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The Oscar Pistorius-Ray Rice Moment September 12, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, South Africa, Sports, Women.
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BY , 12 September 2014, The New Yorker

From the moment that the Oscar Pistorius case began unfolding, with the news, the morning after Valentine’s Day last year, that he had shot and killed his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, there was the small redeeming hope that it could be a teachable moment. The entire world seemed intensely focused on the story. In part, that was because of Pistorius’s celebrity and the physical challenges he overcame—he was born without fibulas, and his feet were amputated below the knee when he was an infant—and the images of Steenkamp, a smiling law-school graduate and model. He claimed that he had mistaken Steenkamp for a burglar, shooting her multiple times through a bathroom door. But, while one man was on trial for murdering his girlfriend, what many believed would be on trial was the horrific epidemic of domestic violence in South Africa and all over the world, including in this country. Even as Pistorius’s trial wound to a close—he was foundguilty of culpable homicide, a charge akin to manslaughter, though he was acquitted of murder—another story involving an athlete was unfolding in the United States: the release of a video showing Ray Rice, a running back for the Baltimore Ravens, punching  his fiancée at the time, now his wife.

Of course, it’s a coincidence that these two cases are in the public eye at the same moment, thousands of miles apart. No, Ray Rice did not kill his fiancée; he knocked her out cold. But, in this country, as in South Africa, the abuse and, yes, the murder of women is beyond horrendous, and most cases go unpunished or, unless the accused is a big guy with big bucks and a big rep, unnoticed. (And many times even then.) Since the Rice revelations, more women in the U.S. have talked publicly about having been abused by their partner—the hashtags #WhyIStayed and #WhyILeft were the labels for many wrenching stories this week. Many had suffered in silence, not speaking about what was happening to them or pursuing justice in the courts. Often—and this is especially true in South Africa, where the justice system and government services to assist women are inadequate, at best—just going to the authorities doesn’t protect women.

In South Africa, according to the civil-society organization Sonke Gender Justice, three women are killed by an “intimate partner” (the term includes current and former relationships) every day. It happens with such frequency that it has a name:  “intimate-partner femicide.” There is also, in South Africa, the scourge of “corrective rape,” in which men believe that raping lesbians and gay men will “cure” them of their sexual orientation. (I wrote about this crisis for The New Yorker.) And yet there are few prosecutions.

In South Africa, many are so frustrated with the lack of justice, especially the rape victims—and, even more, gay rape victims—that they don’t even bother to report abuse.

But the domestic abuse and murder of women is not limited to a single place, whether South Africa or a hotel-casino in Atlantic City. The World Health Organization calls violence against women “a global health problem,” with its most recent statistics showing that thirty-five per cent of women worldwide have been victims of domestic violence, and thirty-eight per cent of murders of women were committed by an intimate partner. Sonke’s executive director, Dean Peacock, said, “Multiple surveys carried out in nearly all regions of the world have found that the strongest factors associated with men’s use of violence against women are social norms that support men’s collective dominance over women.” Peacock added, “Children’s exposure to violence in the home, alcohol abuse, and easy access to guns all contribute to the unsafe environment women and children find themselves in.”

Those social norms take many forms. Recently, the jihadist onslaught in various parts of the world, which aims to put women back in positions of servitude, has played its part, including in the now almost forgotten abduction of more than two hundred schoolgirls in northern Nigeria. Most are still missing.

One question will be whether the mixed official response in the Pistorius and Rice cases advances any meaningful steps being taken to deal effectively with domestic violence and the murder of women. For many, the Pistorius verdict was a disappointment; though he has still been convicted of a serious crime, with the possibility of up to fifteen years in prison, he escaped the most serious consequences. (“This verdict is not justice for Reeva,” her mother, June Steenkamp,said on Friday.) Before the video came out, Rice had only been suspended for two games, even though it was known that he had knocked his fiancée unconscious; he has now been cut from the team and suspended indefinitely. Just how teachable is this Pistorius-Rice moment, at home and globally? There is hope in there, in the sharing of stories and difficult conversations. There is also a long way to go.

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