Oscar Pistorius Girlfriend: Tragedy a Wake-Up Call About Abusive Relationships

For domestic abuse cases to stop making headlines, cultural acceptance has to change, and only then can laws like the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) be successfully enacted. 

Domestic violence is on the forefront of the government’s agenda, as the Senate recently reauthorized the (VAWA). It’s also taken over recent headlines with the high profile murder trial of “blade-runner” Oscar Pistorius, who is accused of murdering his girlfriend, and has drawn heavy scrutiny.

Minor domestic disputes are all over the news, as CBS newscaster Rob Morrison very publicly ended up in handcuffs over a quarrel with his wife ending in a distressed phone call to his mother-in-law. While each instance of Pistorius and Morrison represents different ends of the spectrum of domestic abuse, there were warning signs in the abusers' histories leading up to their detainment. Tragically, most of these cases follow specific patterns and warning signs and friends and family should be vigilant even with the initial signs in order to avoid tragedy.

According to the domestic abuse hotline Safe Horizons, more than 60% of domestic abuse happens at home behind closed doors. Safe Horizons reports that one in three women who is a victim of homicide is killed by her domestic partner. In the case of Oscar Pistorius, who was a gun owner, he was five times more likely to commit a homicide just because he had access to a gun, according to the American Bar Association.

The scariest statistic is that most violent crimes go unreported. For law enforcement to step in represents a great risk on behalf of the abused to reach out for help. When asked why her daughter had not left her abusive husband, Morison’s mother-in-law replied, “She’s in fear.”

Both Pistorius and Morrison were highly competitive men at the top of their fields. One- an elite runner who overcame obstacles to represent his nation in the Olympics, accruing major sponsors and notoriety along the way. The other was a 20-year veteran journalist who had covered everything from wars to terror attacks and had landed himself an anchor position at  a major news network.

Each had a fairly healthy ego and inflated sense of self reinforced by their image in the media. While Pistorius threw out allegations that his competitors were cheating to maintain his edge, Morrison spurned his own profession all together. In a blog he wrote for Huffington Post titled “Daddy Diaries,” Morrison describes his reaction to getting fired from his anchor job, “My ego was bruised when I was informed my services were no longer required, but I fully understand why it happened. At the risk of sounding like my own worst enemy, I'll tell you that I have not watched a local newscast since my last day on the air.”

But competition and bitterness in defeat doesn’t necessarily translate to domestic abuse. Patterns develop early and in each man’s case there had been a history leading up to these major bouts of abuse. Morrison’s mother-in-law attested that the abuse had gone on for 10 years. According to Sports Illustrated, Pistorius also had a checkered history. One of his girlfriends came close to speaking out to the press saying, “Oscar is certainly not what people think he is,” but then quickly retracted her statement through a lawyer’s letter.

The protests and demonstrations that have sprung up around the courthouse where Oscar Pistorius appeared may lead to justice, but for the victim there can be no vindication. It is too late for Reeva Steenkamp but hopefully she will not have died in vain.

The U.S. government has already taken major steps towards preventing all types of domestic abuse under VAWA. Sadly, in South Africa, where the violent crime rate is unusually high and homicide is rampant, cultural change must force legal change. If the signs outside of Pistorius’s trial were any indication, then South Africa’s citizens are not content with the status quo.  

In America, unfortunately the reverse effect is true. The laws are in place but culture continues to undermine the cause of changing violence against women. In hip-hop culture, women are continuously degraded physically and sexually. Domestic abuse has been glorified in music videos. If the domestic abuse scandal between Chris Brown and Rhianna is any indication, then abusers can get away with it and be supported by their abused partner. In a shocking turn, the pop star actually accompanied her batterer to his own probation hearing. Once these abuses become part of the norm we become immune to them.

In another extreme example, and in a total role reversal, the iPhone came out with an app that actually rewards women for beating up their boyfriends. The Boyfriend Trainer app rewards women for keeping their partners in line through domestic abuse. While perhaps meant to be taken in jest, it’s still a serious issue for either gender.

It's an extreme example of how such a polarizing problem as domestic abuse cannot be taken too lightly, as it so often ends in tragedy.