By the end of the first week of the trial in which Oscar Pistorius is charged with murdering his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, around 21 South African women will have been killed at the hands of their boyfriends and husbands. It is unlikely that any of these women will receive the media attention their lives deserve, and even less likely that their cases will get to trial at all.
Today, while cameras are setting up and opening arguments are being made, 175 women will report being raped to the police – just a fraction of the number of rapes that will actually have taken place. It is unlikely that these women or their rapes and murders will be reported on widely in the media, nor likely that the state will commit the necessary resources to appropriately investigate and prosecute these cases. In South Africa, only 7% of reported rapes lead to conviction.
South Africa has one of the highest rates of intimate partner homicide in the world. The trial of Oscar Pistorius provides an opportunity for journalists to report responsibly on these issues and to desist from creating a hierarchy of incidences of gender-based violence.
As the trial begins, Sonke Gender Justice (“Sonke”) calls on South African and international media to respect both the law and general ethical guidelines. Sensationalising this case harms not only the family of the victim, but also harms all victims of sexual and gender-based violence (GBV).
Editors and journalists covering the Pistorius trial are encouraged to cover GBV more broadly. It is necessary that their reporting shine a spotlight on the systemic failures of the state to protect the rights of victims and their families, expose corruption and abuse, and highlight the stories of women who would otherwise not receive media attention during this period. As the pages of newspapers and the broadcast time of television and radio stations are filled with the Pistorius trial, where will these other victims’ stories be told? And what about the prosecutions (or failures thereof) of other men that are being charged with killing their partners?
For those who choose to focus only on the Pistorius trial, we urge you to report responsibly, and especially not to interfere with the work of the criminal justice system through inappropriate handling of witnesses, and state officials.
Patrick Godana, Sonke’s Government & Media Manager, notes that “South Africa has a great many challenges in respect of gender-based violence. We call on the media not to become a part of this massive problem, but rather to work towards being a part of its solution.”
Patrick Godana (Sonke Government & Media Manager)
Czerina Patel (Sonke Communications)
Background for editors
Intimate femicide is defined as the killing of a female person by an intimate partner (i.e. her current or ex-husband or boyfriend, same sex partner or a rejected would-be lover).
- In 2009 (the most recent year for which stats have been analyzed) there were 1024 femicides; a 24% drop from the 1349 women murdered in 1999.
- While this is a marked improvement, intimate femicide has become the leading cause of female homicide in South Africa.
- There were a total of 64 514 sexual offences reported countrywide (in South Africa) in 2011/2012.
- This translates into approximately 175 reported rapes each day.
- In a study carried out by the South African Medical Research Council in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal in 2009, a quarter of men admitted to raping a woman.
- One in 10 men in the same study said they had been forced to have sex with another man. Many find it difficult to report such attacks to the police.
- Reporting is extremely low among women, and conviction rates even lower, with only 7% of reported rapes leading to a conviction.
For additional resources see the Gender and Health Research Unit at the Medical Research Council of South Africa website: http://www.mrc.ac.za/gender/gender.htm