This morning, a South African friend broke the news of Reeva Steenkamp’s death. At the time, an idea was floating around Facebook that her killer, Oscar Pistorious, had mistaken Reeva for a burglar. The two were in a relationship, and over the past few hours, details of the abuse Reeva endured at Pistorious’ hands have begun to surface. After posting a link to my own facebook profile, a friend informed me that Pistourious had shot Reeva four times. It was becoming clear that this was no accident.
As I headed over to twitter this evening, I was disappointed to see Pistorious’ name trending, alongside jokes. This is the last time I’ll use his name in this post.
See, Reeva Steenkamp should be the name on everyone’s lips. But her name was missing from the trending topics. Hell, I saw tweets referencing her death that failed to even mention the fact a woman had been killed by male violence, let alone Reeva’s name. She’s been dead less than 24 hours, and the patriarchy is already erasing her. Fancy that, eh… This would be the same patriarchy which failed to mention Andrea Johnson by name when reporting how her husband had murdered her before killing himself. The same patriarchy which sees women silenced, and ignored when they try to speak out against men’s violence against women. The same patriarchy which sees the murder of the prostituted class ignored, and women blamed for their own murders. Women are not allowed to live a life free of blame; the patriarchy won’t allow it.
We’ve heard how Reeva was an FHM model. The fact she was a law graduate was ignored. The fact she spoke out against violence against women has been ignored. Even in her death, Reeva has been objectified. Googling “Reeva Steenkamp” in the news section of Google relays, at present, 2,350 results. Images added to the search engine database, following her death, included an FHM cover, as well as various photos of Reeva in a bikini. Googling her killer’s name leaves us with 201,000 news results, although I’m unable to determine how many of these were added today. All I can say for certain is that I got 27 pages in to the results, and gave up.
We do not need to know Reeva was a model to feel saddened by her death. But objectifying her following her death remains a huge kick to the teeth. We need to remember her name, and we need to keep Reeva’s name at the forefront of our minds. It is time we stopped glorifying men who kill women, no matter how unintentionally we do so. Our conversation should not erase the victims of men’s violence against women, but instead, they should become the forefront of our discussion. We cannot end violence against women when the women killed by male violence are forgotten.
Her name was Reeva Steenkamp. And we must not forget that.
*Edit: Google is now displaying more results for Reeva in the news. The stats above were what I found at 23:01 on 14/2/2013
Men who hit women are pathetic. Women who make excuses and stay with the guy are just as bad. — Brian Mcfadden (@BrianMcFadden) December 8, 2012
This isn’t my usual takedown of male upholders of the patriarchy. It’s one that’s filled with facepalming and irony. I mean, it was just the other day I wrote about the importance of supporting women who are in abusive relationships, trying to leave abusive relationships, or fresh out of abusive relationships. See, the “Women who make excuses and stay” may have hit me harder than usual. I suspect, from McFadden’s subsequent tweet, he tweeted out of a mixture of anger and misunderstanding. I mean, to the outsider, you wonder why women stay, why women make excuses. There’s no end of reasons. All of which are down to the abuser. So, in a simple, easy to read list, here we go. (If you think of any more, add them in the comments)
- Blame: It’s common for the blame to be misappropriated onto the victim of abuse. As mentioned in my above linked post, it’s not uncommon for people to ask the abuser what they may have done to upset the abuser. It’s simple. The abuser doesn’t act out of anger, he acts out of a desire to control his victim. However, the abuser knows that it makes him appear (slightly more) favourable if he can blame the victim. After all, acting out abuse for a desire for control comes across as pretty shitty. (Understatement). But if he’s struck his victim, and laid it on “dinner being ruined”, “talking to your (male) friend”, “answering back”, he tells the victim (and anyone that asks) what she should have done differently. The victim then begins to believe if she walks on eggshells, and avoids the “triggers”, things will change. Things don’t change. The abuser just finds different excuses.
- Denial: I can’t speak for every victim/survivor of abuse, but I suspect I can speak for a large number. The first time your abuser hits you, it doesn’t seem real. You don’t understand where it came from. After all, he’s been Prince Charming, right? Wants you all for himself, has told you he couldn’t live without you… You don’t realise he’s been doing all the things that make up abuse all along, so you convince yourself it was a “one off”, while he’s telling you it won’t happen again.
- Lack Of Support: Last year, on average, 230 women were turned away from the refuge system due to a lack of space. Often, housing women trying to escape abuse can mean placing them in refuges miles away from any support network. But even before then, there’s the problem of trying to call Women’s Aid. I was lucky that I was never fully restricted to the house, except for when Dom hid my keys. But in the refuge system, I met women who had been denied access to a phone, unable to phone the National Domestic Violence Helpline, or even the police. Even those who had been able to phone had had to sneak out of the house to do it in private (I’d used “going to Tesco” as an excuse the day before I left Dom). But even then, you can’t always get through first time. The lack of refuge spaces saw women placed in Bed and Breakfast’s, with no real support, or sometimes unable to reach help at all.
- Lack Of Finances: I had, like many other women, every penny controlled by Dom. As a barmaid, earning around £900 a month, Dom would ensure I had £200 to get through the month with; through this, I had to pay bills, buy food, buy electric… The rest, Dom would keep for himself, and spend on beer, vodka, anything he wanted. Before I knew of the refuge system, I believed I couldn’t afford to leave. After all, I was always broke, struggling to make ends meet. It never occurred to me I could survive, financially, outside of abuse. Even for those who do not face financial abuse know they’ll face being the sole payee for everything, and wonder how they’ll make ends meet.
- Children: We have this preoccupation with two parent families. How many times have you heard the phrase “Stay together for the kids?” Blink 182 even have a song of the same name, right? We’re told children function best in two parent families, and we get told that children, especially boys, need a male influence in their lives. All of this builds up to a troubling sense for any mother planning to leave an abusive relationship. Society has already told her that lone parents are failing their children. Add to that, abusers often use children to target the mothers, the abuser’s victim. A common tactic is for the abuser to threaten the victim with custody; a tactic I remember from Dom, who regularly told me that, should I leave, he’d make sure I never saw our son again. Other abusers will try and turn the children against the mother, meaning that should the mother attempt to leave, the children will voice dissent at the idea of leaving with the mother. For a lot of victims, leaving the abuser means they have to face the possibility of losing their children.
- Fear: Long before I left Dom, I was aware of the fact that leaving, or attempting to leave, Dom would be dangerous. He’d admitted once, that, after she’d left him, he’d put a brick through his ex wife’s window. And sadly, I was already no stranger to his death threats; within the first ten months of our relationship, he’d threatened to stab me twice; he’d tried to kill his best friend for offering me comfort after another of Dom’s assaults, and told me that if I ever tried to leave him, he’d hunt me down and kill me. Women don’t leave abuse because they’re scared of the consequences if they get caught trying to leave. They’re scared of the consequences if they do leave. Hell, four years on, I still think I’ve seen Dom in the streets, and that’s enough to scare the hell out of me. We know leaving our abuser is the most dangerous time in our relationship. That’s why we look for the right time to leave.
We don’t stay because we’re “just as bad.” We stay because a number of factors coerce us into staying with our abuser. Factors our abuser carefully puts in place.
I noticed an irony the other day. I don’t remember the exact date I returned to Dom, following his court case. But, given that it was a matter of days before my birthday (very early December), it would have been during the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence. The irony of this only struck me recently; As my family were convincing me to give my relationship with Dom another go – to put things right-, feminists would have been campaigning to help raise awareness of domestic abuse.
My family, when I phoned to tell them that Dom had headbutted me whilst I was holding our ten month old son, were a little less sympathetic than they should have been. A few weeks after the attack, I found myself being subjected to an hour long lecture from my mother, about how I’d “isolated” Dom, by choosing to breastfeed and co-sleep. I’d denied him intimacy. Dom’s right to sex was, in my parent’s eyes, more important than parenting in a way which worked for myself and my son. I was told that, by pressing charges I was over-reacting. At this point, I’d yet to tell anyone of the extent of abuse Dom had put me through.
I spent the next week with my family, where the attachment parenting I practised was pulled apart. The first night I arrived at my sister-in-laws, I was told my son would not be sleeping in my bed, he’d be sleeping in a cot, and by hell, he would scream it out if he had to. “You’re making a rod for your own back,” they argued. I spent that first evening crying almost as much as Mini-Dragon did. The next few days, I found everything I did pulled apart. At no point did any of my family stop to ask how I was feeling, at no point did they ask if it was the first time Dom had assaulted me. Instead, they told me where I’d “gone wrong”, how I’d “pushed Dom out”. At one point, I found myself arguing with my brother, who proceeded to tell me “I’m not surprised Dom hit you.” Those words, four years on, still ring in my ears. I ended up returning to Dom, believing I was just as in the wrong as he was. I’ve always been slightly stubborn, and I found the refuge I was staying at were not allowed to tell us not to return; they could advise us, but they couldn’t tell us what to do, or what not to do. At no point was I told, by anyone, “Don’t go back.” The people making the most noise in my life were the one’s telling me where I’d gone wrong, not that Dom’s actions were inexcusable.
The moment you begin to focus on the woman’s actions leading up to her partner assaulting her, that’s the moment you stop supporting her. The moment you tell her to give him another try is the moment you stop supporting her. When you leave an abusive relationship, you often leave with a whole load of internalised misogyny. I’d spent four years being mocked, punched, woken at 2am, being yelled at, seeing my possessions sold, having cold water thrown at me, having knives waved in my face; I didn’t need to have my own actions critiqued, none of which contributed to the violence. I needed Dom’s violence towards me condemned. I needed to know that, should I leave Dom permanently, I’d have the unwavering support of my family. I didn’t.
When you question a woman’s actions in the lead up to the abuse, you’re quietly telling her that if she changed, the abuse would stop. It doesn’t. From returning to Dom, to the day I left, I became a Stepford wife. I didn’t argue, I became obedient as sin; If I could have read his mind, I would. After all, I was told this was partly my own fault. I changed, and I waited for Dom to do the same. He didn’t. But when we fail to support women leaving violence, we lie to them. We tell them the men will change, provided they do. We tell them the abuse was caused by their actions, without considering the truth. We excuse men’s violence. All because we send out the wrong message to women.
Let’s redefine the message we send women who look to escape abuse. Under no circumstances should her actions be mentioned. After all, the fault of the abuse lies solely with the abuser. We’d do well to remember that.
October 2007. Dom had just come in drunk, again, after a night at the pub. I’d had a quiet evening in, and was silently dreading his return. Drunk Dom was even more volatile than sober Dom. This evening, in particular, he’d started an argument with a friend, and as I found myself pinned up against the wall, I was feeling the brunt of his anger. I was never one for defending myself. But, at seven months pregnant, as his fist came heading towards my stomach, something snapped. I not only blocked his blow, but I also struck back, slapping him across the face. As he stepped back in shock, I ran to the bathroom, bolting the door, and called the police. The next day, I dropped the charges against Dom. Although the first officer I’d dealt with had been brilliant, flawless, the second officer had phoned in the morning to tell me of Dom’s remorse. “He was drunk, and he’s sobered up. He really regrets it…” he’d said. Ninety minutes later, Dom was back in the living room. “You hit me too… You’re just as bad as me,” he’d claimed. “You’re abusing me, too. You just got to the phone first.” It wasn’t until a few months later that someone else pointed out that it was self defence.
Sadly, I’ve heard a lot of people talking of women being just as bad as men, lately. Yet the people who claim this forget the simple fact that two women a week are killed by their partners. So far this year, it’s believed that one man in the UK has been killed by a former or current partner. This is compared to the 95 women killed by current or former partners, or male relatives this year. As I read a stat claiming that 1 in 7 men were victims of domestic abuse, I remembered a blog post by another rad fem, that used an 87% stat in relation to abuse. I’ve been unable to locate the blog post in question, and have forgotten the author. However, I stumbled across a report on Education.gov.uk, “Children’s Needs – Parenting Capacity” in which I found the citation:
A US study involving 1,517 incidents of domestic violence where a child was present found 87% of victims were female and 86% of perpetrators were male (Fantuzzo and Fusco 2007).
It’s around here that my mind went into overdrive. I compared this to the “Equality and Diversity Impact Assessment On The CPS Violence Against Women Strategy And Action Plan“, which stated that “5.8.2 The gender breakdown of victims between April and September 2006 indicated that only 33% of cases had gender recorded; [Note 17] of those 86% of victims were women. The December snapshot indicated that 89% of victims were women.” It was time to turn to my trusted Maths student friend; By this point, my head was hurting, and things weren’t making sense. Now, if 1 in 7 men were the victims of domestic violence, compared to 1 in 4 women, then surely the number of male victims recorded would be higher? That would mean 1 male victim for every 2 – 3 female victims. Yes?
Funnily enough, the first thing my friend said upon viewing the stats was “Are you sure the stats aren’t 1 in 7 victims are male?”. I checked. Nope, 1 in 7 men are victims. That’s what I’d read over and over (Some sources state 1 in 6 males) The following is his message to me:
“Well, the way those ratios would go is, for every 25 women abused, about 14.3 men are
which would make a sample size of 39.3
The female percentage would be 25/39.2= about 64%
males would be 14.3/39.3, or about 36-37%”
Which, needless to say, didn’t tally with the research so far… He immediately suggested the statistics had been skewed somewhere down the line, as 86% worked out to be around 6/7. So, here we have 6/7 domestic violence victims are female, and the remaining 1/7 were male. So, to work out the number of males that are victims of domestic abuse, based on a 50/50 gender split, I’ll borrow this friend’s words again.
“6x as many abuse victims female
1/4 of the females abused
so divide 1/4 by 6, gives 1/24”
So, that statistic gives us 1 in 24 men are the victim of domestic violence at any point in their lifetime. Which gives us a very different statistic to the 1 in 7 suggested before. I do not currently have statistics into the gender breakdown of who is abusing men, but needless to say, as the CPS tells us 95% of Domestic Violence defendants are male, it stands to reason, a large number of abusers of men are men themselves.
I’d like to thank my friend, who shall not be named for confidentiality reasons, for his help.
I’ve spent half an hour staring at a blank screen, trying to work out what I’d say, should I ever come face to face with someone who made a rape joke. Luckily, the only rape jokes I’ve ever encountered so far have been made through the internet.
2010. A sociology class I was taking had somehow turned to the issue of rape. At the time, I didn’t associate either of my rapists as such. I didn’t realise I’d been raped; I just thought my issues with sex was my subconscious being stupid. But a classmate commented that women joining the army were “asking for trouble”. I’d hardly slept the night before. I’d been sleepily half-participating in the discussion, but the man’s comments woke me up. He was greeted with a “what the f…”, coming from my direction.
“Shit, no, I didn’t mean it like that!”
“It sounded like you were blaming women who joined the army for being raped.”
“That’s not what I meant…”
“Your words were ‘Yeah, but women joining the army are asking for trouble, really’, weren’t they?”
“Yeah, but I meant, y’know…”
“You were blaming women who get raped whilst working in the army for being raped…”
He apologised, blamed a poor choice of words. But he began mentally kicking himself the moment the words he’d carelessly thrown into the air were pointed out to him.
That evening, the man in question, John*, apologised to me. We’d been friends for a few weeks, despite an initial, mutual hatred of each other. But he’d been horrified when he realised what he’d said. Even more so when I’d pulled him up on it. This is the difference between decent men and rapists. Decent men recoil in horror should they ever carelessly blame a rape survivor. I still remember the horror on his face, and the profuse apologies when he’d text me that evening. “I didn’t think what I was saying,” he’d said that evening.
Another ex sat reading a blog post over my shoulder; It had been one that pointed out rape was no laughing matter. “I can’t believe some people find shit like that funny,” he’d said. He’d seen his older sister dragged through a rape trial in her teens. The fact anyone could joke about that abhorred him. And rightly so. But this is the difference between decent men and rapists. Decent men abhor the idea of laughing at violence against women. Rapists, and men who commit violence against women applaud men who joke about violence against women.
Here’s a little fact for you. A recent survey found that around 23% of women in London had been made to have sex they didn’t want. That is rape. Around 1 in 4 London women have been raped, and I suspect the numbers don’t vary that much around the globe. Gather ten women, alone. Tell them your old rape jokes, and await the applause. Some women will laugh. “Massage men’s egos,” we’re told. “Let them think they’re funny, even when they’re not.” But gather those ten women, and tell them your rape jokes. Watch how one or two genuinely find the joke funny, because we’ve been conditioned to think rape IS a laughing matter. But for the most part, the laughter you’ll receive from a group of women hearing a rape joke will be one of discomfort.
“Wouldn’t it be funny if she was raped…”
Tell this to a rape survivor, Tosh. Rape is a laughing matter? Why is that? And yes, I doubt the chances of Tosh reading this are small, minimal. But I would appreciate hearing how he could justify telling a rape survivor to stop whining, and laugh about rape. Rape survivors know that, should they report their rape, the chances of seeing their rapist jailed are small. But let’s joke about raping women. After all, it’s hardly a wide spread issue.
1 in 4, Mr Tosh. 1 in 4…
Tell a rape survivor, the one who sits up night after night, unable to sleep, because every now and then, one of her rapists creeps into her dreams. Tell her to lighten up, Tosh. After all. It’s just a joke, right? It’s hardly a wide spread issue, right?
1 in 4…
Tell the rape survivor who breathes a sigh of relief that her child looks nothing like the rapist who took away her choice to have that child that she should lighten up, Tosh. After all. If her son has the same wash of freckles over his nose as her rapist did, it’s no big deal, right? Rape’s hardly a wide spread issue, right?
1 in 4…
Tell the women who’ve never spoken out, the women who’ve cried themselves to sleep, the women who flashback and hear their rapists words flashing in their ears… Tell the to lighten up, Tosh. It’s not like they make up a large number of your audience, Tosh. Tell the woman who overdosed, hoping to end the suffering, that she should lighten up and listen to your rape jokes.
Tell the women who counsel rape survivor after rape survivor that they should put those stories behind them, so you can joke about rape. Tell them how they should be able to face the survivor they’re counselling, after letting a rape joke go unchallenged.
And tell the children, who find out they were the product of a rape that they should be able to laugh about the violence inflicted upon their mothers.
When you tell us to STFU and accept your rape jokes, Tosh, you tell us that the pain of rape survivors and those who support them doesn’t matter. You’re telling us your right to joke about rape, and tear open those wounds for those survivors is more important. You joke about an issue that, I’m guessing, you’ve never been directly involved with. When you hear a rape survivor tell you that you’re the first person they’ve told about their rape, remember your words.
“Wouldn’t it be funny if she was raped?”
I mean, what does a rape survivor’s pain matter anyway, Tosh?
1 in 4, Tosh. What’s so funny about that?
I’m going to need to put another disclaimer here, aren’t I? I’m really not one of those people who watches Jeremy Kyle on a regular basis. In fact, I believe one of the last episodes I watched involved Jeremy Kyle effectively telling a woman that if she refrained from winding her husband up, he probably wouldn’t hit her.
Yeah, I’m not kidding… Sorry.
So, after seeing a thread on Mumsnet about Mr Misogynist’s usual anti-woman stance, and the crappy, unreliable lie-detector I decided to hunt down the episode in question. It was, in fact, one specific interview I was looking for; in which Jeremy Kyle threatened to drag a young woman off the stage. (I kid you not. If you wish to watch the misogynist in action, the episode in question is available on ITV player; dated 28/05/2012, shown at 9:25 am. If you’re allergic to arsewipes, I wouldn’t recommend it…)
Intriguingly enough, it seems that two of the women who appeared on today’s show were being emotionally abused by their respective partners. The first was a woman who had been accused, by her current partner, of sleeping with his brother. She recounted some of the emotional and verbal abuse her partner had inflicted on her. In fact, her partner had gone as far as claiming that their son wasn’t his; a common occurrence in both abusive relationships and on the Jeremy Kyle Show. Needless to say, the test results proved the child in question did belong to emotionally abusive arsewipe. Mr Misogyny sent the couple off stage, warning the arsewipe to “respect her”. Oooh, that’s really going to work. Y’know what? I’d rather have seen him say “We’re not doing the DNA tests, you’re an emotionally abusive arsehole; here’s the number for Respect, and I’m giving your partner the number for Women’s Aid” (Which, in case you need it, is 0808 2000 247) But as always, the underlying issue of abuse on the Jeremy Kyle Show gets swept under the carpet, and we’re left focusing on any wrongdoing that the woman in question may have committed.
Anyway, we move on to the next couple. Katrina, who has a look about her… One I recognised… It’s the look of someone who is terrified, of something. Or someone. Before she entered the stage, her fiance, Johnny, had told the audience about how he hadn’t been with Katrina long (a matter of months), yet they were already engaged, and already trying for a baby. Katrina admitted to cheating on her partner (kissing and sexual contact) just before the questions for the polygraph. Yeah, the deciding factor on whether Katrina cheated any further relied on a polygraph. A test, which research has concluded (from several studies) is around 60% accurate. For every 10 results on the Jeremy Kyle show, 4 will be wrong. And as I watched Katrina’s protests that she hadn’t cheated, I believed her. There was a 40% chance she was telling the truth. But something else stuck in my mind. It was the fact Katrina had owned up to cheating before the test. Why would she continue to lie? As Johnny stormed off, Mr Misogyny threatened to drag Katrina. That’s right; on national TV, the male host of a TV show threatened a woman. And not a gasp was uttered.
Following this, we saw Johnny put his foot through a door. Typical abuser tactic. If they can’t hit out at their intended victim, they choose another, more socially acceptable target. A pseudo-telling off from Mr Misogyny, and it’s back to calling Katrina a liar. Because, Jeremy Kyle’s job is, essentially, hating women. And doesn’t he do it well?