Security cameras aboard a public transit bus in Istanbul, Turkey, showed the moment a man allegedly shouted at a female university student over her choice of clothes before physically assaulting her.
The incident occurred on June 14 onboard a minibus in Istanbul’s Pendik district, in the southwest part of the city.
Asena Melisa Sağlam, 21, says she was seated near the back of the bus when the man seated behind her began to make angry remarks to her about her choice of apparel: denim shorts and a baggy white shirt.
“From the moment I sat down he was making these remarks ‘You dress like this during Ramadan? You should feel ashamed to be dressed like that,’” Sağlam told Turkish news outlet Hurriyet.
Sağlam says she put her headphones back in after conversing with the man. Security footage shows what happened next as the man rose to his feet and then struck her in the face with a backhanded slap.
Sağlam then rose to her feet to confront the man as he was leaving the bus and another physical confrontation ensued, during which she was struck in the face again and thrown to the back of the bus. She then collapsed to the ground crying as other passengers came to her aid.
The attack left Sağlam, a psychology major at Istanbul’s Gelisim University, and her family angry and confused.
Sağlam’s attacker was later identified as Ercan Kızıltaş, who was detained by police in June 17, questioned, and then was believed to have been released a short time later. According to the Turkish daily newspaper Birgun Kızıltaş told police he was “provoked” into attacking Sağlam because of the length of her shorts.
News of Kızıltaş’ release sparked protests outside the local police station from Sağlam’s family and friends.
“We were with her, we supported her, we had to do it,” her mother Melisa Sağlam told Birgun outside the police station. “My daughter has had an unlucky incident, I’m always safe and supportive. I’m calling all the mothers. Support your children, do not leave them alone.”
There were calls from international feminist groups such as Femen to take stronger action against the alleged perpetrator.
“The release of the attacker is a threat to all women,” the women’s rights organisation We Will Stop Femicide Platform said in a statement according to Middle East Eye. “We will wear whatever we want outside. We will not give up our freedoms.”
However, police in Istanbul said Kızıltaş was in fact not released after a background check uncovered a previous arrest warrant for what police are calling a “tax fraud case.”
In addition, the public outcry prompted prosecutors to lay additional charges for “insulting,” “intentionally wounding” and “inciting public hatred and enmity” in relation to the bus attack, according to a statement from Anadolu Cumhuriyet with the Chief Public Prosecutor’s office.
Sağlam has since reached out on Twitter to thank those who showed their support over the last several days.