Om Sayf: An Attention Seeker or a Woman in Crisis?

Hadeel El Aly, best known on YouTube as Om Sayf, is the center of controversial debate due to domestic violence allegations.

On the 10th of January Syrian YouTuber residing in Turkey, who goes by the name Om Sayf, released a 30-second clip to her 5.39 million subscribers. In the now-infamous clip, Hadeel revealed her intentions to leave the platform and retire in a heartfelt goodbye to her fan base thanking them for the years they have spent together. What differentiated her retirement video from many others on the platform are the last ten seconds where she silently performs the secret hand gesture to ask for help, looks around nervously, and cuts off the video. Since its release, the clip has garnered more than 21 million views, and the Om Sayf channel has gone from having 5.39 million subscribers to 6.02 million in under a month. Based on Social Blade’s analytics on the week following its release, Om Sayf gained 360,000 subscribers and 24,102,511 views. Despite how serious and dire the situation was, people started debating whether it was a real call for help or was it a ploy to grab attention.

First, sympathy and calls for help to the Turkish officials came. Then, they were followed by doubt, and viewers started to dissect the clip second by second. Some doubted her claims of violence due to her increased popularity after the incident, her refusal to later speak up about the incident, the fact that her abuser allowed her to post the video, wearing full makeup, and the fact that she was able to show the hand symbol without receiving any repercussion. However, others pointed out signs of violence on her body, and the short scream that could be heard at the end. This encouraged more people to believe the victim till further proof. Turkish authorities quickly started an investigation, but till this moment the investigation hasn’t been released to the public, and no one knows what the police found. What we know from her neighbors’ testimony is that she seemed to be fine adding that the police arrived and that they found nothing.

During her first and only verified public appearance in an interview with BBC trending, Hadeel refused to comment on the details of the incident citing that it is a private matter, and that she can’t say anything further. However, the interviewer kept pressuring her for more information about her life and kept asking her about her career prospects. During the interview, she appeared to be uncomfortable and nervous, simply waiting for it to end. The comments on both her video and the interview were divided among those who fully supported her, those who were unsure where they stand, and those who completely believe she is an attention seeker. To add to the severity of the situation, rumors of Om Sayf’s murder started circulating, but this disturbing rumor was quickly disproven. These are all the information released to the public till now. We hope Hadeel is safe wherever she is right now.

Although Om Sayf’s situation is far from being resolved, it did bring interesting topics to the discussion table. Shining light on the different secret methods used to report violent and criminal incidents was the first and most crucial. The hand gesture used by Om Sayf is one of those methods. Calling emergency services numbers and pretending you are ordering something is another method; like the case of the woman who called 911 operators and pretended to be ordering pizza so emergency services would come to her rescue. Something as simple as using one of the many voice recordings available online and pretending you are contacting someone who is waiting for you or who is coming to get you could be the difference between life and death in case you are unable to reach anyone. Furthermore, knowing these techniques doesn’t only help the victim but helps others around them to recognize that someone is in danger and help them handle the situation. In some cases, the observer’s quick action is what ultimately saves the victim.

Victims’ credibility was questioned after the Om Sayf clip as well. Although the facts behind the case are still unclear, doubt was already cast in people’s hearts, and most of them lost trust in her and her case. As an example, the Facebook page, Speak Up, discussed the topic and labeled her as an attention seeker since no proof emerged of her being in any sort of immediate danger, and she refused to comment when they contacted her. The majority of the comments on the post stood by the page while few people still believed and trusted Om Sayf. This post brought up how false allegations affect future and current victims. The validity of the reports gets questioned more and more due to false accusations. People start doubting if the accusation was for attention, revenge, monetary gain, or any other reason.

This brings us to an important question. Which is stronger? “Believing All Victims” right away mentality or giving the accused the benefit of the doubt aka following “Innocent until Proven Guilty” mentality? While picking a side, people tend to believe that they leave their bias behind and stand by the side that provides more legitimate proof. However, personal feelings can’t be forgotten. Thus, we, as human beings, can’t be completely objective when choosing a side. No one should be shamed for choosing to follow one of those two mentalities, yet we still need to normalize standing up for male victims of abuse, creating a safe and encouraging environment for victims to speak up, and punishing anyone who presents false accusations, even women.