A recent video showing the murder of a mother by her ex-husband in front of their child has sparked a debate in Turkey on whether sharing such graphic footage can be justified as a legitimate way of raising awareness of violence against women.
In August this year, 38-year Emine Bulut was stabbed to death by her former husband Fedai Varan, 43, in a café in the central Turkish city of Kırıkkale. Varan later told the court that the victim “provoked” him by talking about the custody of their ten-year-old daughter, who was present at the scene.
In the eight-second video footage of the murder, the mother can be seen soaked in blood and screaming “I don’t want to die” while her daughter begs her to stay alive. Emine later died in hospital. Her ex-husband was arrested and charged with murder.
The smartphone footage was recorded by a 19-year-old known only as BY who then sent it to his friend MA, 22. Although MA said that he deleted the footage immediately after watching it, somehow the video went viral and rekindled a debate not only on violence against women, but also on the ethical implications of recording and sharing such material.
Turkey has a dire record when it comes to violence against women. According to a women’s rights platform Kadin Cinayetlerini Durduracagiz Platformu (We Will Stop Femicide Platform), domestic violence claimed the lives of 440 women in Turkey last year, while 294 were killed in the first eight months of 2019.
Some activists argue that showing the shocking video of Bulut’s murder to a wide audience was an important way to raise awareness of such violence.
“This was Emine’s last cry. And the fact that her child cried ‘Mum don’t die’… I don’t think anyone in the world can turn a blind eye to it,” said Gulsum Kav, a representative of We Will Stop Femicide in a recent interview with BBC. Kav added that the victim’s last words were the symbol of how little women in Turkey want. “Our demand as women is not to be killed”, she said.
Other media professionals and psychologists warn that sharing such footage is not only unethical, but also normalises violence and makes it more acceptable, thus minimising chances for real change.
Soon after the video of Emine’s murder appeared on social media, the Kırıkkale criminal court banned its further broadcast. BY and MA were taken into custody and accused of the unauthorised recording and broadcast of images from a crime scene. BY said in his court testimony that he recorded the scene in order to help the police, and both were later released.
Images of Bulut taken as she lay dying in hospital also appeared on social media. The Kırıkkale public prosecutor’s office accused the emergency response team of disseminating them and announced it would be opening criminal proceedings against them.
The footage of the murder provoked strong reactions across the country.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s office issued a statement in which they condemned Bulut’s murder, adding that, “Any kind of violence against women is unacceptable.”
Erdoğan also urged officials to take steps in fighting violence against women and “to make sure that the perpetrator received the punishment he deserved”.
But he called on media outlets to act “responsibly and ethically” and avoid depicting graphic images of violence.
The fact that the video was made at all was condemned by Emine’s mother, Fadime Bulut.
After the footage went viral, Fadime said she was appalled by the fact that “someone was recording my child’s suffering, instead of helping her. Shame on them!”
Aytekin Polatel, the president of the Association of News Cameramen of Turkey, said that there was no easy answer to whether such footage should have been made in the first place.
He stressed that a properly-trained journalist probably would not have recorded this scene.
“They would help the victim first and would use their camera only later, because they are human beings, not just professionals,” he said.
Broadcasting the footage was also problematic, he continued.
“Our association is against spreading such violent scenes via social media because they show someone’s agony. That’s simply unethical,” he continued.
And yet Polatel said that the impact of the footage could not be ignored.
“The whole of Turkey heard about Emine Bulut’s murder because of this video,” he continued. “If the video footage didn’t exist, her death wouldn’t have attracted so much attention to violence against women.”
Fergün Atalay, a Turkish television journalist for the past two decades, said the phenomenon also marked a dramatic change in the media landscape.
“Ordinary people, who were once simply news consumers, have suddenly become ‘citizen journalists’ thanks to smartphone camera,” she said.
“One could argue that BY’s recording of Emine’s suffering was not ethical, but the same could be said for dozens of other people who witnessed this murder and did nothing to prevent it. Or for the media who didn’t pay much attention to this case until they realised that the video footage was available,” she continued. “Or for the politicians who are not taking effective steps against increasing numbers of murdered women in Turkey. They all share the blame.”
But psychologist Serap Erdoğan Taycan, a member of Turkey Psychiatry Association executive committee, warned that the repeated depiction of violence against women, including Bulut’s killing, could simply normalise such violence amongst the wider population.
“By watching violent scenes over and over again, people get used to them,” she said. “The repetition makes them almost normal and blurs people’s perception of reality. Ultimately, it may even stifle their desire to do something concrete to stop violence against women.”