Nigella Lawson’s husband cautioned after assault

Famous couple: both well-known in their own right, is the relationship equal? © Getty Images

The celebrated cookery writer and ‘domestic goddess’ Nigella Lawson has been pictured suffering an attack by her husband. Police have stepped in, but what does the reaction mean?

By accepting a police caution for assaulting his wife Nigella Lawson, the 70-year-old Charles Saatchi had legally admitted his guilt. The statement he released afterwards, however, was free from any apology or remorse.

‘I volunteered,’ he said, ‘after a discussion with my lawyer because I thought it was better than the alternative of this hanging over all of us for months.’

But three days after The Sunday People created an uproar by publishing a set of pictures of Saatchi grabbing Lawson, by the neck, the story is still on the front pages of the British newspapers and shows no signs of disappearing.

Lawson, with her two teenage children by her first marriage, has moved out of the home they share in central London with Saatchi, and has so far remained silent.

The overwhelming reaction to the story, at least openly, has been outrage. But the fact that a high-profile husband could feel it was acceptable to grab his equally if not more famous wife in public was taken, by many commentators, as a worrying sign of how acceptable domestic abuse remains. More so because no one in the restaurant, neither staff nor diners, intervened.

Two women in the UK are killed by a male partner or former partner every week, and most of the media coverage has centred around the idea that society would rather ignore signs of trouble than confront the uncomfortable truth: Domestic violence is very prevalent and happens in all sorts of homes.

This article in The Telegraph was typical: ‘Curious, isn’t it, that we’re so surprised that domestic violence can apparently affect a woman like her. Our shock gets to the shameful nub of it: that really, we don’t believe cultured, middle-class men are violent to their partners, or that successful, confident, fabulous women suffer it.’

But there have been a few dissenting voices.

Behind closed doors

This is a private matter, some columnists wrote. No-one can really know what happens between two people in a relationship, and, since Lawson made no complaint to the police herself, why should the rest of us rush to judgement based on a few snatched photographs?

But can domestic violence be described as a private matter when it is so widespread, and has such tragic results? Perhaps even the adjective ‘domestic’ provides too much cosy camouflage for what abuse means in reality: physical and emotional harm, humiliation and often shame.

At least, say the campaigners, high profile stories like this week’s about Nigella Lawson’s marriage can help to tackle the last of these: the more societies discuss abusive relationships, and the more it becomes clear they affect all sorts of people, victims will be able to come forward and confront their attackers knowing they have public support.

You Decide

  1. ShouldThe Sunday Peoplehave paid a paparazzo and published the photographs of the assault?
  2. Will this case have changed anyone’s opinion about abusive relationships, privacy and the law? Should it?

Activities

  1. As a group, can you agree three characteristics of respectful relationships, and three features of unhealthy relationships?
  2. Compare the media coverage of attacks on Rihanna and Nigella Lawson.

Some People Say...

“Never intervene between two halves of a couple.”

What do you think?

Q & A

I hope this never happens to me.
Quite. If it does, there is support and advice available through specialist voluntary groups. But the attitude of society as a whole matters hugely: it is good to think about your own assumptions and beliefs in case someone else suffering abuse ever needs your support. And if there is a general acceptance of abuse as something that can be justified by the perpetrator or blamed on the victim, it tends to be more common.
So we should all pay attention.
Absolutely. And it’s interesting to evaluate how the media covers these stories. Some say the general condemnation means that society as a whole has a ‘zero tolerance’ attitude, but others believe the level of interest shown in an unhealthy relationship is itself unhealthy – even hypocritical.

Word Watch

Charles Saatchi
Now most famous as a collector of international modern art and owner of the Saatchi Gallery, the 70-year-old originally made his name by jointly founding, with brother Maurice, the Saatchi & Saatchi advertising agency.
The Sunday People
Owned by the Trinity Mirror, The Sunday People is a weekly tabloid newspaper with a circulation of 421,055, according to the latest Audit Bureau of Circulation figures (April 2013).
Prevalent
According to the Home Office, 1.2 million women experienced domestic abuse in the UK in 2012, including half a million victims of sexual assault.
Support
Anyone affected by domestic abuse can call 0800 2000247.

Subjects

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