The murderer Oscar Pistorius was released from prison on parole today, more than a decade after shooting his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp. He killed her in an horrific act of femicide: the murder of females by males because they are female.
Because such crimes are so normalised and common, criminal justice systems around the world tend to excuse these particular men for committing the most serious crimes against women. In the UK, for example, one woman dies every three days at the hands of a current or former male partner. Some men even come in for preferential treatment: those that are famous, wealthy and conventionally attractive are often treated less harshly than other men. Conversely, the female victims – even dead ones – are judged for their previous sexual history, alcohol and drug use, and physical appearance.
Pistorius is more likely than most to be described as a hero, for the simple reason that he is a double-amputee who became a Paralympic and Olympic sprinter. Disabled men are sometimes handed a get-out-of-jail-free card for violent offences against women. Men that frequent brothels heaving with trafficked women and underage girls might, for instance, use the excuse that, because they ‘can’t get a real date’, we should make exceptions for them.
Let’s look at the facts of this particular case. Pistorius killed the 29-year-old Reeva by shooting her through a bathroom door after she had locked herself in to escape from him, following an argument on Valentine’s Day in 2013. Despite his repeated claims in court that he mistook her for an intruder, he was eventually found guilty of her murder. But at the initial trial he was convicted of the lesser charge of culpable homicide (the equivalent of manslaughter in England and Wales) and given just five years.