Sometimes interfering isn’t the right thing to do

I hadn’t intended to blog about Charles Saatchi assaulting his wife Nigella Lawson in a London restaurant the other week but – well, I’ve changed my mind, mainly because of two things I’ve seen in the discussion of the incident.

For those who haven’t heard about it, over the weekend photos appeared on the internet of Charles Saatchi assaulting Nigella Lawson by gripping her around the throat. They were sitting outside a London restaurant and it seems that several people took photos of the incident and published them. There is nothing to suggest that any of the onlookers or photographers called the police, tried to stop Saatchi or offered help to Nigella. That seems pretty shitty.

Saatchi’s behaviour was disgraceful. It was abusive.I don’t know if he has behaved abusively before but the fact he was abusive in a public place suggests he’s become comfortable with being abusive in private. Abusers are controlling, and they’re wily. They know that if they started their abuse with violence, most victims would throw them out after their first attempt. So they begin very subtly. They start by controlling their victims with words, looks, moods. Sulking if she goes out. Shouting if she wears a certain item. Threatening to leave if she goes to see her family. Withdrawing affection if she hasn’t got tea on the table when he walks in. And at the same time, they increase the victim’s dependence on the abuser by isolating them from their friends and family, taking control of the money and destroying their self-esteem. Nobody else would ever want you, you’re so useless and ugly and stupid, you should be grateful for me, I’m all you’ve got. Emotional abuse, psychological abuse, verbal abuse, financial abuse.The physical abuse often doesn’t start until he’s certain that she won’t report him, and that she has nobody around her to report him either.

Women who are abused in intimate partner violence situations generally have very little control over their lives, or at least believe they have no control. It’s been stolen from them by their abusers, often over a period of years. And this brings me to my first point.

One of the feminist blogger/activists I follow on twitter and via her blog tweeted at the weekend to say that having seen the photos  of Saatchi being abusive, she had made a complaint to the police. I disagree that this was the right thing to do and said so. She made it very clear she wasn’t interested in hearing my thoughts about it (it felt to me that she was extremely arrogant in her absolute certainty she was right, but those are my feelings, not objective facts) so there was no discussion about it. There’s no point trying to explain a point of view to someone who has closed their ears and their mind.

Intimate partner violence is not the main area of my work. It’s something I have received basic training on though, and what I remember very clearly from the training was the emphasis on not removing further control from the victim. Support the victim to do what she wants to do, encourage her to take action, help her with the parts she finds difficult, but never ever remove further control by doing things without her consent. Obviously if the abuser is actively abusing and endangering someone, you call the police then and there, to prevent further harm to people, but if you’re talking about helping a victim to cope with something that has already happened, you do not make their decisions for them. And that’s why I have a problem with complete strangers reporting Saatchi to the police several days after the assault occurred. There was no immediate risk to anyone – the assault was over and done with days ago. A member of the public reporting the incident several days later has further removed control from the actual victim of the abuse. Victims of abuse who have the legal capacity to make their own decisions should be the ones to decide whether or not to report abuse. Anything else is just a further erosion of their rights as autonomous human beings.

It’s hard for decent people, whether they identify as feminists or not, to know that abuse is happening and not try to do something about it. But sometimes the best thing to do is to wait, to not judge, to be patient, to offer support and to allow the victim to get to a point where they can start to take control of their own life again.

I had the dubious pleasure of hearing some of the Jeremy Vine show on Radio 2 this lunchtime. One of the topics for discussion was that an Australian radio DJ has written a blog post demanding that Nigella come out and condemn Saatchi’s actions. She describes Nigella as cowering from a thug, and states she should make a stand against domestic violence. Sadly, the majority of callers to the Vine show agreed with the blog and thought that Nigella has a responsibility to speak out against what happened to her. Er, what now?

Not a single caller suggested that the person who should be condemning abuse and assault is the perpetrator ie Charles Saatchi. Why should the victim have to be the one to speak out against what was done to her? Shouldn’t Saatchi be admitting what he did was wrong and attending an offenders’ programme to minimise the chances of him continuing to be abusive? Don’t get me wrong, everybody who spoke condemned his actions, but nobody thought that he should be the one to have to say they were wrong. Accountability still lies with the victim, apparently.


3 thoughts on “Sometimes interfering isn’t the right thing to do

  1. Yeah and he was all wheedling about it being a “tiff” the shit that he undoubtably is. Funny I’ve never felt the need to grab anyone by the throat during an argument, not even in “jest”! I hope she can see him for what he is and decides to leave but I can’t know what is the “right” thing for her to do.

    • If he could admit he’s an abusive arsehole and commit to working through an offender’s programme, he might be able to change. Some men do. But the point is, someone else phoning the police, days after the incident, when there was no immediate risk to anyone, isn’t helping. It’s just removing even more control from the person who should have it

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