A CBS article about the killing of Reeva Steenkamp ran this morning with a quote from Oscar Pistorius in the headline: “She Died In My Arms.” Reeva Steenkamp died in Oscar Pistorius’ arms because Oscar Pistorius killed her. Her death was not something that happened to him. He did not stumble upon a tragic tableau and cradle her, Pietà-like, while she expired; it was an act he committed. A few years earlier, he had been arrested for assault against another woman.
Last month, the New York Times Magazine ran an article about “restorative justice,” focusing on a case where a young man with a history of physical abuse (“Conor was prone to bursts of irrational rage. Ann never told her parents that he had struck her several times.”) shot his girlfriend at point-blank range while she begged him not to kill her.
“He told Ann’s parents that he had no plans to shoot their daughter. Still, he said, “on some subconscious level, I guess, I wanted it all to end. I don’t know what happened. I just — emotions were overwhelming.” He said he didn’t remember deciding to pull the trigger, but he recognizes that it wasn’t an accident, either.”
Back in December, when NFL player Jovan Belcher murdered his girlfriend Kasandra Perkins before committing suicide, stories focusing on his football career and admiring colleagues ran with headlines like “Pro Football Player Kissed Girlfriend After Killing Her” and “Belcher Shot Girlfriend, Then Kissed Her Forehead.” Fewer outlets reported that Belcher had previously been treated for severing his thumb after punching through a window while “upset over a girl,” or had argued with a girlfriend so loudly for “fail[ing] to get in touch with him by a certain time” that the police showed up.
Pistorius “cried uncontrollably” in court this week.
Look at how much he loved her, these stories say. He just couldn’t help himself. How could a man who cries and kisses someone on the forehead be a monster?
One of the most basic truths about domestic violence is that it gets worse over time. There is rarely a sudden snap; a woman is hurt repeatedly until she is hurt so badly that she dies from it. These stories are written about murders without a murderer, as if there were no warning signs and there was no possible way anyone could have predicted what would happen.
The Violence Against Women Act was not reauthorized this year; it is currently awaiting a vote in the House of Representatives. Your boyfriend or husband may propose to you; he may take a vacation with you; he may move in with you; he may murder you. If you are a woman and you are injured this year, he is the likeliest source of that injury.
We write these stories because we would like to ignore the predicable and widespread escalation of domestic abuse. Often our initial response to domestic violence is embarrassment. How uncomfortable to see someone else’s dirty laundry like that. It’s a “private matter,” best resolved by the woman and her abuser, until there is a body.
There is no reason to cover matters of domestic violence in this fashion. Writers can, and should, identify the agent. Identify the action. Identify the acted-upon. Learn a few basic facts about the patterns of domestic violence. “How could this happen?” someone writes.
A man hurt women for a long time and never got in trouble, so he kept on hurting them more and more until one died. That’s how.
[Image via Wikimedia Commons]