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Editor's Agenda

Oscar Pistorius not the victim: South Africa’s disturbing rate of domestic violence

/ Feb 18, 2013 10:18AM / Print / ()

Reeva Steenkamp attends the Virgin Active Sport Industry Awards 2013 held at Emperors Palace on February 07, 2013 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo by Duif du Toit/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

Last Thursday on Valentine's Day, thousands of women across 205 countries gave their support to the One Billion Rising protest, an initiative designed to raise awareness of violence against women.

While still a growing movement, there was minimal press coverage. A little disappointing when you consider the incredible logistical feat of the event – founded by Vagina Monologues playwright Eve Ensler and based on the fact one billion women globally will fall victim to sexual, physical or emotional abuse, the day drew participation from different backgrounds and cultures across the world.

And what little coverage the day did achieve was quickly overshadowed by a much bigger story: 'Blade Runner' Oscar Pistorius being charged with the murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.

They're two stories that should raise awareness of violence against women and yet the former did not get the attention it deserved, while the latter is getting attention for all the wrong reasons.

The Pistorius incident has generated pages and pages of press coverage all over the world. People were in shock. How could this happen to an international sporting icon, a man who has inspired so many people?

There must be an explanation. As it was first reported and as Pistorius may claim in court (he has denied the charges), he had thought he was targeting an intruder. Later, as the charges were laid, the headlines turned to his reaction: how he wept in court, how he was numb with shock, photos of his head in his hands, the tears from his family. There was little acknowledgement of the victim, other than photographs of Steenkamp, often in a bikini, reminding readers just how attractive she was.

As more details emerged, journalist went to great lengths to uncover the secrets behind Pistorius, including his reportedly aggressive behaviour lurking beneath his energetic veneer. Were their hints in his autobiography? We've been searching for solutions to determine how the man who had so fiercely written himself into sporting folklore could potentially have fallen so far.

We lost sight of the victim because the alleged perpetrator is an international sporting icon and we feel uncomfortable considering the idea that such accomplished hands could allegedly commit something so shocking.

Sadly, the number of women who experience domestic violence in South Africa is staggering – and very, very few of them generate a single headline, let alone international news. Three women a day were killed by a partner in 2009, according to anti-violence organisation Gun Free South Africa. The World Health Organisation estimates that 60,000 women and children in the country are victims of such violence every month.

In Australia, more than 23% of women have experienced domestic or family violence, according to ABS statistics. That's more than one than one in five women – potentially somebody in your office, on your street, in your circle of friends or perhaps even you. There are about 80 "intimate partner homicides" in Australia every year, according to the Australian Institute of Criminology, the good majority of which involve a man killing a woman.

If Pistorius is found guilty, it shows that even the most remarkable and so-called inspiring of men can commit acts of violence against women. Domestic violence is a hidden epidemic; we rarely see its physical evidence, nor can we appreciate its full extent. It occurs behind closed doors – emotionally and physically – and it takes tragic high-profile incidents like the one allegedly involving Pistorius in order to gain our attention.

Should Pistorius be found guilty of the premeditated murder of Steenkamp, his legacy should not be as a champion, but rather as the high-profile individual who committed a crime – and remind us that anyone, no matter what their appearance, achievements or disability, is capable of domestic violence.

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