I set my novel ‘Stop Hurting My Flesh’ in Turkey. In the novel, I wrote about a number of different women who had suffered a variety of traumas. One had been the victim of incest. After publication in 2004, the book was banned. I then received a summons from the Attorney General of the Turkish Republic, demanding that I appear before the Public Prosecutor, following a complaint by the Presidential Committee for the Protection of Children from Harmful Publications, in which it was declared that by “using Turkish names, writing about the reality of incest, which does not occur in Turkey,” I had “destroyed the Turkish family structure by using a feminist approach,” and that I intended, therefore, to destroy society itself, which has its basis in the family.
They further claimed, and this really astonished me, that the names of sexual organs are never referred to directly in fiction. On the evidence of three literary academicians, this claim itself was relegated to the realms of fiction. At that time, it was a crime to mention incest on the television, in the press or in fiction in Turkey, but not if it was safely contained within medical publications. I started a successful campaign to change this aberration. The decision was reversed and the ban was lifted. Within a year the novel was awarded the ‘Freedom of Thought and Speech Award’ by the Turkish Publishers Association.
We all know that the incidence of incest, purported to be non-existent in Turkey, is very high and the human cost is severe. Incest is not a problem limited to just one region or country. In every economically and culturally developing and developed country, in every city and region, in every kind of family, incest can and does occur. Contrary to what is supposed, incest is prevalent even in the most educated families.
If we put aside the very complicated pathological cases, we’ll find the answers to this question are sometimes so simple.
1. Incest removes the burden on the husband and wife to perform.
2. Incest provides effortless sexual satisfaction because children are easily accessed and tricked into complying.
3. Incest is affordable. It demands little in the way of resources or expertise.
4. The arm is broken but the sleeve hides the break. Keep it in the family!
5. In return for secrecy, the victim of incest will inhabit a special place in the family and is ‘favouritized’. What is even more regrettable is that the child interprets this as love and enjoys their role as ‘family favorite’.
6. Thirst for revenge against women is satisfied by destroying the personality of the abused child.
7. Incest creates a new equilibrium in the family relationships. From the wife’s perspective, it prevents her husband from going out and finding another woman, and the family stays intact.
From the husband’s point of view, his social image as a good family man and father won’t be damaged.
It is essential not to forget this reality: whoever is accepted as a family member and perpetrates incest, demands in exchange for love and attention, the body of the little girl or boy in return. Love and attention, which should be given to children for free. But in the case of incest....
By these means, the child’s conception of trust is broken, and unfortunately, she or he is often pushed into prostitution.
My name is Ayse. I was raised by my grandmother. I came face to face with the cruelty of life when I was nine. Here is my story:
Ali Riza, I don’t want to call him my uncle, but he is. This person was at my home and he was drinking. We even had his little daughter with us. He got drunk and he took me to a room. He said, “Don’t be afraid,” and then he raped me. But it didn’t stop there. For three and a half months, I was raped by him every night, as a matter of routine. I couldn’t tell anyone. He threatened to kill me if I did. I was staying with my grandmother because my family was living abroad in Germany and I had to go to school where my grandmother lived. I became a woman at an age when I should have been playing with my dolls. I should have been living as a child.
Did I ask for this? That was the day ‘me’ died. After this horrible experience, I re-joined my parents and I tried to tell them what had happened but they didn’t believe me. They hit me and punished me for telling lies. When I went to the German police, they took me away from my parents and they put me into care, into a children’s home.
When I went back to Turkey at the age of 22, I got married but because of religious differences, his family couldn’t accept me and he used to hit me too. About two and a half years later, we got divorced.
All my life, I wanted someone to take care of me and give me a little bit of love. I met my second husband Yilmaz, who I thought would do that. One day, he took me to a place and locked me in a room. That place was a brothel. He sold me. I was taken to different cities and sold again and again.
My third husband turned out to be a pimp as well. I escaped and ran away. I swore to God not to end up back in a brothel. If you’re a prostitute in Turkey, you have to be registered at the Health Department and I went there to cancel my certificate. I wanted to be free. When you’re labelled a whore here, it’s for life. They refused to cancel it. They said, “You’re bound to go back sooner or later. Why cancel it?” I cried for days. I went there again and pleaded but it was all no use.
My personal research shows that prostitutes are highly likely to have been the victims of incest. The victim becomes the ‘mistress’ in the family at a very early age and they become partner to the family’s very special secret. All too often, the mother is well aware of what is going on. She prefers not to admit it or she turns a blind eye to it.
In part, the reason incest cannot be talked about is because of the attitude of these mothers. In addition, in many instances, it is their mothers’ attitude that stops children from being rescued.
So even though there are laws in place to protect children, if the prevailing mentality does not change, there is nothing left to do, your hands are tied.
The child victims of incest become less than human. De-humanised, they become half objects. Sadly, they’re turned into sexual objects by the very people in whom they should have most trust.
Because the child’s sense of self is disconnected from his or her sense of body, their ability to become mature individuals is restricted. These kids are condemned to inhabit the ruin of their lives. These wrecked lives harbour a deep instinctive need for revenge and this motivates, in turn, an undeniable compulsion for secret sexual activities. Future physical relationships are not motivated by love but by hatred. They may establish a liaison with their own body or another’s but images from the past prevent the relationship from developing in the here and now. The craving for revenge makes them project images from the past onto the present bodies.
Hello. My name is Fatma. I’m a student at Hacettepe University. I read one of your articles and I decided I had to write immediately to you. I haven’t read any of your novels but from what I’ve heard, every novel is a bit of Fatma. I’m 20 years old. Let’s not count the times I was abused on buses and on the street. Those are just nothing compared to the rest I’ve gone through. I was raped by my mother’s brother when I was 4 and it went on for 6 years. I can’t forget one minute of it. At the age of 16, I was raped by my boyfriend. More torment. How I long to change my sex. A rubbish dump is cleaner than my body. I want to live a life without fear. I want to live without being afraid of men. Please contact me. I think I need help.
Is there anything more distressing than a young woman feeling that her body is like a dump?
Incest implants a fake system of value and love in the child then yanks it out, leaving nothing in its wake. When little girls who are victims of incest reach adolescence, they live with a distorted sexual impulse or they totally suppress their sexuality. These two results of incest, promiscuity and frigidity, might seem contradictory but they have a very strong connection. Indeed, both these features regularly occur simultaneously in the victim. When children who have been abused reach puberty, they frequently behave in a sexually provocative manner. This is a conditioned response to what they have learned is the only way to attract love and attention.
These young people will tend to think they know everything there is to know. They’ll show off in melodramatic ways. They’ll tend to sacrifice themselves and self-harm, while longing to be perfect. All these cha racteristics leave them vulnerable to the worst kinds of exploitation.
Many victims incline towards relationships with partners who have sexually aggressive, repressive and demanding characteristics.
I will be 21 on the 20th March. I’m a third year student in Gaziantep University. I have so many ambitions. I want to do so many things, but I don’t want my success to be stopped by the thing I’ve been through. Normally I don’t have a problem with relationships with other people, but I have problems privately. You know how they say I’ve “got walls around” me, I want my walls, my defence mechanism, to stay put so that no-one can hurt me anymore. I’ve had boyfriends, but I’ve never loved them. I experienced incest when I was 5 and it carried on till I was ten. He was my cousin and he’s married now. I guess he’s 25 or 26 now, and do you believe, I don’t feel hatred when I see him, but then I just don’t know what I feel.
When girls and boys have been sexually abused as children, they find it very hard to make loving relationships as adults. Early traumatic abuse has a direct correspondence to the mental confusion they experience later. On the one hand, the victims of incest know deep inside that they were exploited, taken advantage of and abused, objectified, and totally sexualised. On the other hand, their ‘early development’ has also given them a sense of being superior, infinitely powerful, and very valuable. The end result of all these experiences is the potential for self-destruction, self-denial, and the inability to develop as a coherent personality. Without fail, victims develop a fake self. Women who have experienced incest have an intense loathing for their bodies, which they attack pitilessly.
I read your novel, ‘Stop Hurting My Flesh’. When I heard that it was banned because our society doesn’t have a child abuse and incest problem, and when I read in the newspaper that your novel is seductive rather than sympathetic, I just couldn’t believe it. I felt estranged from Turkish society. The reason for this is obvious...in Turkey, and in the capital city, Ankara, and in a region where everyone is so modern, in a very nice building, like thousands of little girls, I was sexually abused. I was 6 years old and at home alone in the kitchen. I was little. I was just tall enough to reach the kitchen work-top for a biscuit.
The man who came in through the kitchen door started to stroke my hair and squeeze my cheeks. He unzipped his trousers and took something that looked like a mushroom out of his dark green underpants and told me to touch it. He held the mushroom’s stem and he pushed it into my mouth. He pushed it in and out between my cheek and teeth for a long while. He took it out and I felt something warm and wet on my right cheek. It dripped down onto my dress. The man warned me not to say anything to anyone. I was alone again. It stunk. The rest is emptiness.
Is this seductive? How could anyone be seduced, by hearing this? I wasn’t. The one I was just five minutes earlier was not me anymore. I was disgraced. I felt disgusted. There was nothing I could do. I wanted to disappear. I still want to disappear.
These problems do exist and are experienced everywhere. If these facts are not accepted as truth, the victims’ scars will carry on bleeding inside.
Hello Meltem Arikan, I’m Zeynep from Switzerland. At the moment I’m reading your novel, ‘Stop Hurting My Flesh’. I am experiencing the same situations the women are facing in your novel. I am suffering so much pain. I am having therapy for my trauma and I’m in turbulence. I’m trying to cope with hypocritical family relationships that have gone on for years. Unbelievable, very difficult to accept and it needs a very strong heart. I am a very clever person, but I couldn’t put my life in order without help. I’ve been in Switzerland for 5 years and I’m 42. I want to share this with you, Meltem. I would be delighted if you’d write back to me.
It’s not as common, but children are also abused by women. The incest that little boys are subjected to by women can be equally harrowing.
Hello sister Meltem, I am 12 years old and I writing this email in secret. My dad lost his job and we are living in the house of a close friend of my mum’s. She lives above our flat. Two months ago, she invited me up there, and she touched my body. She had a kind of tool. I thought it was a toy but she pushed it into me. It really hurt me but I couldn’t tell my parents because they were behind with the rent. I’m so afraid because if I tell my mum we will be thrown out. Please, please help me.
After receiving this email in 2004, it took me 3 months to persuade the boy to tell his mum. In the end, he showed his mum all the emails we’d exchanged. She was horrified. They left the house and immediately went to the police. The woman upstairs was prosecuted and the investigation revealed that she was a child pornographer. This brave little boy saved not just his own life and future, but the futures of many other small children. He still corresponds with me.
As I stated before, the incidence of incest is very high in every country, contrary to what is claimed. However, in most countries, including Turkey, there’s no exhaustive statistical research. Is the reason for not conducting extensive research because of the universally held concept of the sanctity of the family, and that the truth would call this sanctity into question? And is it that this type of research would reveal the fearfully high rate of this reality that is said not to exist?
When will this subject be brought out into the open?
In order for women and men who have been victims of incest to exist as a woman or a man, they need to be able to cry out loud about all the abuse they have experienced within their families. They should have ready access to professional help and they need to realise and declare out loud that they are not responsible for what happened to them. If cases of incest are consigned to and dealt with by the forensic and psychiatric disciplines alone, society will continue to consider these cases as atypical acts committed by perverts and will consider the problem resolved by the imposition of legal penalties.
If the true facts are not open to discussion, what is unreal and unnatural will always be confused with what is real and natural.
Meltem Arikan’s novel ‘Stop Hurting My Flesh’ will be re-published later in 2011 by Arkadas.
For all information on her publications and articles, visit www.meltemarikan.com/en/
Articles by Meltem Arikan are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial 3.0 License. You may republish them provided they remain intact, including appropriate attribution to the author.
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