When I read the news about Oscar Pistorius’s being charged with shooting his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, I was heartbroken. Not only because of the tragic loss of life, but also because I know the alleged murder could have been prevented.
The Associated Press revealed that there were previous law enforcement complaints about domestic episodes at Pistorius’s home. As a man whose mother was a victim of domestic violence, I’m angered by these reports. It’s always the same story — a woman is abused and no one intervenes because they don’t want to get involved in other people’s business.
I understand the impulse to look the other way. No one ever helped my mother when she was abused even though they heard the screams, saw the scars, and witnessed the police involvement. My neighbors actually pretended they weren’t at home when I banged on their doors asking for help.
Although those experiences were painful, I behaved the same way when I first encountered domestic violence as an adult.
In college, I befriended an industrious young man named John*, whom I admired because of his entrepreneurial spirit. By the age of 22, he had already started several businesses and was paying his tuition with the profits. John was popular on campus, affable and fun to be around.
John hired me as a writer for one of his publications. Since I also worked for the campus newspaper, I became his source for trends that appealed to college students. We spent several hours together in his makeshift office writing, editing, and selecting graphics for the magazine. It was during these late night working sessions that I discovered John’s darker side.
John had a girlfriend, Jane*, who worked at the school paper with me. Jane was quiet, meek, and kept to herself. I was actually a little surprised when I found out that she was dating John, a guy with a huge personality and ego to match. John often stopped by the newspaper’s office and greeted Jane with an affectionate kiss. They seemed like such a happy couple. But it was all a facade.
One day, I noticed that Jane’s face was bruised. I didn’t think much of it at first, but I started to connect the dots as I spent more time with John. He would periodically ask me about the guys at paper and wanted to know if Jane was talking to or interacting with any of them. I’d also overhear their arguments that grew increasingly louder during the time I worked with John.
Jane finally admitted to some of the female reporters that John was abusing her. At first I was shocked, but then it all started to make sense.
I was so angry with John. I felt that he betrayed me. My own history with domestic violence only fueled my anger. I wanted to give him a taste of the pain he had inflicted on Jane, but I knew that violence was not the answer. Instead, I did nothing.
It’s very likely people noticed signs that Steenkamp was in an abusive relationship, but Pistorius’ celebrity kept them from speaking up. Or maybe they were just afraid of meddling in other people’s affairs. Either way, another woman has fallen victim to domestic violence.
I realize that I was a coward for not directly confronting John. Now that I’m a husband and a father, I’ve decided never to be silent about domestic violence again. Every nine seconds in the U.S., a woman is assaulted or beaten, according to Domestic Violence Statistics.org. Domestic violence continues to be the leading cause of injury to women — more than car accidents, muggings and rapes combined.
I specifically target men in my discussions about domestic violence because they are the perpetrators of violence in 95 percent of domestic assaults according to the Department of Justice. Men must have the courage to take a stand against domestic violence. If we don’t, more women’s lives will be at risk because of our silence.
* Names have been changed
Photo credit: PacificCoastNews.com