- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 14, 2013

Domestic-violence opponents say the apparent murder of a South African model by her world-famous athlete boyfriend shows that dating violence can happen to anyone, anywhere.

People may think that violence and batterings only happen at the hands of thugs, “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,” said Ms. Escobar. “Anyone can be a victim and anyone can be an abuser.”

South Africans were reeling Thursday from the news that paralympic runner and national sporting hero Oscar Pistorius, 26, was charged with murder of fashion model Reeva Steenkamp, 29, inside his gated home in Pretoria, South Africa.

Mr. Pistorius gained world acclaim as “the Blade Runner” due to the high-tech artificial blades he has used since childhood, when he lost his legs to amputation due to 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 for 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. Steekamp’s comments about Mr. Pistorius indicated their romance was going very well and she was looking forward to seeing him on Valentine’s Day.

The National Prosecuting Authority said Mr. Pistorius, who was escorted from his house by authorities with his face blocked by a hoodie, would remain in custody until his hearing Friday, when police intend to oppose bail.

The Afrikaans-language newspaper Beeld suggested that the athlete mistook his girlfriend for a burglar and killed 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 Assn.

Although South Africans were shocked at the killing, police spokeswoman Brigadier Denise 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, Ms. Beukes said.

Police in South Africa do not name suspects in crimes until they have appeared in court, but Ms. Beukes said that Mr. Pistorius was at his home at the time of the death of Ms. Steenkamp, and “there is no other suspect involved.”

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 abuse expert, 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 are 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.”

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

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