Weeks after they were published, the pictures remain shocking: celebrity chef Nigella Lawson appears to be grabbed by the throat by her husband Charles Saatchi in public at a posh London restaurant.
The pictures created an outcry on both sides of the Atlantic and with many asking why no one intervened. However, there were some who were quick to dismiss this saying that the media and the public were creating mountains out of molehills. In one article that was published last week in the UK-based The Daily Mail, a columnist (who happened to be a woman) stated unequivocally that Lawson could not possibly be a victim of domestic violence because she “did not fit the (sp) mould” of a battered woman and implied that strong women do not fall prey to abusers. (The author did acknowledge though that Saatchi was a “volatile and physical man” and had a history of throwing furniture around in his office when things did not go his way.)
Unlike the author, I have never met Lawson or Saatchi. I have no idea what their marriage is like, but I do know two things: 1. grabbing someone by the throat is abuse 2. strong women (and men) can and do become victims of abuse. Also, despite what the author implies, famous women are just as likely to be victims of domestic abuse as their non-famous counterparts.
Domestic abuse cuts across all socioeconomic groups, and Lawson joins the unenviable list of famous women who have been abused by their spouses/partners including Ronnie Spector, Tina Turner (who for many epitomizes a strong woman) and Rihanna whose brutal beating by the hands of then-boyfriend Chris Brown nearly three years ago continues to be a subject of conversation. At the time, I remember one acquaintance saying he was shocked that a seemingly spunky, independent girl like Rihanna would “allow herself to be beaten” as if somehow she had consented to being assaulted.
Rihanna’s incident came up again when the Lawson story broke with many asking why women who were wealthy in their own right and in the case of these two would have little trouble finding new partners continue to stay with abusive men? (At the time when the story broke, Lawson was still living with Saatchi in their London home before she moved out while Rihanna made headlines last year for appearing to go back to Brown and declaring to Oprah that she still loved him.)
As someone who has experienced domestic abuse, I can say unequivocally that it is not that easy.
Often, victims refuse to admit that they were abused. It is not uncommon to question whether or not the incident that took place was “really abuse or not”. (Over the years, I have heard numerous things like, “He shoved me, but he didn’t actually hit me”, or “It didn’t hurt.”) There is often a sense of shame that surrounds it as well. In my case, I was mortified at the thought of my friends and family finding this out. Add to this common myths and misconceptions about abusers and their victims, and it can be very hard to be believed even-such as in the case of Lawson—there is actual footage of the event taking place.
One thing that I couldn’t help but notice is how the media and the public seemed more likely to believe that Chris Brown had engaged in domestic violence. Much was made about his hard-scramble upbringing in a very tough area of Richmond, Virginia, by a single mother who was herself allegedly a victim of a domestic abuse. There seemed to be a sense of well-what-do-you-expect from a young man from that sort of up-bringing. Saatchi on the other hand is a “posh” advertising guru/art collector. His alleged aggression was praised and cited as a reason for his success in the business world, and he was backed by several equally wealthy and well-known friends as the sort of guy who could never do this. Indeed, the artist Tracey Emin chided his critics saying that they obviously had “never been in love.”
Again, while I would never claim to be an expert in anything much less relationships, I know that violence has nothing whatsoever to do with love. In fact, being violent with someone is the opposite of love.
While some may feel that these incidents are just another example of celebrity voyeurism, I believe that unlike most celebrity news, recognizing that rich and famous women can also be victims of domestic abuse can help women of all walks of life who find themselves in that situation realize that they are not alone.
Also, until we as a society all get on the same page and realize that domestic violence is everyone’s business, myths and ignorance surrounding it will prevail. Like many social problems, there is no simple solution to ending the cycle of domestic violence.
However, there is one thing we can do: We can stop believing that only certain “types” of people are abusers and victims and that if we witness a blatant act of abuse in public, we should try to intervene if possible. (By intervene, I don’t mean it is necessary to try and break it up yourself. However, in this day and age where everyone and his grandmother has a cell phone we can call the police.) It may not solve all the problems of domestic abuse, but it is a start along with acknowledging that true love should never hurt like that.
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Ed: Kate Bartolotta