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.
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.
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.