Nigella Lawson: One of the many faces of domestic violence

Published: June 23, 2013
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Unlike the Nigella Lawson’s and the Rihanna’s of the world, many women don't have the financial means to support themselves, or the freedom to walk away.

According to a World Health Organisation (WHO) report released this week, physical and sexual violence now affects a third of women worldwide. The consequences of this includes a myriad of health problems including broken bones, bruises, pregnancy complications and depression coupled with the harsh reality that many of these women may possibly spend their lifetime in such a relationship. 

In the last year, a host of high-profile rape cases in India have helped shed the spotlight on the pandemic of sexual violence against women. Though we have a long way to go and much responsibility to bear, as a society, the immediate result has been incremental yet positive legislative and social change.

More recently, this week the world was shocked by pictures of art collector Charles Saatchi publicly grabbing the throat of celebrity chef Nigella Lawson in what he would shamelessly describe later on as a “playful tiff”.

Like everyone else who has seen these degrading photos my first reaction was: where was everyone and why did no one intervene?

After all, the couple were out in public, surrounded by many, as they lunched at their favourite table in a restaurant where they have been photographed countless times. (Including this one time where Saatchi engaged in one of his “playful” gestures as he leaned over to clap a hand over Lawson’s mouth).

Despite Lawson, one of the most visible women in the world, looking visibly upset and many onlookers present – including customers, paparazzi and staff who craned their necks and watched in shock – everyone seemed to be unable (or unwilling) to intervene or call for help.

Although Lawson has not yet filed a police report, once the pictures went viral the police issued a caution to Saatchi (who accepted it because he did not want it “hanging” over them). The Community Safety Unit, which deals with hate crime and domestic violence in the UK, is also making inquiries.

While it is undeniably intimidating to intervene on an obviously private matter taking place between a powerful celebrity couple, the fear on her face and the tears in her eyes, as the pictures show, coupled with her silence since that day, is unsettling.

No doubt, stories of celebrity domestic abuse have been instructive in raising awareness and breaking societal taboos.

In 2009, Rihanna’s assault by her then-boyfriend Chris Brown, which left her battered and bruised, brought the realities of dating violence to the forefront, making the songstress an unintentional example for many women worldwide.

But why is it that we as a society only really sit up in shock and are outraged when one of the following happens: a woman is treated excessively brutally and left for dead or when photos of a rich, famous and beautiful woman under assault are exposed?

As co-author of the WHO report, Claudi Garcia-Moreno, puts it (she was speaking in the context of the brutal gang rape in New Delhi),

“These kinds of cases raise awareness, which is important, [but] at the same time we must remember there are hundreds of women every day who are being raped on the streets and in their homes, but that doesn’t make the headlines.”

If the WHO report is anything to go by, then 25% of women worldwide are currently trapped in abusive relationships. And unlike the Nigella Lawson’s and the Rihanna’s of the world, many of these women wouldn’t have the financial means to support themselves, or the freedom to walk away should they decide to do so.

Regardless of whether it is an isolated incident or a repeated offence and regardless of the degree, amount and frequency of abuse being inflicted on the victim, the vulnerability and the silence of our fellow sisters should be cause of concern enough.

Read more by Maria here or follow her on Twitter @mariakari1414

Maria Kari

Maria Kari

The author is a lawyer and freelance journalist. She tweets as @mariakari1414 (twitter.com/mariakari1414)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.