On Image Representation and Linguistic Performance in Sexual Violence News on Mainstream Media

İpek Çınar
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"Representations are productive: photographs, far from merely reproducing a pre-existing world, constitute a highly coded discourse which, among other things, constructs whatever is in the image as an object of consumption - consumption by looking, as well as often quite literally by purchase. It is no coincidence, therefore, that in many highly socially visible (and profitable) forms of photography women dominate the image. Where photography takes women as its subject matter, it also constructs "woman" as a set of meanings which then enter cultural and economic circulation on their own account.'"(1)

Although I have been very uncomfortable for a long time, there is an issue that I cannot put into words about my discomfort. So, I am trying to read more about it. I am trying to focus on news and image production methods in mainstream media on the news about sexual violence which makes all the flavors somewhat acrid. They are on the news, billboards, mailboxes at any time and any place through and the sharp side of them is coming down on me right in the lap. These sharp sides cannot be easily identified. Therefore, these images almost always sexualized the women by emphasizing the victimization of the person who is being attacked. Moreover, the language of the news overflow words like "helpless", "weak", "drama", or sensational phrases like "twisted in the pain", "being raped for days".   

In this article there will be no image, I must warn you beforehand. Although I am aware of how compelling it is to read an article without images, the idea of reproducing these images once again is sickening for me. My only concern is talking about several key names, concepts of media and cultural studies in order to explain such a sensitive issue better. These keywords help me a lot in putting into words. Hopefully, they will have the same effect on other people who have a question mark in their mind, or it will cause some thinking.  

By the end of 2016, I had started to take the most useful course in my undergraduate education. I haven't been a bright student since my high school years that go beyond the basic knowledge of mathematics and grammar. The title of that course was "Media and Opinion". And I got the wonderful book that I had read about until that day, even though I did not open its cover: "Dialectic of Enlightenment".

In that book, Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno define culture as an industry and look at this industry from a negative perspective. According to this, the culture industry is a manipulation circle whose effects and integration are ever-increasing. (2) Integrity needs some more detail. Especially, the authors focus on television and radio programs. They state that how close the dose of violence in these programs and the news each other. Thus, what we watched in the news and television programs integrates with each other and one brings to mind the other. On the contrary, the sensational contents of the news, such as where the person going, what she wears or how old she is causes the reader to approach violence as a concrete and personal incident. By this mean, the reader would relax with his/her own "external" perspective and avoid to approach sexual violence as a social fact. Here, we should also mention the effect of catharsis which Susan Sontag explains in her book "Regarding The Pain of Others". People who look at the horrible images have a kind of relief, tasting the feeling of being away from horrible incidents. This relief and attractiveness are increasing the desire of the audience to study the incident as if it were a television program. (3)   

After a while, Adorno adds a new layer to the culture industry by putting "collective unconscious" next to it. Again, he gives the television programs as an example and states that the principle of visuality provided by television mostly targets the subconscious mind. In other words, the programs are taken into consideration with the first message comes to mind, but also with hidden messages. At this point, I should emphasize that the message given on the sub-level is more effective than the obvious one. For example, emphasis on women's sexuality by the images, creates the perception of this is a reason for the occurrence of the incident. Or if the victim is a sex worker; her profession is always emphasized by the details such as fee and how many people she has intercoursed with. These details are given with relatively sexy pictures of the woman. With this, what is aimed to be created in the reader is that s/he will be safe as long as s/he keeps the hands "clean". Perhaps for that reason why subconscious bypass this message the images and the language disturb the person. And the only thing left is the flavor somewhat acrid.

One of the main dynamics of the culture industry I mentioned at the beginning is exactly what we see here. Stuart Hall deals with a more clear and direct field with the encoding/decoding theory: the media does not show the images but represents them. In doing so, it selects incidents and phenomenon which can serve the dominant ideology. (4) At that point, the main problem is that keyword is not "show" but "represent". The images on the news are handled consciously neither by the reader or the news writer. On the contrary, the news is made a fait accompli. Some of the news that emphasizes the sexuality of the reader—I have exemplified before—often shows up in the form of questions and comments such as "What was she doing in the street at that time", "What did she wear during the incident", "Did she know the person who attacked?" This gives the media the right to a forgiveness/accusation, which only the person who is being assaulted may have. I think this point is quite important: the reader and the media have the right to explain and to blame/forgive the incident.

If you want to take the moral of the story; the images and the language used by the media on the news of sexual assault are definitely not selected unconsciously. It should be kept in mind that violence is not a result of personal animosities, but rather of systematic phenomena, and the basis for this is the demand for the domination of women. (6) Fortunately, we are beginning to see the reflections of awareness on this issue in daily life. At the time where I started to write this article, even beyond the media and journalism field, a new improvement was taken in the photography front. #wearehere movement banged its fist to the table both in front and behind the lens. It started its journey by saying that "... male perspective restricting women's living space, objectifying women's bodies in photographs, and persistently overlooking women as subjects, has to change…" (7) The elbow room of this movement is quite extensive and deserves a further scrutiny. (However, I must have mentioned them) In the end, rather than opening a door, this article put the key(words) into the hole should be developed; each support should be added to each other.  


1. Kuhn, A. (2013). The power of the image: Essays on representation and sexuality. Routledge.

2. Adorno, T., & Horkeimer, M. (2014). Aydınlanmanın Diyalektiği. Istanbul: Kabalcı.

3. Sontag, S. (2004). Başkalarının Acısına Bakmak. Istanbul: Agora Kitaplığı.

4. Öney Doğanyiğit, S. (2012, August 24). Medya İzleyici Çalışmalarında Kültürel Çalışmalar ve Stuart Hall'ın Katkısı. Retrieved from http://www.slideshare.net/serayney/medya-izleyici-alimalarinda-kltrel-alimalar-vestuart-


5. Sargın, A. (2006, October 31). Piyasa, Ana-akım Medya ve Kadın Bedeni.

Retrieved from http://bianet.org/bianet/kadin/87140-piyasa-ana-akim-medya-vekadin-Bedeni

6. Tabur, M. & Tümer, Ö. (2011, March 26). Medyada Cinsel Şiddet Temsilleri ve Kadın Odaklı Habercilik. Retrived from https://bianet.org/biamag/kadin/128887-medyada-cinsel-siddet-temsilleri-ve-kadin-odakli-habercilik

7. K. (2018, June 14). Kadın fotoğrafçılar objektifi cinsiyet ayrımcılığına yöneltti. Retrieved from http://kaosgl.org/sayfa.php?id=26021