Sunday, August 29, 2010

2010: The time has come when Turkey must rejoin the rest of the world in its treatment of animals

A man approaches a stand in front of İstanbul’s prestigious Galatasaray High School located on İstiklal, the busiest no-traffic street in town walked by tens of thousands daily, and inquires what the people on the other side of the stand are doing.

They explain their purpose in opening up a stand on İstiklal speaking in lay terms, “We are gathering signatures to make animal rape a crime.” The man eyes them suspiciously. “You don’t get my signature ‘cuz I don’t believe in your cause!” he exclaims, and explains himself: “Why do you think it should be a crime? Sex with animals is normal in Anatolia. I did it myself in my own time. But look, now I am a school teacher.” He walks away from the stand leaving behind four or five animal-rights activists led by Turkish television and theater actor Tuna Arman completely aghast.

Arman and several volunteers who joined her after she announced her cause on Facebook and other social networking sites are organizing a 50-day sit-in, to begin on Aug. 15, to appeal to lawmakers to amend the penalties imposed for raping, torturing or maiming animals. They are also making an effort to announce to the country that this is not an animal rights issue, but a highly social one that concerns humans as well. The emphasis on safety of the society in defending justice for animals is more than apt in a country where people who teach your children at school can overtly brag about their past sexual escapades with donkeys, justify their own zoophilia as culturally normal and even customary and get away with it.

Currently injuring or killing in animal is not punishable under the Turkish Penal Code (TCK), but is treated as a misdemeanor, and is subject to penal laws under that category. If you murder an animal, if you are caught, you can walk away a free person and an unrecorded menace to society just by paying a fine (anywhere between TL 70 to TL 300, depending on if the animal had an owner). The word “unrecorded” is key here, as misdemeanors are not registered on one’s criminal record. In other words, a dog rapist could be your friend whom you invite to your house to hang around your kids, your employee (or employer) or an acquaintance and there is no way you could know. Arman and her supporters are trying to get legislators to change that, emphasizing the threat to society caused by people who harm animals.

In fact, there is an animal rights website that makes the point clearer for lay people and that has a quite morbid chart that lists well-known violent offenders and their known acts of cruelty against animals prior to harming humans. According to the list, Michael Cartier, the murderer of Kristin Lardner, an art student he dated for a while, pulled rabbits’ legs out of their sockets when he was just 4 years old and threw a kitten through a closed window. Henry Lee Lucas, who killed his mother, his wife and several others, killed animals and had sex with their corpses. Christine Falling -- who had killed five children and elderly man by the time she was 19 -- killed cats to see if they did have nine lives as a child. Ted Bundy is also on the long list too, as he grew up witnessing acts of animal cruelty by his grandfather.

Public reaction

As of Friday, the group had collected 35,000 signatures in less than two weeks of collecting signatures for four hours a day. Although the protestors get the occasional deviant who thinks and openly says it is “OK” to rape an animal, people overall have been supportive. “We get 2,500 signatures on the worst days,” says Arman. One of the volunteers says the number of daily signatures can be as high as 7,500.

Although certainly, they have not been as supportive as one would hope. “Some people approach the stand, and they turn around saying ‘I don’t care’ when they hear the word animals.” Arman says this is exactly why Turkey needs stricter laws punishing those who inflict pain on animals. Since a portion of society, although not a large section, doesn’t see animals as worthy of having rights, we need good laws to ensure justice for animals until every part of Turkish society is informed.

This is why, at least for now, emphasizing the risks posed by violent individuals feeding their urges through torturing animals is crucial. It is also a fact that study after study has shown an undeniable correlation between animal abuse and child abuse. Although overstated, it is a fact that most serial killers start their careers by butchering innocent animals.

Animal cruelty and violence

According to a classic study conducted by DeViney, Dickert, & Lockwood in 1983, frequently cited by animal rights groups, child abuse and animal cruelty are strongly correlated. The study surveyed pet-owning families with substantiated child abuse and neglect and found that animals were abused in 88 percent of homes where physical child abuse was present. Another study on women seeking shelter at a safe house showed that 71 percent of those having pets affirmed that their partner had threatened, hurt or killed their companion animals. Another study found that offenders incarcerated in maximum-security prisons were significantly more likely than nonviolent offenders to have committed childhood acts of cruelty toward pets (Merz-Perez, Heide, & Silverman, 2001). Scientifically speaking, society is taking a huge risk by letting acts of animal cruelty go unchecked.

State Minister Hayati Yazıcı, Arman informed us, also signed the petition, which will be sent to the Prime Ministry and the Justice Ministry at the end of the campaign. “We are also trying to schedule a meeting with the prime minister,” Arman said. Volunteers in 11 other provinces are also collecting signatures.

Arman’s stand will be in front of the Galatasaray High School until Oct. 4, known in Turkey as Animal Day. She and the other protestors collect signatures between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m.

29 August 2010, Sunday – Barış ALTINTAŞ, İstanbul

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