When I first saw the headlines about famed Olympian Oscar Pistorius accused of shooting his model girlfriend to death on Valentine’s Day, I didn’t quite know how to process what I was reading.
The horrific story had so many elements that immediately catapulted it to tabloid status: A revered sports hero’s fall from grace, a beautiful woman who met an untimely, violent death, shock and disbelief reverberating around the world, and the assertion of innocence by the alleged killer.
Several days after the murder of Reeva Steenkamp, there are still more questions than answers. But rather than indulge the tabloid aspect of the story, I prefer to focus my attention on remembering and honoring the person Reeva was.
Pistorius is going to get his day in court; he’s going to live another day. But soon, Reeva will be remembered by the media only by an occasional photograph of her in a bikini as they report the latest updates on Pistorius’ trial.
On Friday, the day after her murder, The New York Post and New York Daily News both ran front page stories about the murder. Both papers showed spreads of Reeva donning a bikini—reducing her to a dead, one dimensional beauty queen. These news outlets did a tremendous disservice to their readers, who might have wanted to learn more about the woman whose life was taken so brutally.
There is no end to the grief of those who knew and loved Reeva. Just ask her father, Barry Steenkamp, who is struggling to make sense of his daughter’s death. “We ask the Lord every day to help us find a reason why this should happen to Reeva. She was the most beautiful, kind girl in the world.”
Although I did not know Reeva, those who did describe her as “beautiful, intelligent, warm-hearted, with a wicked sense of humor.” There is evidence that Reeva, a law school graduate, recognized her privilege in life, and expressed gratitude for it. Four days before she was shot, she tweeted “I woke up in a happy, safe home this morning. Not everyone did. Speak out against the rape of individuals.” This was in reference to a 17-year-old South African girl named Anene Booyson, who was raped and murdered earlier this month. Reeva even urged her followers on Twitter to wear black the day after Valentine’s Day to protest violence against women.
Reeva probably never thought she would have much in common with Anene Booyson, or the young woman in India recently gang raped to death, or Malala, a 15-year-old schoolgirl from Pakistan who was shot by the Taliban because she believed girls have the right to an education. In life, Reeva most likely felt no kinship with pop star Rihanna, who suffered a beating at the hands of her famous boyfriend, or the murdered Nicole Brown Simpson.
But the thread that binds these women together endures, creating fodder for tabloid journalism and no plan to end the ongoing global epidemic of violence against women.