It’s Time To Give Reeva’s Voice Back
In his closing arguments to defend his client, Oscar Pistorius’ defence lawyer Barry Roux compared his client’s shooting of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp to the actions of an abused wife who has finally turned on her abuser.
The sentiment achieves clarity in the context that Roux has been pushing since the trial started in April; that of Pistorius as a frightened young man dealing with the slow burn of a disability that has left him vulnerable, so much so that he saw no choice but to shoot four bullets into a stranger through a door.
Only that stranger was no stranger at all; it was a young woman who has become yet another number in that long line of statistics – “women who have been killed by their partners”. Whether Oscar is innocent or guilty, that fact remains.
In that content – the one this trial should be viewed under – Roux’s comparison is flinchingly distasteful, and reflects the way the media circus has presented this; as the Oscar Pistorius show. The star athlete turned accused; sobbing on the stand, signing autographs on the way into court, and getting into fights in nightclubs between days in the dock.
Haven’t we forgotten someone?
Reeva seems to have taken a muted back seat in the trial of her own murder. Perhaps it’s simply a consequence of examining evidence, of boiling that night down to the disputed facts that must be presented. Nothing personal, just business.
Yet there’s the feeling that Reeva is not so much a subject of her trial as she is somehow an object; an image to be seen and not heard, as if her own professional decision to model means the world has permission to do that to her.
Carelessness in court lead to autopsy photos of both a personal and violent nature being broadcast and quickly disseminated online, to be pored over and discussed forever more. The Sun’s infamous front page of 14 February 2013 didn’t even bother to include her name. Her mother June has brought Reeva into the room in the only way she can, by pinning a picture of her to her lapel. Even Reeva’s WhatsApp messages, the one and only way she has been able to speak in this trial, have been presented to us as images on a screen. That, or over the microphone in Oscar’s voice.
Do you even know what Reeva’s voice sounded like?
It can be easy in the glare of Oscar’s fore-fronted suffering – because we have seen him suffering, clearly and constantly – to forget that the reason we’re all here in the first place is because a person acted with violence against another person. Whether Oscar knew it was Reeva or whether he didn’t, whether he meant to shoot her or didn’t, he pulled the trigger and ended a very real, very liveable life. It’s Reeva’s voice that has been finitely silenced.
So in September, when Judge Masipa delivers her verdict and tells us all what we should all think, when we know what the final statistics well say – please, do one thing you may not have done before, and remember Reeva.