By NINA FUNNELL
It’s now 20 months since Oscar Pistorius picked up a gun and shot his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp dead. In those 20 months, literally thousands of articles have been written about the crime, with journalists and audiences ghoulishly devouring every new detail, twist or turn that has emerged.
And now as reporters around the world analyse the judge’s sentence, we again find ourselves hungry for details of this case. But there are some who will never learn the outcome of the case no matter what.
You see, in that same 20-month window since Reeva Steenkamp was killed, an estimated 2361 women in South Africa (where Steenkamp lived) have been killed by their partners. That is about 27 women every week. Or almost 4 women a day.
Reeva Steenkamp was an advocate against gender-based violence.
We will likely never know these women’s names and we will never know their stories. Nor will we ever know whether the men who murdered these women were brought to justice or whether they evaded punishment. Such is the nature and extent of the problem.
And if we genuinely care about the life and ambitions of Reeva Steenkamp – who was herself an advocate against gender-based violence– we can’t continue to ignore this problem. (Nor can we continue to pretend that these sorts of crimes mainly occur in other countries and other communities).
In 2010, a group called People Opposing Women Abuse conducted a filmed social experiment in Johannesburg, mere kilometres away from where Steenkamp would eventually be killed.
In the experiment, an actor sets up a drum-kit in a townhouse complex and begins loudly playing. Hidden cameras then capture the neighbours’ responses.
Before long neighbours are sliding notes under the door, vocalising their complaints, and eventually a neighbour calls the police.
A few nights later, in the same complex, the actor then plays an audio recording (at a similar decibel level) of what sounds like a domestic assault in progress. Again, the cameras are there to capture the neighbours’ responses. Only this time no one knocks on the door and no one calls the police. No one does anything at all. Instead there is a deadly silence.
The YouTube clip documenting the experiment ends with the line “Every year 1400 women are killed by their partners. Don’t you think that’s something worth complaining about?”
What’s powerful about this clip is that because there is no actual perpetrator or victim (merely a simulated audio recording), the focus stays on the action and inaction of the bystanders.
And while this experiment was conducted in Johannesburg, we would be kidding ourselves to assume that the lessons learnt there don’t apply to our own backyard.
After all, one woman dies every week at the hands of her partner in this country. And the truth is that while responsibility must always lie with the perpetrator, at least some of these deaths could be prevented if more of us spoke up when we suspected violence occurring in our neighbours homes.
“One woman dies every week at the hands of her partner in this country.”
Of course there are all sorts of reasons why we, as a community, fail to speak up when we suspect domestic violence. Fear of retribution, fear of ‘getting it wrong’, fear or uncertainly of what to say or do, a belief that it’s ‘none of my business’, apathy, shock, and a lack of confidence in police services are all reasons that people give as to why they might not intervene.
Others, for whom domestic violence is normalised within their homes or communities, may consider it futile to intervene, especially if any previous attempts to do so have been unsuccessful.
But the more we talk about these issues, the more inroads we can make.
And as we mourn for Reeva Steenkamp, and all those others who have died at the hands of partners, it’s vital that we see the bigger picture. Because Reeva Steenkamp may have died alone. But her death does not stand in isolation.
Take a look through the images from Oscar’s trial: