Oscar Pistorius has the face of a spoilt little shit. From his thin, cat’s-fanny slit of a mouth, to his spoilt, faux, perma-sorrow murder trial expression, even your most impartial observer cannot fail to appreciate the deeply engrained sense of entitlement that permeates through his chiseled, permanently stubbled jaw.
But Pistorius, his wealth, his handsomeness, his fame, his disability and the South African justice system are not the fucking issue here.
South Africa is a country recovering from huge and unrecompensable injustice on behalf of the west. A catalogue of atrocities too enormous and monstrous to list, ranging from slavery to apartheid, all of which white people are responsible for. So, it’s an absolute piss-take when I’ve seen articles on the Pistorius case allude to the sense that the South African Justice System (racist implications of a pertinently worse attitude to women) is purely responsible for Pistorius receiving what is clearly an absurdly lenient sentence.
Let’s dispel that right here. South Africa, like every other national criminal justice system is severely lacking in many tragic, key ways. But, it is certainly not alone in not handing out severe enough punishment and penalties to men who kill their wives and girlfriends, and it is not alone in having a very high rate of Spousal Homicide:
- Every day in the US, three women are murdered by their boyfriend or husband.
- Domestic Violence is the leading cause of injury to women in the USA – more than car accidents, rape and muggings combined.
- The cost of Domestic Violence to the US economy exceeds 5.8 billion dollars per year.
- Every nine seconds in the USA, a woman is physically assaulted or beaten.
- Number of women who killed by spouses who kept guns in the home: 2 in 3, versus South Africa where that number is 1 in 3.
- Only around 56% of all Domestic Violence incidents that get to court result in any conviction whatsoever.
(domesticviolencestatistics.org , ncadv.org )
- Domestic Violence incidents are reported to the police every minute.
- On average, two women a week are killed by a current or former male partner.
- Domestic Violence is experienced by more than 30% of the female population in England and Wales.
- In 2012/13 the conviction rates for Domestic Violence incidents were up by 0.3 from previous years, but still only amounted to 58, 276 and it is conservatively suggested that over one million women experience instances of domestic violence yearly. This works out to a less than six percent conviction rate.
(womensaid.org , refuge.org.uk , bbc.co.uk )
I can’t catalogue all the conviction rates for spousal homicide and DV globally, because the data isn’t explicit enough and also because it’s widely acknowledged that the vast majority of victims never report the crime. But suffice it to say that the South African legal system has behaved in much the same way as the rest of the world does.
And instead of examining why it is women don’t come forward, which has to be thoroughly explained by every women’s rights advocate that ever publically speaks on the issue (it’s often socio-economic, but can be for many complex reasons)… let’s stop centralizing what it is women victims are and aren’t doing and instead talk about why it is men hit women.
I should – and will – make the obligatory disclaimer here that men are also victims of Domestic Violence and spousal homicide (though in terms of murder perpetrated by a woman, this is often as a result of on-going, situational domestic violence). No-one I know – especially feminists – want to diminish the not insignificant issue of men who are abused, but the reason it’s so important to make the point that women are many, many times more likely to encounter this sort of abuse is because it is only when we look at the broad picture that we can properly address it.
It’s absolutely imperative that we view the DV incidents and murder rates as indicative of a greater problem that men have with women. It’s not just important to know that in Europe we’re at greater risk of being abused by a partner than of being hurt in a car wreck; it’s vital.
In the last week we’ve seen some startling statistics about cancer, as a consequence of the fantastic Stand Up to Cancer campaign. But – even taking this Pistorius case coverage into account – I haven’t seen anything on television in the past six months about how likely I am to be abused by a partner, or indeed what we are all going to do to try and stop it. The Home Office had an advertising campaign earlier this year, but it didn’t tell me how at risk I was.
The question of Pistorius’ disability is something else mentioned in terms of the case. Some have argued that his disability may have made him feel generally more vulnerable in a place where there are a large perentage of break-ins. In order to consider this relevant, we have to agree with Pistorius’ version of events. That he did indeed think he was shooting an intruder.
I will never be dissuaded from believing that Pistorius knew he was shooting his lover, and I will move onto that in a moment. But even if he felt especially vulnerable, the fact that he was behind a door with a gun, negates that issue.
The fact that Pistorius became a professional athlete and fantastic Olympian, without legs is absolutely wondrous, and when measuring this fact against the crime, this is what we draw from it: DV can and does occur anywhere.
Pistorius was a strong and decorated athlete with extraordinary wealth and talent, and yet he murdered his girlfriend. DV transcends socio-economic, national, religious and class boundaries and it’s the insidious nature of this crime that makes it so difficult to develop clear strategies to counteract it. There is no archetypal victim, and there is no archetypal perpetrator… aside from gender. Gender is the principal distinction. Overwhelmingly men are abusing and women are being abused, and this is why it’s extremely important to acknowledge it.
You’ll know a woman who has been abused, even if you don’t know about the abuse. If you’re a woman, there’s a strong chance you’ve been abused yourself. A great many children witness their parents being abused and very often men who go on to abuse women have witnessed DV as kids.
It is only by acknowledging that DV is systemic that we have any chance whatsoever of reducing it. The solution comes not by examining individual cases and instances of DV, but by addressing the entire system. Why it is women are subject to an inherent set of rules and ridicule that permeates every facet of their existence – almost from birth – and most importantly why men become habitually violent.
Since I’m using the Pistorius case here, I should state my position on it.
Pistorius had illegal firearms in his home, had been aggressive, controlling, domineering and jealous as was demonstrated by texts and emails between himself and Reeva Steenkamp, had previously fired guns inappropriately, and had been said to be abusive to previous girlfriends. In addition to this, we are expected to believe he was conscious of events occurring in his bathroom, beyond a wall and yet did not sense his girlfriend wasn’t next to him. I often share my bed with a tiny six year old and upon waking I always know if he’s with me. We are also expected to believe that he shot through a door without first establishing who was behind it. Several times. We are expected to believe he did this on Valentine’s Day, which is a culturally pertinent time for lovers.
The suggestion that there was not enough evidence to convict him of murder, to me, is ridiculous. In any crime involving two people in which it is one person’s word against another, the criminal justice system must always rule what is probable. In this instance, the victim is no longer alive, but the point remains. I am suggesting it’s entirely improbable for someone to shoot through a door without first factoring in whether or not the other inhabitant was the one in it. In any case, it’s easy to determine… it would have been simple for him to shout through the door, at which point Reeva would have shouted back. It’s also improbable that after the first shot she wouldn’t have screamed out, thus negating the need to fire so many shots. In addition to this fact, if someone has awoken to move a fan, it requires a fairly steady sense of orientation. Even minor manual labour is not something that someone does blearily. So if he’d had the wherewithal to move the fan, he’d have known the bed was empty. And if we don’t accept this version of events, we must assume he intentionally killed Reeva and had to get the gun and then shoot it through a door. Which is murder, not manslaughter. This is of course, just my opinion.
The very fact that I’ve had to outline the preposterousness of his story offends me to my deepest core. The idea that anyone could feel his story to be an accurate version of events is such a gross and uncompromising desecration both of Reeva Steenkamp and all the hundreds of thousands of women killed by their violent partners globally, that I’m sickened.
I am not, of course, more sickened because Reeva Steenkamp was a beautiful, blonde, white model – reduced to “beautiful girlfriend of” in most of the murder press coverage immediately following her death.
Given the global crime statistics, perhaps I should feel heartened that Pistorius received any prison term at all. But I do not.
Like anyone else with a mother, daughter, or sister I feel profoundly ashamed of being complicit in a systemic failure of women that should not be allowed to be reduced to South Africa, disability, or the rich and beautiful.
Pistorius is not really the issue, nor is his enabling family whose position during the trial was so resolutely disrespectful as to fully highlight much of why we fail women in these instances.
The issue is about the systemic failure of educating men. If Pistorius had been given a life term for the murder of his girlfriend it would have given us more hope for a better future for women, but the truth is we need to stop reducing these cases to their specific features and start working towards educating young men in every country, at every level, in the starkest fucking terms.
If you or a woman you know is being abused, please contact:
UK: 08002000247 (24 HOUR DOMESTIC VIOLENCE HELPLINE)
US: 1-800-799-7233 (24 HOUR DOMESTIC VIOLENCE HELPLINE)