Oscar Pistorius And The Culture Of Domestic Violence
The Valentine’s Day shooting of Reeva Steenkamp, the model, women’s advocate, and girlfriend of Olympic runner Oscar Pistorius, filled the news with grisly daily updates. Many outlets took care to detail Pistorius's successes as a Paralympic champion—but such a focus reveals a culture of glorified athleticism and hypermasculinity that remembers stars’ game-time achievements over their arrest charges.
According to surveys conducted by the Centers for Disease Control, more than one in three U.S. women experienced intimate partner violence in their lifetime. The survey also found one in five women were raped in her lifetime, though the number is likely much higher as 54 percent of sexual assaults aren’t reported to police.
These figures look worse on college campuses, where sexual assault is too often excused as a side effect of alcohol and team rowdiness.
“Research shows that rape is a widespread concern on college campuses,” said Maureen Mahoney, director of the Sexual Assault Response and Prevention Center (SARP) at Boston University. Perpetrators rarely see punishment, and if they are athletes at schools with prominent sports teams, they have a robust support system of teammates, coaches, and community members. In last year’s rape case against Steubenville High School football players, citizens of the football-loving town viciously blamed the victim and ignored the alleged crime.
Members of the Boston University community reacted similarly when two players on the school’s Division I hockey team were charged with sexual assault. In response to the alleged crime, the university launched a task force to examine team members’ behavior and found a “culture of sexual entitlement...stemming in part from [players’] elevated social status on campus.” The task force recommended, among other improvements, establishing a center for sexual assault.
Antonio Arendel, a health and prevention educator at SARP, said curbing violence against women both in and out of sports culture depends on people holding one another accountable. “Conversations—we need to have them,” Arendel told Campus Progress. “We need to encourage athletes to check their teammates. There’s a lot of people who are afraid to even speak. A lot of things go unchecked.”
Arendel’s experience with sports and violence prevention led him to SARP, where he focuses on bystander training for sports teams and other groups on campus. He said he hopes the Pistorius case will foster dialogue beyond the immediate reaction to a high-profile murder.
The reality is that millions of women face violence at the hands of less publicly celebrated men. It’s also true that sexual assault and intimate partner violence often escalate, with 70 to 80 percent of female homicide victims having experienced abuse before being murdered by their intimate partners. According to a police spokesperson, Pistorius had been involved with “allegations of a domestic nature” in the past.
Pistorius's legacy as a star runner and object of repulsive fascination will likely remain vivid in the global milieu, while Steenkamp and the thousands of South African women for whom she advocated will join the sobering statistics of gender violence.
Molly Savard is a reporter for Campus Progress. You can follow her on Twitter @mollicules.
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