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Barry Roux: Pistorius Had A ‘Slow Burn’ Reaction To Living His Life With A Disability

August 9, 2014

Readers, I have said from very early on that I would not cover the Oscar Pistorius trial until the verdict is revealed. However, today, this has really upset me. Today, in court, during the closing arguments of Oscar Pistorius’ trial, Barry Roux:

 said the athlete’s disability meant he could not be expected to respond like an able-bodied person to the fear associated with an intrusion.

He said Pistorius had developed an “exaggerated fight response” over time, because fleeing was not an option.

Pistorius, a double-amputee, spent his whole life “knowing he couldn’t run away,” Mr Roux said.

He referenced a number of experts who testified that Pistorius had what he called a “slow burn reaction” to having lived his life with the disability, which had left him vulnerable and anxious.

He said that culminated in the moment he was startled by a noise and reacted, using the analogy of an abused woman who shoots her husband after years of violence.


I am very upset at the comparison to an abused woman. An abused woman has experienced torture, at the hands of another human being. The pain of that can build up and result in violence. Disability is never, ever easy- but it seems more than a little strange to suggest that after over 20 years, a person who has found fame and fortune because he is disabled could have ‘reacted’ to his lifelong disability by committing such awful actions because he is disabled.

That argument might have made some sense had he become disabled later in life. However, having always lived with his disability, and having been encouraged, by all reports, to accept it and get on with things, the argument just doesn’t make sense. Pistorius hasn’t had an easy life, but his disability has directly brought him so many positives- surely the very opposite of torture?

The defense of ‘slow burn’ reaction upsets me deeply for another reason. In that defense there is a suggestion, however subtle, that his disability can be used as an excuse for his terrible, terrible action.

Readers, disability is never an excuse to commit any crime. But to suggest that Pistorius carried out actions which led to the death of another human being because he is disabled?

As a disabled person, readers, I find that suggestion deeply offensive to the most important part of my identity. I wouldn’t be at all surprised, readers, if other disabled people shared my view.




6 Comments leave one →
  1. August 9, 2014 7:52 am

    I know he is his defense lawyer but to use his disability in that way is offensive to all disabled people. I have never heard of any other disabled person reacting to such an extent

  2. John Hargrave permalink
    August 9, 2014 8:27 am

    Pistorious was a World class runner, to suggest he had ‘slow burn’ makes no sense. If he thought his life was in danger he could run like the wind. However he can’t blame his disability for firing at least four shots through the toilet door. He must have know his girlfriend was not in bed with him, so logic says she must either be hiding from a bully or using the toilet. My own thoughts are she was hiding from a bully of a boyfriend who thinks he can get away with murder.

  3. The Infamous Culex permalink
    August 9, 2014 11:01 pm

    It’s his defence, so don’t expect it to be reasonable or to reflect the experiences of other people with disabilities. If he had feared an intruder, he could not have fled without first putting on his running blades or, at least, prosthetic feet.

    I hope he is acquitted – or convicted of some lesser charge of manslaughter – but not because I am convinced of his innocence. Gaoling him will do no good at all, even if his defence was so weak that he really didn’t have a stump on which to stand.

  4. August 10, 2014 12:58 pm

    I agree with the last commenter. I think people are only up in arms about this because he killed a woman. If he had killed his brother in the same circumstances, the same women would believe him, or not care. What people outside South Africa also forget is that it’s a very violent society with a lot of inequality — much more so than London, let alone any small town in the south of England.

    I believe he’s innocent and is telling the truth even if he reacted disproportionately, because he had so much to lose by killing Reeva, especially as he had only been with her for three months — men who kill their partners have usually been with them a lot longer. He was at the peak of a very successful career which had years left to run, and would then have become a sports journalist or coach, or both. I do not believe he would have thrown all that away to spend decades in prison (which are notoriously tough places in South Africa, and make no concessions to disability) by killing his girlfriend when he could have just dumped her.

  5. August 10, 2014 2:34 pm

    I don’t know about anyone else, Matthew, but prsonally I am up in arms because a PERSON’S life has ended. Regardless of that person’s gender I would personally have felt exactly the same way.


  1. » (Re)Producing Pistorius: Patriarchy, Prosecution and the Problematics of Disability The Sociological Imagination

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