It takes on average 33 separate attempts to leave an abusive relationship. Lots of to-ing and fro-ing as the survivor reconciles taking these steps with the end of her relationship. It’s not so easy to leave when he is the father of your children or you have a joint bank account. How to leave a relationship without alerting the perpetrator to your plans? If he knew you were leaving he might attack you to teach you a lesson for even daring to contemplate abandoning him; after all, being the King of the Castle, he makes all the decisions, he decides when he’s had enough of you. Domestic violence charities have specific safety plans and risk assessments for this dangerous time; survivors are advised to pack their essentials but to do so slowly, over the course of a week or two so that he doesn’t notice things are missing. If he did there might be a sudden and severe escalation in abuse; 76% of women fleeing abuse faced another incident of violence for having the audacity to leave. What if somewhere in the process of fleeing, the decision to leave your abuser is taken out of your hands? Say you’re a famous TV chef and the man abusing you is Charles Saatchi.
Was Nigella in the process of leaving him? When abusive men strangle or attempt to choke/suffocate their victim, it is to remind them that they control their lives so far as controlling their very breath. In the standard risk assessment completed by DV charities and also the authorities, the question regarding strangulation is given special consideration even if the survivor doesn’t score very highly on others. This is because it is a very serious act and implies intention; it is a threat to kill. This question coupled with a handful of others can result in an immediate referral to a multi-agency risk assessment conference. The police will most likely be involved; many MARACs are coordinated by the local police. If the police wish to refer a victim for support, domestic abuse agencies must establish consent from survivors before pursuing any action to support her, EXCEPT when the risk of harm to the survivor and/or her children trumps the right to confidentiality. This wasn’t just a slap in the face, he didn’t pull her hair; he was letting her know that he could kill her if he wanted to.
Nigella had the right to confidentiality taken away from her. She wasn’t given the opportunity to leave in her own time. We don’t know how long Saatchi had been abusing her but we can say for almost certain, a man who is publicly strangling his wife is used to wielding that kind of power and he is Saatchi, he knows power, he owns power. He didn’t suddenly become enraged at her worsening behaviour or drug abuse as he likes to paint it. In which dimension is it ok for ANY person to justify their violence by smearing the victim as some kind of junkie who needed putting in her place? Especially when women’s workers, independent domestic violence advocates like myself know that substance misuse is a coping mechanism for many survivors. Women experiencing domestic abuse are 15 times more likely to misuse alcohol and 9 times more likely to misuse other drugs than women generally. Many women are introduced to drugs by their abusive partner, they are used to control the victim or in fact, used as an insurance policy should she decide she wants out. “If you leave me, I’ll make sure social services know you’re a druggie. All it takes is a drugs test”. This is what Saatchi is doing now. Humiliated for being the pig that he actually is, his male ego cannot cope with the way he has been exposed. So he ups the ante, he’ll teach her for not standing by her man. Like many abusers, he knows that he doesn’t need to speak to her directly to continue controlling her. He can tell his story to the old boys and they’ll print it in their papers and he can watch her lose her contracts from afar. Domestic violence has a higher rate of repeat victimisation than any other crime. Leaving is not a cure.
Saatchi knows what he’s doing here; he knows that this version of events is something the British public will lap up. Everyone likes to laugh at the addled pop star, their misfortunes being a source of entertainment for people with boring little lives and a serious lack of humanity. Everything can be explained away by their erratic drug induced manias. Nobody likes to think of the peace many drug abusers are seeking. Nigella has been harangued for using drugs some of which she was prescribed, was she taking drugs for depression/anxiety? I don’t think any of us would be surprised if she was. I would actively encourage her to keep taking them not shame her as though that is all we need to know about her character.
What we’ve seen here is a classic example of rich powerful man holding more control than rich powerful woman. It’s a patriarchy and this incident serves to remind you of that. If Nigella, with her wealth and connections can suffer this sort of fate, what hope is there for the rest of us?