Amputee Olympian charged in girlfriend’s death

‘Bladerunner’ held in S. Africa killing

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As South African law-enforcement officials formally charged Olympic double-amputee sprinter Oscar Pistorius for murder in the death of his glamorous model girlfriend, U.S. domestic-violence specialists said the “heartbreaking” news shows that dating violence can happen to anyone, anywhere.

People may think that violence and batterings only happen at the hands of thugs and villains, “but the truth is, these unhealthy relationships are happening all around us,” said Cristina Escobar, director of Love Is Respect, a program with Break the Cycle, a national nonprofit aimed at ending domestic and dating violence.

“It doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor, or where you are located,” Ms. Escobar said. “Anyone can be a victim, and anyone can be an abuser.”

“It’s truly heartbreaking,” said Cindy Southworth, vice president for development and innovation at the National Network to End Domestic Violence.

Noting that victim Reeva Steenkamp had been slated to give a talk on women’s empowerment in a few days, Ms. Southworth said that “the highest risk” for violence typically comes when a victim tries to challenge the control of the abuser.

“Often in domestic-violence homicides, the victim is trying to either end the relationship or reassert some of her own identity or control over her own daily activities — what she wears, where she goes, who she sees, what work she does,” said Ms. Southworth.

“I can’t speak to what happened in the middle of the night” in Mr. Pistorius‘ house, “but it is a horribly tragic case,” she said.

According to news reports, South African police charged Mr. Pistorius, 26, with the Valentine’s Day slaying of Ms. Steenkamp, who police said was 30 years old.

“I can confirm that a suspect has been charged. He has been charged with murder,” police Lt. Col. Katlego Mogale told reporters.

Police opposed bail for Mr. Pistorius, who is the only suspect in the case. A 9 mm pistol and other guns were found in the home, which is located in a gated community in Pretoria, South Africa. Police said they were called by neighbors who heard shouting and gunshots coming from the home.

Mr. Pistorius gained world acclaim as “the Blade Runner” owing to the high-tech artificial blades he has used since childhood, when he lost his legs to amputation as a result of a congenital condition. After a lengthy legal battle, Mr. Pistorius won permission to compete in the Olympic Games and represented South Africa in London in July.

On Thursday, police arrested him on suspicion of shooting Ms. Steenkamp, a model who had been dating him for several months. Although she had recently begun speaking against rape and abuse of women on Twitter, Ms. Steenkamp’s comments about Mr. Pistorius indicated their romance was going very well and that she was looking forward to seeing him on Valentine’s Day.

The Afrikaans-language newspaper Beeld initially suggested that the athlete mistook his girlfriend for a burglar and shot her accidentally. However, a police spokeswoman, Brig. Denise Beukes, said police were “surprised” at reports the killing was accidental, adding that that version hadn’t come from police, according to the South African Press Association.

Although South Africans were shocked at the killing, Brig. Beukes said there had been “allegations of a domestic nature” previously involving the track star. “I’m not going to elaborate on it, but there have been incidents” at Mr. Pistorius‘ home, she said.

Mr. Pistorius‘ father, Henke, declined to comment when contacted by The Associated Press, only saying, “We all pray for guidance and strength for Oscar and the lady’s parents.”

Ms. Escobar, the specialist in domestic violence, said it’s not always easy to spot danger in a romantic partner.

The dynamics of domestic violence and dating abuse mean a person will use aggression and violence to control the partner, even though they are “often quite charming and lovely” with others, she said.

Warning signs of unhealthy relationships include controlling behaviors, such as constant texts asking where someone is and who they’re with, demands to see personal information, isolating someone from their friends, and “telling you who you can and can’t be friends with on Facebook.”

“The person who acts violently makes that choice, and they are responsible for their actions,” said Ms. Escobar, whose group offers aid and counseling to victims at loveisrespect.org.

“The person who is the victim of abuse is not responsible,” she said. “Just because you love someone, or care for someone who is abusive, does not make you stupid or wrong. It means you are in a difficult situation, and you deserve our support and sympathy.”

A South African newspaper, the Daily Maverick, editorialized about the crime, saying, “Even if we’re not going to talk about guns, we have to keep talking about violence against women. We have to acknowledge that the problem pervades every echelon of South African society: that it touches the leafy estates of Pretoria as well as the construction sites of Bredasdorp. We have to work on developing alternative masculinities: ones that prize virtues other than being able to run the fastest or hit the hardest.”

On Friday, a Nike advertisement with the phrase “I Am The Bullet In The Chamber” was taken down from Mr. Pistorius‘ website. The advertisement had shown the sprinting star in an action shot coming out of the starting blocks.

⦁ This article is based in part on wire-service reports.

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

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