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Lust for TV ratings leads to sensationalizing rape, critics in Turkey say

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News | 10/29/2010 12:00:00 AM | IŞIL EĞRİKAVUK

The media circus around a new series dealing with a rape and its aftermath has angered critics who say it harms efforts to prevent violence against women.

The media circus around a new TV series dealing with – and depicting – a gang rape and its aftermath has angered critics who say it damages efforts to prevent violence against women in the country.

“With violence against women increasing in society, the media is becoming an accomplice,” members of the Adana Women’s Platform announced in a written statement. “The rape scene in ‘What Is Fatmagül’s Fault?’ has been a tool for increasing ratings; it has been repeatedly shown and turned into a subject of mockery. We want it stopped.”

Known by most viewers simply as “Fatmagül,” the one-month-old show “Fatmagül’ün Suçu Ne?” draws the top ratings in its timeslot and has become a media sensation. Last week, Turkish comedian Ali Poyrazoğlu was heavily criticized for having actors re-perform the show’s now-infamous rape scene on live TV while comparing the rapists to sportsmen and commenting on their “score.” The hundreds of online postings about the scene often have titles such as “Watch the rape scene now!” “How was she raped?” or “Who was raped better?” – the latter a question comparing the televised scene to its previous film version. There are even “Fatmagül”-themed underwear and sex dolls for sale.

“It is extremely horrifying that such an issue can be turned into a spectacle to watch,” Esra Arsan, an assistant professor of media and communication systems at Istanbul Bilgi University, told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review. “The scenario and its marketing are based solely on making rape a tool for pornography. [The show] is making money on women’s suffering.”

In the television series, a young woman named Fatmagül is raped by three young, wealthy men, an act witnessed by a fourth man who did not remember what happened that night because he was under the influence of drugs. In order to save their sons’ reputations, the families of the three rich men pay the fourth, poorer, man to marry Fatmagül. Her family also accepts money to keep silent about the rape.

“In a society where sexuality has been repressed, displaying such imagery in this provocative way allows people to normalize rape,” said sociologist Şule Aytaç.

But not everyone thinks the show is harmful to women. Daily Radikal columnist Yıldırım Türker, for one, has criticized people who complain about the series. “Those who cannot bear allowing a rape victim’s story to exist complain about this TV series, which in a very decent way tells how boys from [respected] families can turn into rapists,” he wrote in his Oct. 4 column. “They are afraid of a rape victim being visible.”

According to statistics from the Institute of Sexual Health, or CİSED, 40 percent of Turkish women have been subjected to physical violence and 20 percent have been subjected to sexual violence.

The original version of “Fatmagül,” which was made into a film by Süreyya Duru in 1986, was written by famous Turkish novelist Vedat Türkali based on a true story he came across in Fethiye, a coastal town in southern Turkey. In the movie version, the man who marries Fatmagül was actually one of her rapists. Türkali wrote his story to draw attention to a Turkish law that allowed rapists to be released from jail if they marry their victim. The law was subsequently changed, yet rape has remained a serious issue.

“The law was changed, but there are still many legally problematic issues related to cases of rape,” lawyer Eren Keskin told the Daily News. “Rape is not a new issue in this country. Many women get raped in their own homes, and in almost all cases they are treated by authorities as if they provoked it.”

The show’s producers and scriptwriter have been reluctant to join the debate swirling around the series. “We have made no advertising that promotes the rape scene,” a representative of Ay Yapım, the production company, told the Daily News. Scriptwriter Ece Yörenç said she preferred not to comment on the issue.

With rumors spreading that another television series plans to broadcast a similar rape scene, Arsan from Istanbul Bilgi University said taking “Fatmagül” off the air is not a solution. “The media needs to focus on the violence of rape, rather than promote it,” she said.

Competition among TV shows has driven the “Fatmagül” frenzy, Ferruh Uztuğ, head of Eskişehir Anadolu University’s Advertising and Public Relations Department, told the Daily News. “Just like Hollywood movies, TV series are now becoming brands, which pressures their makers to come up with sensational stories. They knew the rape scene would attract viewers and start debates,” he said. “Rather than discussing what is shown [on TV], Turkey needs to have a long discussion on how women are portrayed in this society. We need to move forward to [address] the reality of rape rather than promote it as pornography.”

Characterizing the ethics of such a situation, Uztuğ quoted a line from a song by famous Turkish singer Sezen Aksu: “None of us are innocent.” 

“Whose ethics should we question? Those who bring this scene into the news, those who make it into products or those who demand it?” he asked. “There is not one guilty party here. As well it is wrong to reduce a whole series to one scene in order to attract attention.”

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