Oscar Pistorius: The red-tops have a repellent new invention - murder trial porn

 

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Earlier this month, a 17-year-old girl died in hospital after being brutally gang-raped in South Africa. The details are too horrible to repeat and the murder sparked public protests, even if it received less attention outside the country than the recent gang rape of a student in India. South Africa has one of the highest rates of rape in the world, with almost 150 cases reported to the police every day and many more unreported. It also had the highest rate of intimate femicide – murders of women by their partners – according to a 1999 study.

I didn't hear this context mentioned on Thursday when it was reported that a woman had been shot dead at the home of the South African Paralympian, Oscar Pistorius. Radio 4's Today programme suggested that Pistorius had killed his girlfriend after mistaking her for an intruder, a theme that was taken up elsewhere. I listened with astonishment as broadcasters advanced what is almost certain to be Pistorius's defence, citing the fear of crime which leads the wealthy in South Africa to live on estates with armed guards. The initial coverage was so sympathetic that it seemed to come as a shock when Pistorius was charged with murder later in the morning, prompting a screeching U-turn and the discovery of a "darker" side to his character.

Pistorius is entitled to a fair trial. But Reeva Steenkamp has not been served well by the initial rush to assume that her death was the result of a dreadful accident. It speaks volumes about the reluctance of the media to acknowledge the existence of widespread domestic violence in South Africa, a point certainly not lost on the police. Brigadier Denise Beukes said officers were "very surprised" by the accidental-shooting theory, and revealed that there had been previous incidents of a "domestic nature" at the property. On Friday, Pistorius was remanded in custody, charged with the more serious charge of premeditated murder.

A few days earlier, it was revealed that a British violinist, Frances Andrade, had killed herself during the trial of her former music teacher. Michael Brewer was found guilty of five counts of indecently assaulting Ms Andrade when she was a pupil at a music school in Manchester. Her family said she was traumatised by her experience in the witness box, where Brewer's barrister accused her of being a liar and a fantasist. Such tactics are used to discredit complainants in trials, encouraging the myth that malicious accusations of rape are common. They aren't, and the disbelief of alleged victims sits uncomfortably with lenient attitudes to men who may have perpetrated sexual or domestic violence.

There are other ways of demeaning victims. Within 24 hours of Ms Steenkamp's death, she was on the front page of The Sun in a tiny bikini. All it lacked was a page 3 caption: "Stunning Reeva will have less time for modelling in future, being dead". Well done to the British popular press for its shiny new invention, murder trial porn.

www.politicalblonde.com; twitter.com/@polblonde

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