Women’s Organisations’ Role in (Re)Constructing the Narratives in Femicide Cases: Şule Çet’s Case
2. Theoretical Concerns: Resource Mobilisation Theory and the Role of Social Media in Countering Dominant Narratives
3. Methodological Concerns
4. Domestic Law on Femicide and Local Endeavour to Challenge the System in Turkey
5. A Historical Analysis: Why Do Women Follow Femicide Cases?
6. Following Şule’s Case
6.1. The Story of Şule Çet: 29 May 2018, Ankara, Turkey
- 01.47 (Şule): “F…ck, he does not let me leave” (“S…keyim ya, bırakmıyor artık”).
- 02.31 (Lilia): “Write to me, I am worried. I can come and pick you”.
- No response from Şule until 2.45, when she said: “Analog”. Lilia did not get what Şule said5, but Şule tried to explain that he had anal sex with her by force.
- 03.03 (Şule): “He messed me up, messed me up, f…ck, I wish I did not come” (“Ağzıma sıçtı ağzıma s...dim keşke gelmeseydim ya”).
6.2. The Distorted Version of Şule’s Story
The space between the window and the coffee table was not wide enough to accommodate Çağatay or allow him to try to save Şule as he claimed6. There is an inconsistency here. If this was the case, it would mean that he reorganised the scene of the accident. Of course, it is you who will judge, but given forensic science, the accident did not occur the way Çağatay tells us.
6.3. The Construction of a Counter-Narrative by Women’s Organisations: How Women’s Organisations Follow Femicide and Suspicious Death Cases?
6.3.1. They Aim to Encourage the Court to Hear Counter-Narratives
From Mizgin’s statement, one can observe that the attitude of the police and prosecutor during the prosecution stage evoked the consciences of women, who aim to bring about social change in gender norms. They follow femicide cases to bring the courts’ attention to women’s stories and consequently consider their claims more carefully. One criticism surrounding women’s organisations’ engagement with counter-narratives is that they put pressure on the court. Such criticism overlooks that mis-convictions occur when the investigators rely on faulty assumptions and collect the evidence in a way that “confirms” these assumptions (Fludernik 2014, p. 92). It also underestimates the impacts of material evidence on truth-finding. Hearing the counter-narrative does not mean that legal mechanisms, particularly the courts, simply rely on the narratives to which they are exposed. As illustrated by Peter Brooks (2006, p. 2), “there are moments when the law notes that a story has been mis-told, or not told according to the rules (of evidence, for instance), or doesn’t make sense as told.” Şule’s case is a clear example of these moments. It illustrates that the narratives take on their meaning when they are supported by material evidence.If there was an effective investigation, we would not need to intervene or campaign. Police did not collect the evidence properly, and [some of them] remained in the bin. Such an impassivity…We will keep reminding them about their job every time they do not fulfil their job’s requirements.
Indeed, Fidan indirectly responds to criticism that “feminism is somehow unfairly self-interested” (Smith 2010, p. 291). Her focus on both sides’ right to request an effective investigation shows that the purpose of a feminist judgement is to promote justice rather than privilege women over men (Smith 2010, p. 291). Fidan goes on to say:One can question “if this [women’s interference] is real justice”. I cannot agree with such criticism as gender inequalities are so deep and are integrated into judicial decisions7. There are so many femicide cases involving unsolved questions. The investigation needs to be done in a manner that eliminates any suspicion for both sides, not only for women.
As it seems, women challenge the arguments based on the idea that the law is neutral. Law cannot be fully understood without a reference to power relations and the dominant political discourse. The universal principles are shaped by the prevailing masculine power relations (Smith 2010, p. 291), which exclude women from the law-making process and the construction of legal mechanisms and institutions (Fineman 1994, p. 351). Therefore, adopting a women perspective is an attempt to interpret the seemingly neutral law from a feminist perspective.When we found the “The Platform”, we had to respond to questions, such as ‘why do you call it women’s rights? Is not it human rights? Or why do you call it femicide? Are not men killed as well?’ This is an attempt to neutralise the problem. But we cannot pretend as if we are equal (EşitMİŞİZ gibi). Just like we work on providing the voiceless women with a ground to raise their voice in society or just like we demand equal representation in the parliament, we must work on inequalities within the judicial system too. It is so sad, but we must interfere.
6.3.2. They Stimulate Public Engagement and Construct Counter-Narratives through Social Media
Umur’s statement reminds us that the decision-making and judicial process constitutes one of the areas affected by technological developments, more specifically by the steep rise in using social media, and that some legal reforms are the result of successful social movements and media campaigns (Steinberg 2016).The prosecutor only focused on the possibility of suicide. All the evidence was collected with such incentive. Çağatay and Berk were not arrested, not until we, in total 50–60 people, gathered in front of Yelken plaza to give a public speech. On Friday night, women’s organisations––Women’s Assemblies, The Platform, and some initiatives from Middle East Technical University––created hashtags. We gathered on Saturday around 2–3 p.m. Çağatay and Berk were taken into custody at around 4–5 p.m. after our public statement. They were previously taken into custody twice. Yet, each time, they were released. This time, they were arrested even though nothing new was added to their file. The only difference was that Şule’s case was on social media. People were bursting out: ‘There is injustice here’.
Şule’s friends’ quick reaction reveals that online activism can be initiated even by a small number of participants (Earl and Kimport 2011). Technology provides activists with an opportunity to promptly reach broader segments of society, at no or little cost, to raise awareness (Steinberg 2016). In Şule’s case, the demonstration was an immediate reaction of women: on Friday, Mizgin, as a Gazi University graduate, received tons of messages from the students of Gazi University, where Şule was studying her undergrad. These students wanted to be part of the struggle. On Saturday, when Mizgin arrived at the demonstration, she was surprised to see that not only women from the Platform were present, but also other women were waiting in front of Yelken Plaza: “I am a member of the Platform for a long time [since 2016] … There were so many people I did not know, never met before.” This comes as no surprise, as “digital media [is] providing access to a visible platform and wide audiences without necessitating membership within a formal organisation” (Clark 2016). Şule’s case also revealed that social media enable women’s organisations to connect with diverse women immediately “as events are unfolding” (Obar et al. 2011, p. 20). They enable the previously “disengaged users to join political and social causes, increasing the likelihood of being further mobilised both online and offline” (Valenzuela 2013, p. 922).Şule’s friends launched a campaign on Twitter. They reached us on social media. Her friends and we [the Platform] felt the urge to follow her case. In a couple of hours, her case started to spread rapidly on social media. It was Friday when we decided to organise a demonstration. I remember it very clearly because it was Saturday when we met in front of Yelken Plaza. Even though it was Saturday, they [Çağatay and Berk] were arrested.
Umur also highlights the ways the defence lawyers brought, or attempted to bring, evidence to the Court, which illustrates very well the unequal power relations between Şule’s lawyers and the defence lawyers:People, who had not even seen each other before, gathered for Şule. Social media brought us together. For example, I received an invitation from Hakan Kar [a professor at Mersin University, Forensic Department]: He volunteered to work on Şule’s case and prepared a forensic report. His report was one of the critical reports that made a difference in Şule’s case.
Umur believes that women’s organisations’ engagement with counter-narratives brought the matter to the public’s attention and balanced these unequal power relations. In other words, it put society’s support on the other side of the scale. One can claim that Şule’s narrative constructed resistance. Hearing the counter-narratives of women’s organisations, in contrast to the perpetrators, many members of society became more aware of women’s struggle in accessing justice. Hence, they wanted to be part of it. Society supported women’s organisations to “hijack the media” by re-telling Şule’s story and “rerouting of news media discourse away from victims’ behaviour and toward the actions of perpetrators” (Clark 2016, p. 795). Aslı, a cause lawyer and the head of the Gelincik Centre, shares the same view. For her, social media’s impact on revealing such inequality was one of the reasons why Şule’s case turned into a social cause:They reached Şule’s transcripts, her bank statements, or even her health reports from 2016. These documents cannot be provided to third parties. They did have access to her private life. They were powerful. From the letter they sent to each other, it was also clear that they even succeeded in reaching the key people to represent them in printed media. Later, the media started using this language: ‘Holding alcohol bottles, Şule Çet is entering the plaza at 24.00′9. Yet, the question before the Court was not Şule’s private life or what she was doing there after midnight. The question was whether she was murdered and sexually harassed.
Aslı’s statement clearly indicates that women’s narratives educate members of society on issues of which they were ignorant so that they start questioning their own bias. Aslı also observes the increase in the general public’s participation in protests and the evolving progress of femicide cases within the twenty-five years of her lawyering experience. She could see the differences between society’s attitudes towards femicide in the past and now:When this imbalance was brought into light by Şule’s lawyers and women’s organisations through social media, the injustice became so obvious to ignore, Şule’s case started to evoke society’s conscience. There were several attempts to spoil the evidence. Bias and stereotypes were at play. They [the defence] had the power in their hand…All these touched society’s feelings. And women’s solidarity won against this power.
Aslı’s referral to the impact of these cases on society illustrates two crucial points. First, it shows how the use of social media “altered the manner in which individuals show support” and provided an effective “mechanism for implementing political and social change” (Steinberg 2016, p. 419). Second, it demonstrates the importance of using law and courts as a site of struggle “to increase people’s sense of personal and political power” (Weizman 2016, p. 63). In other words, the main point here is to turn the individual’s case into a public matter. Fidan similarly touched on this issue:Society’s intervention in femicide cases, unlike twenty-five years ago, has become more apparent, particularly after Özgecan Aslan’s10 case. Society learnt a lot from cases such as Özgecan Aslan, Emine Bulut, and Şule Çet. When a femicide case is on social media, it takes a very different dimension. It becomes a social cause. It urges society to do something against femicide: to become part of the struggle.
Fidan’s statement illustrates that one of their main aims is to make each femicide case a social cause. By obtaining wider public attention, women’s organisations aim to raise a significant point: “the personal is political.” They direct women’s attention to “the collective social dimension of their own individual problems.” This also reveals one of the main aims of feminist intervention: to bring together diverse women who experience violence and show that their own experiences are not isolated cases (Wehbi 1999, p. 177).No matter how unique the case is, it is a part of a bigger picture. It is a societal problem […] When we are informed about a femicide case, the first step is to form a public opinion and make everybody aware of the problem. By following these cases and raising public opinion, we aim to turn the society’s gaze into the current case so that the practitioners of law approach the matter meticulously (just as they are supposed to do).
6.3.3. They Co-Operate and Show Solidarity
During the interview, Mizgin felt emotional several times, her voice trembled, and her eyes darkened. Her emotional engagement with Şule’s case shows how she could not even think otherwise but be there. Highlighting Mizgin’s emotional engagement is important because emotions play a crucial role in mobilising individuals and creating a sense of togetherness among them (Gerbaudo 2012). In Şule’s case, procedural injustice evoked the public’s conscience. It brought them together to ask for a social change, which can be achieved when the social movement members operate both at the legal and social levels. In other words, public support and empathy constitute a complementary feature of the legal struggle (Steinberg 2016), which will more likely succeed when “legal strategies [are used] in conjunction with other forms of collective action” (Levitsky 2006, p. 147). The question here is how could members of a particular social movement (nonlegal) co-operate with legal organisations or lawyers and vice versa? Umur exemplifies the co-operation between cause lawyers and women’s organisations:From the 20th floor!…You look at the height of the building…You just feel emotionally up and down. A woman was killed. The accused were released. No effective investigation was launched. What happened was so sad. It aroused our anger.(Zoom interview with Mizgin, May 2020)
Women’s organisations brought information of which Umur, as a lawyer, was not aware. This information led Umur to question the prosecutor’s attitude more carefully. As a result, he requested the replacement of the prosecutor for transparency. This collaboration between women’s organisations and Şule’s lawyer shaped the course of the struggle. Such interaction also illustrates very well Sandra R. Levitsky’s point:When we gathered for a public demonstration, they [women’s organisations] told me that the current prosecutor also closed Esin teacher’s case as suicide even though it was a femicide case in Siirt [a city in Southeast Turkey]. This information was so precious. I was the lawyer of Şule, but they were the ones who knew about Esin teacher’s story.
Women’s struggle requires various social groups that complement one another and have a reciprocal relationship. Feminists become involved, for example, through third-party interventions. Yet, integrating a women perspective into the legal system, particularly into the language and decisions of the courts, also requires co-operation between feminists, academics, and lawyers (Samuels 2005). Regarding such co-operation, when I asked Umur if he had thought whether things would have been different without the support of the women’s organisations, he said that “it would have been difficult…It was a tough task. We would not be able to handle it without co-operation. Each of us contributed differently: Diverse organisations prepared reports, lawyers from different Bar Associations supported us, NGO’s and women’s organisations were also there for Şule.” While Umur stated that it would have been more difficult for him to pursue the case without the co-operation of women’s organisations, this was not stated aloud in Fidan’s case. During the interview, Fidan was more concerned about highlighting the independent structure of the Platform rather than the contribution of lawyers to their struggle. She responded to the same question by making a passing comment about the co-operation with Şule’s lawyer, Umur: “Of course, different elements of the struggle were connected. We were in touch with Umur about Şule’s case. His endeavour to make her case visible without eliminating women, the main subjects of the matter, was so precious.” Then, she continued:[The] familiarity with law, legal venues, and the discourse of rights are potentially useful resources for a range of social movement activities, including public education, protest activity, lobbying, and consciousness raising […] But, importantly, interactions with nonlegal organisations could also serve as information conduits for legal advocacy groups.
While Fidan believes that the matter cannot be left to lawyers alone, Aslı thinks that “an unlimited intervention of women’s organisations is not acceptable; there are things that the judges are legally required to do. Sometimes women’s organisations might not understand these procedures. We need to find a middle ground.” Fidan’s and Aslı’s statements remind us that the co-operation between cause lawyers and women’s organisations is necessary to build common ground. Women’s access to justice is not a one-sided struggle.These kinds of cases could not be left to lawyers alone. The relationship we established with our legal committee in the organisation involves brainstorming, in which diverse women holding different majors bring their perspectives and experiences to the table. Not only lawyers have a say on this. All of us come up with different ideas as we see things differently from where we stand. For example, one of our psychologist friends mentioned psychological autopsy. We are currently working on it. In short, we work collectively. Every idea is given careful consideration.
7. The Court’s Decision: Şule Did Not Commit Suicide
“Şule wanted to build a life. She rented a new house; she even painted the whole house by herself. She had dreams”.(Lilian’s testimony)
Şule’s story is familiar––because femicide and violence against women are increasing––and different––because suspicious death cases wrongly have been classified as suicide. However, the Court’s approach was different in Şule’s case. Instead of simply relying on the defence’s claims that Şule had phsycological problems and committed suicide, the Court shifted focus from Şule’s lifestyle towards the actions of Çağatay and Berk. Similarly, for Mizgin, the Court’s decision was a clear response to those who think they have the right to question women’s lifestyles or choices. It was an indication that “women can be where/when they want; they can drink and wear what they want. No one can hurt them and get away with it by relying on gender stereotypes.”as a symbolic case, illustrating how a young woman experiences violence in the modern world and how masculinity and power are used to justify such violence against women or even whitewash femicide. Şule’s case, like Esin Güneş’s case, is a cornerstone of femicide cases: it is both familiar and, at the same time, reveals a new way of looking at suspicious death cases.
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See (Bozkurt 2019), a recently conducted Master thesis.
For a detailed examination of ethical responsibilities of defence lawyers, see (Craig 2014).
On their website, the activities of the Platform are explained as follows: “Joins court cases via its representatives and lawyers next to the women who are exposed to different forms of violence [...] Embraces its deceased sisters; fights for justice hand in hand with their families; pursues femicide cases; provides legal assistance; creates public opinion by drawing attention to femicide in the court houses […] It fights for the solution of the legal problems regarding the violence against women, puts up a struggle to attain legal gains in favor of women and actively participates in the legislation processes. The Platform actively participated in the making of the ‘Law for Protection of Family and Prevention of Violence Against Women No 6282’. For a while now, it has been struggling for the inclusion of the term ‘femicide’ in the Turkish Penal Code, its penalisation by ‘aggravated life imprisonment’, and the annulment of continuing abatements. The Platform has a legislative proposal submitted to The Grand National Assembly of Turkey on 25 November 2013. It contributes to the justice by revealing the truth about the ‘doubtful death’ cases treated as ‘suicides’ and closed. It encourages the local courts and The Court of Appeals to make precedential decisions in the cases about women’s protection, sexual assault and femicide. Thus, it contributes to the formation of a relevant jurisprudence in all these ways”. See: http://www.kadincinayetlerinidurduracagiz.net/for-english (accessed on 28 January 2022).
For their Turkish website, see: http://www.gelincikprojesi.org.tr/ (accessed on 28 January 2022).
It is believed that the message was autocorrected. She wanted to write “Anal oldu” in Turkish and it was autocorrected to “Analog”.
Experts tried to put a shoe between the window and the table to see if there was enough space to accommodate Şule or Çağatay. Unfortunately, the shoe they brought (Şule’s size) did not fit there.
For example, Umur criticised the dilemma of whether Şule committed suicide or was murdered. He believes that if the victim was a man, this dilemma would not occur. He states: “In Şule’s case, the victim was a woman. They [prosecutor and police,] initially focused on the possibility of suicide. If the victim was a man, would they consider this possibility? To me, No. It is either suicide or murder. A clear-cut”.
Except Fidan. Fidan stated several times that “we cannot limit our struggle to social media”. Her focus remained on the structure of the Platform rather than on the use of social media itself.
I could not find an exact expression in the news. Yet, the fact that she had alcohol was highlighted in the news. For an analysis of “sexist rhetoric used in the news”, see (Şahin and Birincioğlu 2020).
The interviewees kept referring to two femicide cases: Özgecan Aslan’s and Emine Bulut’s. In Ozgecan Aslan’s case, the perpetrator, Suphi Altındöken, “drove Aslan to the woods after all the other passengers had got off the bus and then tried to rape her. The young woman fought back using pepper spray, but Altındöken then bludgeoned and stabbed her to death, before being helped to dispose of her body. The remains were found by police and the three men were arrested”. See, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/dec/04/three-men-life-sentence-murder-student-turkey-ozgecan-aslan (accessed on 28 January 2022).
Article 81(1) of Turkish Criminal Code rules that “Any person who intentionally kills another shall be sentenced to life imprisonment”. Article 82 Turkish Criminal Code entitled “Qualified Cases” states that “If the act of intentional killing is committed: a) […] h) In order to conceal an offence, destroy evidence, facilitate the commission of another offence or prevent apprehension […] the offender shall be sentenced to aggravated life imprisonment”.
Article 102(2) of Turkish Criminal Code entitled “Offences against Sexual Integrity: “Sexual Assault” rules that “where the act is committed by means of inserting an organ, or other object, into the body, the offender shall be punished with a term of imprisonment no less than twelve years”.
For example, “at one hearing, Aksu reportedly told Çet’s father: “If only you’d looked after your daughter”. See https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/sule-cet (accessed on 28 January 2022).
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Caltekin, D.A. Women’s Organisations’ Role in (Re)Constructing the Narratives in Femicide Cases: Şule Çet’s Case. Laws 2022, 11, 12. https://doi.org/10.3390/laws11010012
Caltekin DA. Women’s Organisations’ Role in (Re)Constructing the Narratives in Femicide Cases: Şule Çet’s Case. Laws. 2022; 11(1):12. https://doi.org/10.3390/laws11010012Chicago/Turabian Style
Caltekin, Demet Asli. 2022. "Women’s Organisations’ Role in (Re)Constructing the Narratives in Femicide Cases: Şule Çet’s Case" Laws 11, no. 1: 12. https://doi.org/10.3390/laws11010012