Since writing that report two Twitter users, and pointed out a legitimate reason why Reeva Steenkamp may have locked the door to the bathroom. In short, it was wrong of me to argue, as I did in the original blogpost, that the fact that she locked the door could only be due to her trying to protect herself from Pistorius. I was wrong. I want to leave my original post as it was so my mistake is out in the open and on record. I think that’s more honest. Thanks for the patient explanation, Dee.

For anyone who wants more detail, I would urge you to read Dee’s blogpost. She argues that Pistorius left the room to fetch a fan. When he returned he saw the light on in the bathroom. Thinking that it was an intruder he shouted to frighten the intruder away and reached for his weapon. He thought Reeva was in bed, and hiding from the intruders. Little did he know it was Reeva in the bathroom. Reeva meanwhile did not say anything because, hearing Pistorius shout, she thought he had spotted burglars in the house. Fearing for her safety, she locked the door to the bathroom, to protect herself from the burglars, in case Pistorius was unable to get rid of them. An uncle (Pistorius’ or Reeva’s?) said she had behaved like this during a previous break-in and refused to speak for a week. So Pistorius thought there was a burglar in the bathroom. Reeva thought there was an intruder in the house. Pistorius then fired at what he thought was the intruder through the door in pro-active self defence.

The worst part of my mistake was to extrapolate from my relatively risk free environment in Europe to the more dangerous environment in South Africa. If violent break-ins are common, it makes perfect sense for women and men to lock the door. For their own safety. Not out of any kind of unusual modesty.

 

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Oscar Pistorius is shortly due to be released early from prison, after only serving 10 months of the sentence he received for shooting his wife Reeva Steenkamp to death. South Africa’s criminal prosecutors announced today that they have appealed against the verdict of culpable homicide delivered to Pistorius, so he can be charged with murder again.

Why was the toilet door locked?

Good for them. I know it’s dangerous to make your mind up about any court case without having access to all the files and statements. But one detail of the case jumped out at me when the story of the shooting first broke. Pistorius shot Steenkamp through a locked door, because – according to him – he thought she was a burglar. He later tried to break the door down with a cricket bat.

Now I know I said that I want to stick to empirical and statistical statements in this blog, but it strikes me as very, very unusual for a woman to lock the toilet door in an apartment she shares with her boyfriend. When you see each other in the buff pretty much every day, why would you bother?

Of course there are no reliable statistics. This sort of thing by definition goes on in the privacy of people’s homes. You could conduct a survey, but who would ever dream of asking a ridiculous question like that? It may seem both trivial and embarrassing, but it matters for the question of Pistorius’s guilt. If, as I believe, locking the toilet door is not a normal thing to do, what alternative explanations are there? The only plausible one is that she was locking herself in there to protect herself from one of Pistorius’s notorious rages. And that’s when Pistorius shot her through the locked door.

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Would you lock the door?

When the details of the case came out I was so unconvinced by Pistorius’s explanations that I … started to ask the question. Based on my own experience, neither my ex wife nor any of my girlfriends would even shut the door (usually so that – yes, you guessed it – they could keep talking to me while doing their business), let alone lock it. My sample size isn’t as broad as I might have once wished, but it does happen to include black and Asian as well as Caucasian women, religious and atheist, extrovert and shy … none of whom would so much as shut the door.

Asking around (as much as I could without spoiling any dinner parties) I have yet to find any woman who would lock the toilet door in a property shared with their boyfriend or husband. I’m so curious I’ve even added a poll to take advantage of twitter’s technological prowess.

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Why it matters

This line of questioning may seem trivial and even a little louche. It’s quite the reverse. If you value the lives of women you have to analyse any potential murder in a rigorous manner taking all factors into account. I don’t believe this was done in the Steenkamp/Pistorius case. Not asking why she locked the door misses a crucial piece of evidence. I think it is also remiss because it doesn’t seriously analyse Steenkamp’s motivations or behavior. It just glosses over them. “Oh, she locked the door? Well I guess women are like that, and anyway it’s a little embarrassing to ask ..” seems to have been the attitude.

Just ask yourself the question. If it had been Steenkamp who shot Pistorius, rather than the other way around, would people really have turned a blind eye to the locked door? Of course not. Men, according to the stereotype, can’t be bothered with these things. Whereas women – of course they’re “modest,” “concerned about their appearance” … all the typical stereotypes. The problem is I don’t think the stereotypes fit with most women today, particularly a young model like Reeva Steenkamp. The reason for posting the survey is to prove that point.

Not asking the awkward question is lazy. It allows stereotypes to replace hard evidence, and, I strongly believe, has allowed a murderer to get away with ten months in jail. That’s disgusting.

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