Dutch Rail's Controversial Instagram Victim Photography Taken Down

Dutch Rail's Controversial Instagram Victim Photography Taken Down

A Dutch rail company that created controversy after posting images of clothing belonging to victims of rail disasters has taken down the photographs. Captions detailing the accidents and describing the deaths or serious injuries of the wearers were in stark contrast to the account's positioning, described as a "fashion line." 

Vict_m Fashion

ProRail's new Instagram account looked, at first glance, to be promotional material for a new fashion line. Dubbed Vict_m Fashion, according to their Instagram handle and profile description, it soon became clear that all was not as it seemed.

Each post showed an item of clothing — ripped, torn, damaged. Photographed in an archival style with full clarity, the pieces were labeled as reconstructions of items belonging to real people. People, according to the captions, who lost life or limb on Dutch railways in recent years.

The captions bore distressing detail: the age of the person, a name (changed to protect families of the real victims), and the story of their last moments, in addition to why they were near the rail in the first place and what they did that put them into danger. Most were trying to cross tracks despite red signals, or standing too close to the edge of the tracks when a train passed by, or traveling along a line that they did not think was in use.

There was the 15-year-old girl who did not see the train coming when she followed her friends over a track on which the barriers were already closed. They escaped, but she did not. Her ripped orange dress is all that is left.

There was the torn and scuffed shoe, taken from the 14-year-old who dropped her phone onto the tracks. She leaned down to get it, not seeing the oncoming train. She remains in a coma. 

Each post also bore a warning to the reader to take care and pay attention near the rails given the rising number of fatalities recorded in recent months and years.

Image provided by ProRail/AFP

Instant Backlash

The backlash was fierce and immediate. Drivers who had struck and killed victims while at work told of the resurfacing trauma. Families were outraged. Even Instagram viewers felt that the content was far too shocking, and though there were many messages of support for the campaign, viewers from politicians to parents made complaints.

"Sadly, bad things still happen too often on and around rail tracks because of lack of attention and recklessness," ProRail said. They did have a point: six rail track deaths in 2016 increased to 12 in 2017, and up again to 17 in 2018. Worryingly, the victims are often minors, which is why ProRail chose to aim the campaign at 12- to 18-year-olds.

"If you do a confronting campaign, there are always people who find it negative and positive," said ProRail spokesperson Jaap Eikelboom, back in April. "We think the campaign is working because people are discussing it. If we don't confront people with these kinds of pictures, it's going to keep happening."

The controversy was something they knew would happen, according to Eikelboom, who also said that the company had spent around a year planning the account. It helped the story to spread around the world, which no doubt aided their cause.

Vanishing Act

The images have now all been removed from the account, despite the company's statement that they still believed they had done the right thing.

In their place is a single video in Dutch, explaining that the posts were aimed at stopping the rise of accidents on the tracks. ProRail included an apology to families and rail workers who had been affected by the posts and acknowledged the reactions: "There was criticism, there was support, there were emotions". 

The video, which includes only text, now stands as the only relic of an account which caused controversy on a widespread scale. But was it a good idea or a bad one?

We'll likely know in the first part of 2020, when the next annual figures for deaths and injuries on the railways come in. If there's a decrease, ProRail will perhaps rest easy in the knowledge that their shocking photographs of painstakingly made replica clothing paid off.

What do you think? Is shock value worth it to save lives, or is this just a thoughtless promotion gone wrong?

Image used with permission from ProRail/AFP

Rhiannon D'Averc's picture

Rhiannon is a copywriter, photographer, author, and fashion magazine Chief Editor based in London. She focuses on fashion stories and portraiture, with the occasional dash of motorsports and landscape photography thrown in for good measure.

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I agree with the campaign. In this day, most young people need something shocking to get their attention. Maybe thinking of the torn jacket and the resultant tragedy is just the thing that will make them think twice. Maybe if it was the actual clothing and the actual names, then I might have a problem with it. There’s a saying that goes something like: It may be that your only purpose in life is to serve as a warning to others.

These are the actual pieces of clothing worn by these victims. That is what makes the images so impactful; as they are intended to be. Like the anti-drunk driving campaigns in the 70's when they would display wrecked cars recovered from accident scenes to remind teen-agers, that this is what happens. Sometimes the cars would still have blood in the interiors.

"...the pieces were labeled as ***reconstructions*** of items belonging to real people." - Emphasis mine.

This reminds me of health class when I was in grade school. We were shown a film about a guy who smoked, got lung cancer and needed an operation to remove a cancerous lesion on one of his lungs. The film included graphic details of the actual operation!! Needless to say, the impact, at least on me, was effective! Far too many young people need to be shocked in good sense!

ProRail isn't really a train company. It is the only company in the Netherlands that maintains the railwaylines. However, they are not the company that is running the trains. That is De Nederlands Spoorwegen (and some other smaller companies).

If you never have been in NL .. the Dutch have peculiar attitudes on certain matters.
They also have high speed rail next to roadways and walkways.

I once made the error of asking for Apple Strudel in an Amsterdam Bakery and was accosted by their staff. Then they sang the Dutch anthem to me. Displaying their independence for Germany.
All I wanted was Apple Strudel !

Sorry to inform you that every country in Europe has their own "speciality", and you're unlikely to find one's country speciality in the other (except in very specific restaurants/shops). You don't need to act up about it like it's the end of the world.

After seeing the aftermath of train v person I think its a good campaign, its just a shame they didn't engage family and rail workers. The devastating reality for families is that they never get to see or hold their loved ones again. Not a day I want to repeat.

It remember me this Benetton campaign made in 1994 by Oliviero Toscani.

With one difference... the Benetton campaing was disgusting!

This is the essence of art.

I think it was a good idea. At least 2-3 times a year, I have to tell clients "no, we're not going to go into the train tracks."

When I was teenager, I frequently walked along tracks - never thinking of the consequences. It wasn't until I heard a couple of news stories about people getting killed on the same sections of track that I walked that it sunk in.

Another example of people not liking being confronted with reality.

People really struggle in identifying when something is done in order to educate, inform, & enlighten. It is not plausible that this company was making light of or trying to offend or traumatise anyone, quite the opposite: they want to see less trauma caused.

But this is how it works now: the squeaky wheel gets the oil. Fire up the outrage machine and make enough uninformed noise and you'll get your way. I wish some companies & individuals had the spine to tell these idiots to shut up and fuck off.

So if your mother died in some tragic event and the clothes she was wearing and her personal information was put out there, you're OK with that?...

Maybe you should have bothered to read the article because it says the names were changed to protect the identity of the victims and their families. In that case, I would support sharing an anonymised personal story if it helped other people avoid the same fate.

I think we need to stop calibrating society for the most sensitive people in the audience. If this Insta account was showing mangled bodies or something that gruesome I would agree it was over the line.

This is a fantastic campaign. People need to get over themselves and see the artistic and moral merit.

No matter what you say or think, this is just another part, or phase of evidentiary photography. To say the least this is not the worst that has been posted. I do agree it is very graphic, however, it is and can stand to be a very important reminder of how horribly and quickly things can go wrong.

While I can see why the families and employees may be upset, I also see why they did it. My father worked for a rail company for 30 years, he had to supervise suicide cleanups, not fun. He'd probably applaud this if he was still around today. People get too comfortable around trains and forget they're hundred ton machines that can't stop as fast as a car. I lived in a town with a lot of train traffic, people would drive around the barriers all the time. A friend of mine got hit by a freight train while walking beside the tracks with headphones on 🤦‍♀️

I guess there is no freedom of speech or ways for the Dutch folks NOT to see the IG account?