The Release of Oscar Pistorius from Prison is a Disgrace

South African Olympic track and field star, and convicted murderer Oscar Pistorius was released from prison today after serving seven and a half years for the murder of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp.

Dubbed the “Blade Runner” during his sparkling performances at the 2012 Olympics, Pistorius served only part of his 13-year sentence for fatally shooting Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day in 2013. Pistorius claimed he mistook Steenkamp for an intruder in his home in a heavily guarded and gated community on the outskirts of Pretoria. He proceeded to shoot Steenkamp four times through the door to his bathroom, which is definitely where intruders usually hang out in the middle of the night. Later, a neighbor testified at trial that she heard Steenkamp “screaming terribly and yelling for help” in the early hours of the morning, followed by four shots, then more screaming. Steenkamp, a model and paralegal, was found slumped over the toilet, dead. She was 29.

After a trial, a judge found Pistorius guilty of culpable homicide, and sentenced him to five years in prison. The former Olympian was set to be paroled in 2015, just two years after Steenkamp’s murder. But prosecutors appealed the conviction for culpable homicide and, after a hearing, a five-person court overruled Pistorius’ conviction for culpable homicide and found him guilty of murder. Eventually, his prison sentence was increased to 13 years and 5 months.

Despite being convicted of murder, the sprinter spent the last seven and a half years in a minimum security prison for non-violent offenders (the vast majority of whom were sentenced to six years or less), in a private cell specially adapted for him, with his own en suite bathroom and vegetable garden. While South Africa’s Department of Corrections said the accommodation was due to Pistorius’ status as a double-amputee, it certainly had the appearance of special treatment for a fallen superstar.

Now, Pistorius is set to be released on parole (his sentence won’t actually terminate until 2029), but Pistorius will be moving to a tiny suburb to live in a mansion, complete with swimming pool and tennis court, though he’ll still be under correctional supervision until the end of his sentence.

So what have the people of South Africa, which has some of the highest rates of gender-based violence in the world, taken away from Pistorius’ ugly tale of domestic abuse and murder? From the outside, it seems that a man, as long as he’s powerful enough, can murder his girlfriend and be out of prison, free and clear, in less than 10 years. And the only reason Pistorius served as much time as he did behind bars was that the prosecution appealed judgments on his conviction and sentencing over and over, engaging in a legal battle that took more than four years from start to finish.

Bulelwa Adonis, of the advocacy group Women for Change, told The Guardian that Pistorius’ early release from prison sent the wrong message, adding, “What we perceive is that our government, our [South African] leaders, haven’t taken gender-based violence seriously.”

Oscar Pistorius will be 37 when he walks out of prison today. By some accounts, he has lost his fitness, grown a beard, and begun smoking. Reeva Steenkamp will never grow old — she’s frozen in time just shy of 30. After her death, her parents began a foundation in her name, the Reeva Rebecca Steenkamp Foundation, which, according to its website, “strives to continue Reeva’s work in educating women and children against violence and abuse,” a cause that was reportedly important to Reeva during her life.

Ahead of Pistorius’ release, there has been a lot of discussion about whether his sentence was just, whether he received special treatment, and the seeming unfairness of his life continuing, in luxury, no less, while few outside of South Africa even recognize Steenkamp’s name. And that’s one of the most tragic aspects of her murder — Pistorius’ name will live on in infamy and, sadly, it will only be a matter of time before Steenkamp is a footnote in Pistorius’ story. It must be unbearably painful for her family.

So on Friday, as the news blasts images of Pistorius being whisked away from prison by family members, take a moment to remember Reeva Rebecca Steenkamp. Make a promise to yourself to do whatever you can to help victims of abuse. Toss a few coins in the direction of your local battered women’s shelter or the National Domestic Violence Hotline, if you are able. Check up on your friends, family, and neighbors, let them know that you are a safe person to talk to. And above all, let’s all vow that when celebrities engage in abuse and assault, we will not forget the names of the victims.

If you or someone you love is a victim of abuse, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), or text START to 88788. Free. Confidential. 24/7/365