An Analysis of Turkish Newspapers' Coverage of Violence Against Women
Leyla Şimşek
  • Introduction
  • Women and News on Personal Violence in Turkish newspapers
  • Women as the objects of personal violence
  • Psychological Violence
  • Women as Subjects of Personal Violence
  • Women who commit suicide
  • A Comparative study of the newspapers on the news about personal violence


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    In this essay, it is aimed to provide an overview of the issue of women's victimisation in events related to personal violence in terms of the analysis of the news taking place in a three-month pcriod in five Turkish daily newspapers. This study covers the news taking place in September, October and November of 1997. It is planned to select newspapers which have different ideological tendencies and widespread readership.  They are Hürriyet, Yeni Yüzyıl, Cumhuriyet, Türkiye and Yeni Şafak. Among these newspapers, the former has a liberal perspective, whereas Yeni Yüzyıl and Cumhuriyet can be evaluated as the newspapers of the liberal left, Türkiye has a combination of a nationalistic and conservative perspective and Yeni Şafak represents the Islamic approach.

    News related to personal violence, in which women are the victims either as the objects or the agents, will be taken into consideration mainly in two parts. In the first part, the main concern will be on the analysis of the events appeared in the news and in the second part, there will be a comparative study of the newspapers examined for this study to provide an analysis of how and to what extent the news about women's victimisation  become newsworthy in these different newspapers.

    Women and News on Personal Violence in Turkish newspapers

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    In most of the cases, woman's newsworthiness stems from her victimisation and it has various dimensions like woman as the victim of personal violence, public events, disaster and so on As a news subject, woman appear as "passive victim of circumstances beyond her control" (Boom and Michielsens, 1996: 188). But, here the main concern will be on the news related to events taking place in Turkey in which women are subjected to personal violence. Personal violence may also have various dimensions like physical, sexual, psychological, economic and so on That is, violence may appear in different forms and dimensions, but the analysis of the news on personal violence shows that nearly all of the violence events are physical, although it is not the only type. It can be estimated that if violence towards women does not result in crime, even if it does not reverberate in the court, it does not become the subject of news. Besides, it can be said that physical violence is much more prevalent than its dimension reflected in the media. Even if a woman demands justice from official institutions, her complaint may not be registered by the officials. The statement of a woman who goes to a police station since she is subjected to violence by her husband confirms the situation plainly:

    Even though it is quite common to come across women who are subjected to personal violence, women may also be seen as the subjects who direct it towards others as well as themselves.  Thus, it is possible to deal with the issue in the following three categories:
    Women as the objects of personal violence

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    Researches done in other countries as well as in Turkey shows that the greatest amount of people who are subjected to personal violence are women. According to the researches done in Turkey, 95% of the agents of personal violence within the family are men, 90% of the victims of which are women and children. Women are also subjected to personal violence outside the family The proportion of the women as the victims of personal violence in Turkey is in accordance with the findings of Boom and Michielsens:

    Looking at the causes of victimisation - 'the event' - women are largely over-represented as victims of personal violence, which can be rape, murder or physical assault.  From the victims of personal violence in our sample, 71% were women ... An analysis of the image of crime victims in nine British newspapers yielded a similar result; 66% of the victims whose sex was known were female. (1996;190)

    That is to say, violence towards women is not a social problem peculiar to a certain country. Now, the events reflected in the news on this issue will be taken into consideration in detail. According to the documents examined in the three months period, the amount of news about personal violence directed towards women comes to 134 articles, whereas that of news about women as the subjects of personal violence are 95, more than half of which are about women committing suicide. The agents of personal violence against women are in a great amount men who are close relatives. According to the data collected, 69.93% of women are subjected to violence at home by men who are their close relatives or at least acquaintances, whereas 30.06% of the events take place outside the home and 4.19% of the agents of the latter are unknown.

    According to the newspapers, the classification of the agents of personal violence at home and their percentage of using violence against women have been shown in the list below:

    husband or ex-husband
    foster father

    In view of the findings above, it can be said that women in Turkey are threatened at home rather than outside:


    Nearly all of the events taking place in the news are about physical violence. According to the news gathered, personal violence to which women are subjected can be classified as follows:

    According to the news taken place in the newspapers murder is the largest category among personal violence types. when it is compared to the others, the percentage of women victims in this category is 55.24 and they are murdered mostly at home. In most of the cases, the agents of these murder events either declare a common reason saying that they committed the crime because of chastity adding they do not feel repentance or it is understood that they killed since they are refused by the victims. Most of the victims are women who want to get divorced, refuse a declaration of love, live together with another man,  and get divorced; and young girls who go out with their boyfriends and for that reason are killed by their fathers or brothers. Some of the news are about men who are unsuccessful at work who kill their wives and daughters before they commit suicide.  Samples show that most murders take place in houses.

    These events show that women do not have the right to make their own decisions. They are the passive objects to whom men apply their decisions and actions. Men choose women with whom they will be together and if they are refused, they just kill them. This perception of men have also been reflected in a popular statement which is considered as 'romantic': "Either you belong to me or to the black soil". That is, women have been killed since they arc loved but they do not love. Here, the important thing is only the desire or the decision of men. They cannot bear women who want to be free to make their own decisions. These news items reveal that women are assumed as objects possessed by men, namely their husbands, fathers, brothers and so on.

    After murder, rape is the second largest category with the percentage of 26,57.  The agents of these kind of events are either strangers or relatives - at least acquaintances of the victims, like uncles, brothers-in-law, boyfriends, neighbours, and so on.  Among the news in this category it is interesting to find that husbands are not considered rapists. Even though there is no statistical work on rape in marriage, it can be estimated that it is quite common.  This shows that rape in marriage has been accepted as a fact both by the victim and the agent.

    Some statistics demonstrate that only 10% of rapes have ever been punished, and this figure decreases to 1% if the agents are relatives or acquaintances.

    According to the news, whatever their class, occupation, age, and so on, 9.79% of women are subjected to physical assault mostly by their husbands except a few events taking place outside the home. In some of the news the reason for physical assault at home is explained as jealousy whereas in most of the cases the reason is unknown.  Whether there is an intimacy with another man or not, the husband may just suspect that his wife is dishonest.  One item of news tells of an old man who threw boiling water at his wife, thinking that she might get married to someone else. Women may also be subjected to personal violence outside the home like in hospitals: for example, a nurse may be beaten by the director of the hospital she works in.

    This type of news is rather limited since most of the women do not complain especially if the agents are their husbands, as in the case below;

    In fact, according to the news gathered, the types of physical assault are rather limited as well. They may be in various forms and more than the ones reflected in the news; in our examples, methods of physical assault applied by men included beating, wounding with a knife, scalding with boiling water and outright torture.

    The percentage of the news about women being kidnapped is 6.29.  The newspapers show that women are kidnapped either by close relatives (with or without their consent); or by strangers who send warnings to relatives - in most of the cases the woman's father. Women are kidnapped by the lover to be possessed as a wife if the father does not approve of marriage; or by strangers to be used for blackmail. Such kind of events and their reflection in the news directly and successfully contribute to the construction of women as a passive, weak, helpless subject.

    It is also possible to find news about psychological violence but it is rather limited, particularly when compared to the news on physical violence.

    Psychological Violence

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    According to the materials obtained in the three months period, as a type of personal violence, the samples of psychological violence can be classified as follows:

    to harass by word 
    forcing virginity control 
    taking away the child

    Nevertheless, this does not mean that women are rarely exposed to such kind of violence.  Neither the agents or the victims nor the newsmakers think of these events as newsworthy as physical violence, so most of the events in this category do not appear in the newspapers.  Some statistical works done in Ankara shows that 89% of women have at least once been subjected to psychological violence at home.

    Thus it can be said that houses are not safe places for women - indeed, it could be that thew house is as potentially dangerous a place as outside, where men feel happier about exposing women to violence.

    Women as Subjects of Personal Violence

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    The news in this category is almost three times less popular than the news in which women are the objects of personal violence. The news about women as victims 0f personal violence is 134 whereas only 45 items appear with women as the subject of personal violence. In this category most of the events result in murder and most of the victims are husbands or men with whom the agents have beenhad a sexual relationship. Only a few of the victims are women or the agents' children. In some cases they also commit suicide after murder. According to the information, the agents of murder state their reasons as follows:

    The analysis of the news in this category displays that most of the women commit a crime in order to save their lives or to prevent themselves from rape or sexual harassment. In these events the agents case resembles the case of a cat which is driven into a corner and has no alternative but to attack as the best form of defence. Even if a woman is the agent of violence, she cannot stop being victimised.

    Women who commit suicide

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    In this category except one, all of the women successfully commit suicide. According to the samples the amount of the news about women who commit suicide is more than the women who direct personal violence towards others. The percentage of the events on women who direct violence towards themselves is 52,63 whereas there are only 47.63% of events where women direct violence towards others. In almost 33% of cases, the reason why women commit suicide is unknown. Among the known reasons why women commit suicide are:

    According to the news analysed, it is understood that women usually choose suicide as a way of showing reaction especially towards their husbands. This way of exercising violence shows that they are essentially powerless.

    A Comparative Study of the Newspapers on the news about personal violence

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    The following table shows how much attention the newspapers give to personal violence:
    Yeni Yüzyıl
    Yeni Şafak
    Women as the subjects of violence
    Women as the objects of violence
    Women who direct violence towards themselves
    Total percentage of the news relating to violence against women

    While most of the news on personal violence has become the subject of news in Hürriyet and Türkiye, it has not been considered as newsworthy by Cumhuriyet and Yeni Şafak. Even though Cumhuriyet and Yeni Şafak have conflicting ideological perspectivcs, their approach on politics is similar. This fact shows that they both consider personal issues outside politics contrary to the idea that 'the personal is the political'. It can be estimated that Hürriyet and Türkiye deal with the personal issues thinking that people are eager to read about them rather than current affairs. The percentage of the news on personal violence in these newspapers does not mean that they have approaches on politics and personal issues different from those of Cumhuriyet and Yeni Şafak. It can be understood that it is done in order to increase circulation.

    In accordance with its nationalistic and conservative approach, in Türkiye, we come across with normative value judgements which are on behalf of men or the institution of marriage. In a news story about a woman who is murdered by her husband from whom she is separated for about one and a half years, the newspaper portrays the women as an agent provocateur who is disloyal since she lived with another man; this is reinforced by including half-naked photographs of her.  We get the idea that the victim deserves to be killed.   This viewpoint is reinforced in some of the headlines like "The murder of chastity".   In some of the news stories in Türkiye and Hürriyet, the victims are described as "14-year-olds" and "17-year-olds"; this may be intended both to show how women are vulnerable even at a very young age, and to create pity amongst the readers for them since they are so young.

    To sum up, it can be said that all of these newspapers accept the dominant definition of politics and as a result whatever their percentage of the news on personal violence they assume that the events on personal violence take place in a domain outside politics.

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