The evening began by naming a list of ‘Where to Start’ (e.g. available support, safety, honouring, shame issues, etc.) and recognising those important factors when working win the field of domestic/sexual abuse. In the first half of the evening, Maggie gave a talk about her experience working in Turkey. She mentioned the difficulties of understanding practices across cultures, whether practices in different communities, families or countries.
Maggie worked on a project in 2009/10 with the Turkish Probation Service. She created a manual for Turkish practitioners in their support victims of sexual crime in their own culture. Maggie was involved in Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) who developed treatment initiatives in form of ongoing therapy groups, which allow victims to share experiences and overcome isolation. In this context, Maggie trained Turkish practitioners working for NGOs in the field of sexual/domestic violence. Maggie contrasted the value of long established services in the UK, such as the Sexual Assault Referral Centres (SARCs) and the situation of setting up similar services in Turkey. Maggie drew our attention to the link between social understanding, cultural identities, practices and expectations, and the accompanying legal framework. In particular, the difference between European (Roman) law and Turkish law is that while in Europe anything is permitted unless a law prohibits an action while in Turkish law only things are allowed that are explicitly permitted.
While Maggie worked in Turkey, she gained cultural and anthropological knowledge such as the fact that brothels are regarded as accepted training grounds for marriage for you men, and that homosexuality was not considered to exist in Turkey. She also learned that at that time she worked in Ankara, the fact that sexual violence could perpetrated by males and females was taken as a surprise. One of Maggie’s anecdotes illustrated her experience and understanding of the important of the vital concept of giving and asking for help in Turkish culture. She explained that because of a strong tradition of Turkish hospitality the link between requesting and receiving help is ingrained in people. Because of this sense of duty, victims of abuse can be asked by judges, “Why didn’t you ask for help?”. It is understood that if a victim did not ask for help, that the person cannot be categorised as a victim.
Maggie also expressed her concern of the threat of loss of British involvement in EU funded NGOs projects for Turkey after Brexit. The UK’s input through sharing long-standing theoretical and practical knowledge for adults and children victims of domestic and sexual assault and abuse is likely to seize.
Maggie also listed some myths and talked about victims’ fear stopping them reporting an assault because of concern about the family’s “honour” in many cases.
The goal of the trainings in which Maggie was involved was to empower them and to keep vulnerable victims as safe as possible. Maggie summed up, that after the project was finished, it was considered a great success in the eyes of social media but unpopular in other quarters.
In the second half of her presentation, Maggie invited us to share our views in small groups at our tables discussing some case studies. At our table, all four of us were able to explore and understand the multicultural issues raised by clients within the counselling room. During the brainstorming time, the hall was buzzing as we shared our thoughts. I believe that to assume we know about our clients’ culture is wrong, and that we need to take a non-judgemental, self-reflective and non-assuming approach by listening deeply in order to understand the view of the victim. If we want to understand our clients’ culture, we need to ask them to explain it to us.
Thank you, Maggie, for a very useful and educational evening. Sandra Vado