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Oscar Pistorius: Women's rights groups call for action to combat 'worryingly short' prison sentences for domestic violence

Womankind Worldwide branded violence against women a 'global pandemic' and said short sentences 'violate a woman’s right to justice'

Jenn Selby
Thursday 23 October 2014 09:27 BST
Reeva Steenkamp is "another woman obliterated by male violence"
Reeva Steenkamp is "another woman obliterated by male violence" (Getty Images)

News that Oscar Pistorius could be set to serve as little as 10 months of his five year prison term for shooting dead his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day 2013 was met with shock by women’s rights groups today, who called for “robust and urgent action” to end violence against women.

By South African legal guidelines, this means the athlete, who was found guilty of the culpable homicide (the equivalent to manslaughter in the UK) in September, might carry out a shorter sentence for his violent crime than if he had been found guilty of two counts of breaking and entering, or of supplying illegal drugs.

"This case will set a precedent all around the world," Reeva Steenkamp’s British sister, Simone Cowburn, told the Daily Mail ahead of sentencing on Monday. "We do not want other men to get off just because Oscar Pistorius has. It is still homicide.

"If a man steals a block of cheese here, he can get 20 years and that is for theft. But if you take somebody's life like Oscar has, you can get house arrest. It is not right."

Cowburn’s sentiment was echoed by a number of leading organisations campaigning for tougher sentencing for perpetrators of domestic violence.

"Violence against women is a global pandemic with one in three women experiencing violence in her lifetime," Bethan Cansfield, Policy Manager at Womankind Worldwide, told The Independent.

She added that although Womankind did not comment directly on individual cases of violence, "low levels of convictions and short sentencing given to perpetrators of violence against women is rampant across the world."

"This violates a woman’s right to justice and sends a strong message that states do not take violence seriously," she continued.

"As the Oscar Pistorius trial comes to an end, we hope governments across the globe take robust and urgent action to end violence against women. They should also increase support to women’s rights organisations which provide specialist support for women survivors of violence."

Polly Neate of Women’s Aid in Britain added that Pistorius’ sentence was "worryingly short" and declared strong sentences to be "essential" in showing perpetrators of such violent crimes that the law takes domestic violence seriously.

Parents of Reeva Steenkamp leave the High Court in Pretoria after Oscar Pistorius was sentenced to 5 years in prison

The White Ribbon Campaign, which aims to end violence against women by encouraging men to support female victims, called for more prominent males to speak out when high profile cases, like the Pistorius trial, come to light.

"What concerns us is the substantial silence from men around the issue when prominent cases of sexual assault or domestic abuse occur," a spokesperson told The Independent.

"Silence is not an option. Silence excuses violence against women and girls. White Ribbon Campaign needs men to join the campaign listening to and as allies of women.

"We ask men to swear the pledge, wear the ribbon and share the message by becoming an ambassador and speaking out."

The 2014 White Ribbon campaign will mark 16 days of action. It will start on the UN International Day to Eradicate Violence against women (White Ribbon Day) on 25 November.

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