Wednesday, February 20, 2013
Stories of Oscar Pistorius filled last week's news cycle. A double amputee since he was an infant, Pistorius rose to international Olympic fame running on specially formulated carbon-fiber prostheses. Fans dubbed him "blade runner."
Like many readers, I read with horror about the incident that will forever overshadow his Olympic fame.
Allegedly, Pistorius, 25, murdered his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, 29, by shooting her four times through a bathroom door in the pre-dawn hours of Valentine's Day. The bullets hit her in the head three times and in the hand once. It seems she also suffered a fractured skull.
While not part of the official story, yet, reports have surfaced that police found a bloody bat at the scene and bullet casings in the bedroom. It seems possible that Pistorius beat Steenkamp with the bat; he may have shot at her and missed at least once. One conclusion reporters have drawn from the evidence is that Steenkamp was trying to get away from Pistorius, and that she ran into the bathroom for protection.
The most common descriptions of Steenkamp is that she was Pistorius' "model girlfriend." She was a classic girl-next-door beauty: waves of long blonde hair, high cheekbones, a long aquiline nose, wide-set blue eyes, a lovely smile that revealed perfect white teeth and dimples. She was also a law-school graduate. This beauty was a well-educated, intelligent young woman. It's a sad epitaph for a too-short life.
Steenkamp publicly spoke out against sexual violence. In the coming week, she was to give an inspirational talk to students in Johannesburg. Her notes include mention of a previous violent relationship.
The comparisons to Nicole Brown Simpson are inevitable. Simpson--another pretty blonde who made international news when she died--was the wife of Orenthal James "O.J." Simpson, a former star football player. A jury acquitted O.J. Simpson in his wife's murder and that of her friend, Ronald Goldman, after a highly publicized trial. O.J. didn't fare as well in a civil trial, where a jury unanimously found him liable for their deaths.
The thing that binds Reeva Steenkamp and Nicole Simpson goes beyond the high-profiles of the sportsmen in their lives: it is the prevalence of violence, specifically, domestic violence.
During the Simpson trial, evidence surfaced of a long-standing pattern of abuse that including beatings and stalking. South African police said they had previously investigated "allegations of a domestic nature" involving Pistorius. The runner had plenty of guns, several of which he kept in his bedroom.
We want to believe that violence only happens to other people. We're shocked to learn of domestic violence among the rich and famous, as if celebrity and money should shield those fortunate few from the violence endemic in our culture. South Africa rivals America in incidents of violence, but daily, women worldwide fear for their futures--and their lives--at the hands of misogynistic laws that leave them vulnerable to the whims of the men who would rule them. As a weapon of war, documented incidents of systemic rape, forced prostitution and sexual trafficking have occurred from Bosnia to Haiti to Uganda.
In every minute in America, an average of 24 people are victims of rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Women take the brunt of that violence. One in four women and one in seven men have been the victim of severe physical violence by an intimate partner. One in four American women has been raped in her lifetime--usually the rapist is someone she knows. The presence of a gun in the household exponentially increases the chances that someone will die in a violent encounter.
Think about that for a moment. Violence isn't something that happens to other people. Every day, sexual violence happens in all neighborhoods, rich and poor. It happens to your friends, to the people you love, perhaps to you.
It's not "them"; it's us.
Violence is overwhelmingly prevalent in our popular culture--in television, movies, video games and music--but we're surprised when people cross the line of acceptable behavior to act violently in our communities and in our homes. We tell our sons that showing emotion is a sign of weakness. We tell our daughters that they have no right to control their bodies. Some of us still believe that what goes on in someone else's home is none of our business. It's all OK until someone gets hurt or someone dies. Then, we look at one another in confusion, as if we haven't participated in making violence part of our daily lives. "He was such a nice guy," we tell ourselves.
I have a goal. I want never to write about domestic violence again. Don't get me wrong: I am dedicated to shining a light on the problem, and I will continue to tell the stories as long as the men and women are willing to speak out. The work I've done on the subject has made a difference. I know that because people tell me they learn from those stories.
I'll continue to research, tell my own story of abuse, learn about the nuances and provide the statistics. But here's the thing: I don't want to see another person's life turned inside out because of abuse. I don't want to see another woman break down in tears as she tells me her story. I want domestic abuse to stop.
To make that goal a reality will take more than writing about it again. It will take all of us to recognize the signs of abuse--the suspicious bruises, the withdrawal from friends and family, the downward spiral of self-esteem. It takes getting educated, speaking up and speaking out. It takes the courage not to blame the victim, but pointing our collective fingers directly at the problem--not "Why doesn't she leave?" but "Why does he abuse?" It will take all of us to understand that if we're not providing solutions, we are part of the violence problem.
After Nicole Simpson's murder, a friend who had witnessed O.J.'s abusive behavior said, in hindsight: "We are all guilty—all of us who knew them."
As long as we don't stop it, the violence will continue. And we must stop it; not "them." We can solve this problem, together.
Join the 2013 JFP Chick Ball committee to help stop domestic violence and abuse. Email [email protected]