after all the other passengers had exited before her stop and the driver refused to stop and let her off, or the friend who was grabbed while walking down her own street in a family neighborhood, or the friend who was chased down a busy street followed by shouts of “Natasha, Natasha” (a name that has become equivalent with prostitute in Turkey), it seems every woman has her own story of a time she felt unsafe during her normal daily activity. After living in Istanbul for nearly a year and a half, I have learned to navigate Istiklal Street and others like it with a set of invisible blinders shielding my view of leering men who often walk unnecessarily close and a set of enormous headphones to block out the sound of their taunts. Personally, two instances stand out in my memory of times when neither headphones nor invisible blinders could help me escape—once on the Metrobüs and once mere meters from my flat in Taksim.
In the first instance, I was riding home with a friend after watching Croatia defeat Turkey in football at Galatasaray Stadyum. I thought the hunched, aged man standing behind me had merely bumped into me due to the bus’s abrupt turn but when I felt a hand on a my back, I knew it had not been a mishap. Although I stared at him in shock and jumped away, my Turkish failed me and left me at a loss for words in the suddenness of the moment. A Turkish woman who had witnessed the event stepped in and publicly shamed the man by calling him out for what he had done. She then apologized to me in English for his behavior and advised me to stand with my back to the wall when riding the Metrobüs in the future.
In the second instance, I had said goodbye to a friend on Istiklal Street and was walking the 200 meters to my flat when I realized that two men were following me on either side. Afraid they would discover where I lived, I ducked into the nearby Tekel shop where I often buy water and snacks. The owner recognized me and after I described what had happened, kindly told me to wait there some minutes until his son could accompany me home. By that time the two men had left, and I was able to enter my apartment building safely.
Both of these stories stand out to me not only because of the disgust, anger and helplessness that I felt at the time, but also because of the assistance that was given to me by a stranger and a mere acquaintance. In popular psychology, there is a concept called the “bystander effect,” a phenomenon in which the greater the number of people present, the less likely it is that people will help someone in distress because of the diffusion of responsibility and the desire to act in a socially acceptable manner. This phenomenon is often described in textbooks with the controversial and often criticized example of Catherine ‘Kitty’ Genovese, a woman who was murdered in New York City in the 1960s while her neighbors watched. What strikes me about my experience on the Metrobüs and when I was followed on Istiklal Street was that the fellow bus rider and shop owner who helped me acted surprisingly and were not affected by the “bystander effect.” They took it upon themselves to help someone whom they owed nothing to.
Recently, Hollaback International has partnered with the Green Dot organization. In connection with Hollaback, a Green Dot represents a bystander who refuses to sit quietly back when someone is experiencing harassment. My Green Dots were the female bus rider and male shopkeeper who showed that I can feel safe in Istanbul and that there are others who are brave enough to be bystanders in action. It’s important for us to act the same way when we are in the shoes of the bystander–now, I feel that I must pay forward the compassionate actions of these two individuals by helping the next person I see who is experiencing harassment, whether it be based on religion, gender or any other factor. The time for silence is over, whether as a bystander or as a person who has experienced harassment and has yet to share his/her story.
I am living in Kadikoy, and I want to help other women avoid some of the uncomfortable situations that I’ve experienced. Thank goodness I speak Turkish, because the other day I was stalked on my way to class by a man who shouted at me and followed me for blocks. Luckily, I was able to ask a random couple on the street for help and they took me to the police station. When the man realized that I was being helped by them and that I spoke Turkish, he ran off, but it was a scary experience.
After saying Good-Bye to my friend, I started to walk the 200 meters to my house and was immediately followed by two men on either side of me. They were walking very close to me and shouting things. I ran into the corner shop where I knew the owner and he had his son walk me home.
I was walking up Misak-ı Milli Sokak in Kadıköy from the ferry stop when a man about 55-60 years old (gray hair, 5’10″-6’0″, overweight) began following me. I wasn’t sure at first that he was following me, so I stopped to get something out of my bag. He stopped too. I then began to walk very quickly and crossed to the other side of the street. He crossed immediately to the other side as well. Then he started to call out (in English), “Girl! Girl!” and “Stop, girl!”
I crossed to the other side of the street again, and he again followed. Four times in total I crossed the street, and each time he followed me, yelling at me all the way in English. No one did anything to help.
Then, he started to get *very* close to me and was yelling at me angrily (one meter or less) and I felt that he might try to grab me, hurt me, or something worse. I ran up to a Turkish couple that was ahead of me, and quickly explained in Turkish that that man was following me, yelling at me, and that I did not know him and was very scared. I asked if they could help, and they said very loudly (also in Turkish) that they would walk me to the police station.
Upon hearing that, the man ran off, but it was a very frightening situation for me.
I’m a 36 year old man and have lived in Istanbul for two years. This week my little sister and her friend came for a visit. Yesterday I was taking them on a tour around the city, and we found ourselves on a crowded tram from Karakoy to Kabatas. As we were getting off of the train, my sister’s friend grabbed my arm and told me that someone – pardon – grabbed her ass. I immediately turned to the three or four possible culptits, but it was impossible to tell who was the guilty party. As they appeared to not know one another, there was little I could do. Needless to say, she was shocked and felt sick. I was also quite upset. I tried to reassure her that it was not uncommon. Welcome to Istanbul.
It was early morning and I was on my way to work. I entered the Taksim metro station and passed the toll gate. I was about to get on an escalator when I noticed a guy was talking on the phone right there. I passed and stopped on the stairs and he followed and grabbed my bottom in passing. I was so shocked and angry. I said ‘hey you just passed and grabbed me’ he didn’t answer and made a face like he didn’t know what happened.
I knew there was nothing I could do but I could give him a good lesson. I noticed the metro guards were standing not very far from me so I shouted and asked them to help me. They ran to me right away and I showed them the guy, who now was walking fast because he noticed I was talking to the guards. They ran after him and took him to the metro office manager. He asked for our IDs and called the police. During this time while the police were coming they were nice and respectful. When the police arrived they talked to me first and then to the guy. They gave me two options. I could go to the police station and file a claim against him, or close the case there. I didn’t have a choice because I had no time — I was on the way to the office. So I skipped claiming and the police took the guy to me to apologise. They asked me to go and they kept the guy to make sure he didn’t follow me and then kicked him out of metro. I think there are a lot of worse stories but in such a cases we might see ourselves as powerless and disappointed. It’s better always to give a lesson rather than fight. I think that guy will never forget the moment he looked into my face and apologised.
I stood on a packed evening bus, crammed between the driver and the money takers. Suddenly an uninvited hand was on my butt. Struggling unsuccessfully to get away, I passed a looked of panic to the money taker while eying the groper. He noticed my struggle and told the driver to open the door. With that, I elbowed him off, and he was pushed off the bus. With a smile I thanked the money taker. He nodded and turned his eyes back out the window.
This happened almost two years ago and I still feel bad for not doing anything. I was on the subway on my way to work around 8am on a weekday. At the Osmanbey stop a foreign woman in her 40s got on the train, followed by one of the oldest men I have ever seen on public transportation in Istanbul. He looked 70 years old. He sat next to the foreign woman. Once the doors shut and the train began to move, the older Turkish man moved his hand to the side of his leg and started to touch her leg. I didn’t notice it until I saw the foreign woman continue to fidget to try to move his hand away from her leg. At the next stop, she changed seats and we both were hopeful that it stop the situation. But then he moved next to her and started again. I was in shock because this man was just so old, and because I didn’t know any Turkish at that time I had no idea what to do. I’m writing this because I’m sorry that this lady had to get off the train whether or not it was her stop. I should have offered her my seat and stood up myself. Age does not excuse harassment. And I will be sure to help others in the future.
I have been in Turkey for 40 years and have witnessed/experienced all sorts of harassment on the streets. Last year a young woman was being assaulted on the street by a man who was obviously her partner or spouse or whatever, but he had her in a choke-hold and was swearing at her. Lots of men were witnessing, but no one was doing anything. I went up, took out my phone and threatened to call the police. The man and I got into a shouting match, but he finally released her and she walked away. The men who had been watching all looked embarrassed as I then walked away. I am not sure if I did enough, but I knew that the police would NEVER respond to this kind of call in Tarlabasi so I was bluffing… When I see a girl getting touched while on a bus, I ask her — rather loudly — if she is uncomfortable and then I offer to give my seat, while staring the offender down. The harasser generally squirms away at that point.
I’ve always been a feminist and a supporter of Hollaback!, but it wasn’t until this weekend that I really saw firsthand the impact of rape culture and harassment. I’m shaken and horrified, and I urge anyone who has never been a target of harassment to realize that yes, this is all of our problem.
This Saturday, while we were at a party, my girlfriend was speaking with some guy in a different room. Suddenly, she ran up to me and said “we need to go, right now.” I nodded and went to grab our things, while she went outside. When I came outside, she was literally being chased by the man she was speaking to, and was yelling. The I confronted him, and his response was “You don’t know what we were talking about, man.” He literally blamed the victim in the midst of fucking chasing her, as if she had somehow asked to be menaced and pursued screaming in the street.
On the walk home, she couldn’t stop shaking and was literally paralyzed by fear, repeating several times that she was “terrified.” They had been discussing gender and masculinity, which the guy turned into the pick-up line “I want to fuck you in the ass.” My girlfriend told him that she wasn’t interested and he got angry and irrational. He told her that he was “going to fuck her no matter what she wanted” and that he’d “do bad things to her.” His harassment spilled into the street and became physical when she left the room. If it wasn’t for me, I don’t know what would have happened.
I don’t think this story is uncommon. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never been harassed; someone you know has been, and we all bear responsibility for ending it.