With your head up high

Sarai Sierra is dead. She was on a trip to Istanbul, her first trip outside her own country, the US. A 33 year old woman, a wife, and a mother of two boys. She loved photography and that’s why she came to the city. She went missing on 21 January, and on Saturday her body was found on the historic peninsula in Istanbul, not far from many tourist highlights. Killed with a blow on the head.

It’s quite confronting, to say the least. I have been living in Istanbul for more than five years now, and I have never felt unsafe. Not late at night outside, not alone on the street, not anywhere at any time. And that’s not me being naïve. Data from, for example, the International Crime Victims Survey show that Istanbul is way safer than megacities of comparable size and development, like Rio de Janeiro or Lagos.

Sarai Sierra

Sarai Sierra

But what’s the use of saying Istanbul is a safe city when a woman was just murdered brutally? Statistics don’t mean anything when it comes to personal situations. And the scary thing is that it can lead you to the wrong conclusions. Oh yes there are people asking why she was travelling alone, what she was doing abroad without her family, and so on. Speculations that only suggest one thing: that she had it coming. I couldn’t object to that more fiercely.

It’s not that Sarai was killed despite Istanbul being a safe city. I think we shouldn’t look at this from the Istanbul perspective, or compare Istanbul statistics to those of other places in the world. We should look at the world as a whole. It’s just not a safe place for women. Our physical strength is hardly ever enough to defend ourselves against men who want to harm us. So we get beaten up, we get raped, we get assaulted, we get murdered. That is the risk every woman on this planet lives with every day. Some places may have a higher risk of getting harmed, but being a woman is enough to be at risk always and everywhere.

Pippa Bacca

Prompted by what happened to Sarai Sierra, two people have told me to ‘be careful’. I find that sweet, but strange too. I wouldn’t know how to be careful enough to make sure I won’t get beaten up, raped, assaulted, or murdered. For many women, staying at home is not even going to help – I don’t have to tell you about domestic violence do I?

Even stranger are the people who say that ‘we would not allow this to happen again after Pippa’. Pippa Bacca was an Italian artist who was raped and murdered in Turkey in 2008; read her story here. It is so naive to think that our collective shock and anger or even campaigns and whatever can make these horrors stop, and to think that Pippa could have been the last. Of course she wasn’t, and Sarai was not the last either – how many women have been murdered since Sarai’s life came to this cruel end?

So what can we do, when it’s not ‘be careful’, and when the reality is that violence against women will always be there? Accept it? Of course not. I opt for being realistic and not giving  in. Realize that being a woman automatically means being at risk, but don’t let your choices be in any way defined by it. Be a woman with all the mental strength you have. Whatever happens, go through life with your head up high.

May Sarai Sierra rest in peace.

7 replies
  1. Kym Ciftci
    Kym Ciftci says:

    I agree with you.

    I also blogged about this today as the response to it made me angry. Derogatory comments all over the internet about Turkey and how unsafe it was.

    I have the deepest sympathy for Sarai and her family but this could have happened anywhere in the world. Istanbul is a big city and just like any other big city, there are dangers around.

  2. JGibbs
    JGibbs says:

    i feel terrible for this woman and her family–it is something I would have encouraged her to do, travel alone, have an adventure, take a dare. What an abomination that such a spirit should be so brutally silenced. I found out while visiting the US–there are so many somehow blaming her. “That’s what happens when you travel by yourself over THERE” I have seen said in the US or in Turkey where the speculation, according to Hurriyet at least, has shamefully started that she was an agent. Hold your heads up indeed–hold them up high.

  3. Christos Leontidis
    Christos Leontidis says:

    Domestic violence is a huge issue! very closely connected with violence against women in general.

  4. Joy @My Turkish Joys
    Joy @My Turkish Joys says:

    Excellent post! As an American expat, who has lived in Istanbul for nearly 3 years, I couldn’t agree with you more. I also wrote about this same topic last week and stated how safe I am here compared to NYC, Baltimore and D.C. where I’ve lived before. Your closing comments say it best: “Go through your life with your head up high.”

  5. Mesut
    Mesut says:

    I felt ashamed that happened to one guest of our country. I hope the murderer(s) would be found soon and get punished. Advice to our guest; use your common sense.

  6. Yuri Orozco
    Yuri Orozco says:

    Thank you for writing this article. I came across the same “be careful” words before I left to New york to go to Morocco, Egypt and then Jordan. Prior to my trip Sarai’s story was all over the news and her story kept coming up everytime someone tried to talk me out of my trip.I did hire a tour company that had a designated driver and tour guide for me and I did stay at hotels versus hostels. This means I never really wandered around on my own. I was still trying to be careful though. I wore a wedding ring (not married) I did this since I kept getting warned that sexual harassment was very big in these countries. I thought about Sarai throughout my whole trip and it made me angry that she had to die and other women have to die. It made me sad that the world is no longer a safe place for us and that I had t pay more so I would be “safer”.


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