Oscar Pistorious killed his girlfriend. Except he didn’t just kill ‘his girlfriend’, did he? He killed Reeva Steenkamp, an independent, successful woman, whose name barely gets a passing mention in the articles concerning her death.
Reeva was a South African model who supported her family through her career. She took part in awareness campaigns on bullying and domestic violence, issues she’d been personally affected by. She held a law degree and worked as a paralegal. When she was younger she broke her back in a horse-riding accident and had to learn to walk again.
Throughout the past 20 months we’ve learnt everything there is to know about Pistorious. The Olympic glory. The outbursts of rage that plagued his career. Even with the trial over and the evidence irrelevant, we’re still hearing about him. His trauma. His grief. His ruined life. Poor Oscar. Let’s hope the prison is equipped with miniature violins and a strategically placed bucket for all that weeping, chundering and self-pity.
The question not enough people are asking is this: What about Reeva? She doesn’t get to feel things like grief or self-pity. She died unarmed, cowering in a toilet, as shots rained through a locked bathroom door. We’ll never know what her ambitions were. Perhaps she wanted to take her modelling career further? Start a family? Run her own business? We’ll never know how terrified she was in those final moments, or if she begged for survival. Not only was her life brutally snuffed out by a violent, unstable man who professed to love her, she is not even remembered in death. She, like many other victims of violence, has been reduced to a statistic. Just another woman, killed by her boyfriend.
Some have argued that Oscar has already received his punishment. The loss of his glittering career, the guilt and suffering he’ll be forced to live with- that’s justice enough. Except it’s not enough. While Oscar’s situation may be unique, the high profile nature of the case has set a precedent, and it’s not a good one. Sure folks, shoot a woman dead through a locked bathroom door, fabricate a story about a fictional intruder and weep hysterically through the court case. Yes you’ve taken a life, but it’ll only cost a few months of your freedom. In Dubai you’d get more for swearing at someone who pushed in front of you in the supermarket queue.
Perhaps Oscar does feel genuine remorse. Perhaps he will spend the rest of his days a broken shell of a man. But it doesn’t change the fact that Reeva Steenkamp is gone forever and he will serve just a handful of months in jail for his crime.
In this case justice hasn’t just failed Reeva- it’s failed women. In the UK two women are killed by a partner or former partner every week. Only 15% of rape cases are reported, and of these, only 7% result in conviction. Worldwide the figures are even higher. According to Acton Aid, one in three women will be raped or sexually abused in her lifetime. And of all the human rights abuses against women, violence perpetrated by men is the most widespread.
Meanwhile, millions of minor sexual assaults go not just unreported, but unnoticed. University students are encouraged to laugh off groping while they wait for drinks at the bar. ‘What are you on about? It’s a compliment! Women like it when we stare at their boobs and touch them.’
At every level, crimes against women are going unpunished. Grab a girl’s bum in a bar? It’s not sexual harassment, it’s just LAD banter. BOSH. Push her into sex before she’s ready? Well, she was a drunk slut wasn’t she? Worst case scenario? She deletes your number. Shoot your girlfriend four times through a bathroom door? It’s OK, a few months in jail is fair punishment.
Violence and sexual harassment against women have become so indoctrinated into our society, the lowest forms are now socially accepted, even expected. The victims’ voices have been forgotten in favour of the perpetrators. And it’s not helping us get justice.
So, yes. What’s been said about Reeva may have been said before. But we need to say it again. And again. Until the message finally sinks in.