A former teacher and gender equality activist from Turkey, has won the International Women of Courage Award given by the US State Department after her actions led to the arrest of her school’s headmaster, who was sexually abusing six girls between the ages of six and 11.
Saadet Ozkan, a 39-year-old teacher from western city Izmir, was handed the award on Wednesday by US First Lady, Melania Trump, at a ceremony in Washington.
Ozkan was described as a “champion of victims of abuse” on the award’s website.
“After uncovering a decades-long pattern of sexual abuse in the school, she forced a criminal investigation of her principal, persevering in the face of pressure to drop the case. When a serious car accident left her bed-ridden for several months, she organized support from the Izmir Bar Association and the Turkish Confederation of Women’s Associations to help carry the case forward,” the site said.
Speaking to Hurriyet Daily News, Ozkan said she was very happy to have received the award and thanked her students, adding, “They are braver than I am. I also want to thank the head of the Turkish Confederation of Women’s Associations, Canan Gullu, and all the lawyers who supported me in Izmir, the award belongs to all of us.”
“This award belongs to all the people who fight against violence against women and children. However, our struggle is continuing. The cases into the children are also ongoing. I told them about the award and said, ‘Look children, the world heard us! Everything is going to be better!’” she said.
Ozkan was critical of Turkish authorities and said the abuse in Izmir had been disregarded. “They acted as if I and this case doesn’t exist.”
The teacher, who now works as a private consultant supporting victims of abuse, said children from all over Turkey had reached her after the case in Izmir became publicised.
Turkey has been rocked with several cases of large scale child abuse in recent years, most notably involving the Islamic Ensar Foundation, where a teacher was accused of abusing at least 10 children for several years.
Despite government attempts to cover-up the case, due to its ties to the foundation, public outcry led to an investigation and conviction for the perpetrator.