Oscar Pistorius’s own friends described his temper as volatile. They gave testimony regarding him firing guns in public, once in a restaurant. Maybe they’re telling the truth, maybe they aren’t. I don’t know. All we do know is that he killed her and that he says it was by mistake. (You can read his statement here.) The couple had been dating for four months. Steenkamp’s mother says that her daughter’s bags were packed and that she was leaving the man who killed her. If, as her mother claims, Steenkamp was afraid of Pistorius, why didn’t she leave before? Why did she stay? Why does any woman stay?
While watching the movie Sarah’s Key, my son asked me why the Parisian Jews meekly went to the Vélodrome d’Hiver to eventually be sent to concentration camps and killed. Why didn’t they fight back? Because what was going to happen to them was unthinkable. The Jews had been displaced and despised before; so, many of them were prepared for that. They sewed their valuables into the hems of their clothes preparing to having nothing but literally the clothes on their back to start over with; but, they certainly didn’t expect to be exterminated. I mean, who would? That doesn’t even make sense in a civilized society that people would be rounded up like that and murdered. Of course, if the same thing were to happen now, the response would be different. It’s been done before; so, it’s thinkable. Like on 9/11: it was unthinkable that aircraft would be used as missiles; so, there was no resistance on the first three planes. The passengers on the fourth plane knew what had happened to the others and they resisted.
I think that the same kind of thinking goes into situations of domestic violence. None of us has ever been killed before; so, we don’t really think that anyone we know would kill anyone and certain that they wouldn’t kill us. But, it’s not that simple.
Abusers don’t start relationships being abusive. There is a definite pattern to how they go about isolating and tearing down their victims. By the time the actual beatings start, the victim often believe they deserve it. They believe that they have no place to go, that no one will take them in. They may have no money or they may be too embarrassed to seek help. More often than not, they are just too scared.
They are scared to stay; but, scared to leave. After all, what protection does the law really afford them? Newspapers and televisions are full of stories of women who left their abusive partners only to be killed by them shortly thereafter. I’ve attached a video of the Dixie Chicks’ very bouncy “Good-bye, Earl.” Its tell us that after Wanda filed for divorce, “Earl walked right through that restraining order and put her in intensive care.” It’s catchy and it’s sadly true. According to one report, 75% of women who are killed by their partners are killed after they leave. According to another, a woman is 70 times more likely to be killed by her partner in the two weeks after she leaves that at any other time in the relationship. By those metrics, the woman is safer if she stays!
Fear, folks. Plain and simple. Fear is why most women stay and the fear is not only real, statistically, it’s valid. The woman is right to be afraid. She’s literally betting her life on him letting her go.
And even if he physically lets her go, the fear is ever present. For one friend of mine, it’s still there 28 years later.
What can create a fear that paralysing? I’ll share my own limited experience with you tomorrow.