Remember Reeva Steenkamp, and the thousands of other women killed by men every year

Two women a week are killed by a partner or former partner in England and Wales. We should be horrified by all the deaths of all women killed through male violence, regardless of who committed the crime

Karen Ingala Smith
Friday 12 September 2014 10:28
Reeva Steenkamp in a publicity still
Reeva Steenkamp in a publicity still

Fatal male violence against women is a worldwide problem, yet it is rarely headline news, like it is today. As we wait to find out whether Oscar Pistorius will be convicted of culpable homicide for shooting Reeva Steenkamp dead, I’m reminded of last week when news of the beheading of 82-year-old Palmira Silva was met with horror, yet very few people were aware that she was the third woman in London to have been beheaded in less than six months.

In South Africa, in 2009, 1024 women were killed through intimate partner violence, that’s one woman dead at the hands of her partner or former partner every 8 hours. You won’t hear about most of them. Yet last year Reeva Steenkamp’s death was news across the world within hours, because the man who killed her was an internationally famous athlete.

In 1997, a civil jury found OJ Simpson liable for the deaths of Nicola Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman, despite his acquittal in a criminal case two years earlier. Another case where it was only the killer’s fame which meant that this particular case of male violence against women was not ignored, in a country where in one year 1,818 women were killed by men, around two thirds of them killed by a partner or ex-partner.

The statistic that two women a week are killed by a partner or former partner in England and Wales is so well known that it rarely shocks. It should. Since January 2012, when eight women were killed through male violence in the first three days of the year alone - three shot, two stabbed, one strangled, one smothered and one beaten to death through 15 blunt force trauma injuries - I’ve been counting and naming the women in the UK killed through suspected male violence. This year, by September 4, at least 100 women had been killed. That’s one woman dead every 2.36 days. Few of their names are known outside their immediate circles.

There should not be a hierarchy of dead women. Male violence against women is an issue that should concern us all, and we must be more vocal in talking about it. Most women who are killed are killed by men. Most men who are killed are killed by men. Women make up around 32 per cent of murder victims in the UK but only six per cent of killers. Almost 94 per cent of murderers in the UK are men. We will never end male violence if we cannot name it.

Three days before Reeva Steenkamp was killed, Ganimete Hoti, 42, was stabbed to death in London by her husband. Three days after the death of Reeva Steenkamp, Samantha Medland, 24, was murdered by her husband in Brighton, stabbed on her face, head, neck and torso. We need to remember Reeva Steenkamp in the circus that is the trial of Oscar Pistorius. We need to remember that a woman is dead.

While Reeva Steenkamp is lost in the attention paid to Oscar Pistorius, her name simultaneously overshadows the thousands of other women who are killed by men every year. We should be horrified by all the deaths of all women killed through male violence, regardless of who killed them. We must ensure that the story focuses on the women who are dead, not their killers.

Karen Ingala Smith is the Chief Executive of nia, a charity supporting women who have suffered sexual and domestic violence

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