For domestic violence survivor Leslie Morgan Steiner, the answer for why she did not leave her abusive husband was easy. “I didn’t know he was abusing me”, she says, in a lecture given for TedEX. Aged 22, Steiner had graduated from Harvard and began her first editorial job at Seventeen Magazine. She had it all, the degree, the dream job and a loving partner who believed in her, “as a writer and a woman in a way that no one else ever had”. That domestic violence happens to bright, intelligent and successful women, Steiner points out, is not at all unusual. 1 in 4 women will be abused by their partner in their lifetime, and in the UK alone, 2 women are killed by domestic violence every week.
The recently printed images of Charles Saatchi, which show him holding his wife in a chokehold, display a perturbingly public episode of domestic violence. It reminds you that you probably do or will know a woman in the 1 in 4 statistic. The fact of the matter is that we are conditioned to believe that the face of domestic violence is not somebody you can relate to. It’s a bruised and shattered woman that you don’t know. And it sure as hell doesn’t happen in such a public forum. Regardless of religion, income and education level, abusive men come from all walks of life, as do their victims. Domestic violence can happen anywhere and to anyone, even Nigella Lawson.
The media has shone the light on many celebrity relationships in which domestic violence has occurred, the most contemporary high-profile incident being that of Rihanna and Chris Brown. Media coverage, capable of documenting a woman being held in a chokehold for the world to see, is often carried out in an extremely desensitised fashion. The fact that we can simply Google search images of Rihanna’s bruised and beaten face and even read the police report documenting the violence, then a moment later, listen to their duet recorded post-attack, is incredibly unsettling.
A short public apology, a few photos of the two smiling for the paparazzi and an army of devoted (mostly female) Twitter followers later, Chris Brown’s career is seemingly unaffected. Nigella Lawson, however, has gone from Britain’s “Domestic Goddess” to face of domestic violence at the hands of the man who is supposed to love her. Photographs of the ordeal are now immortalised onto the internet and will undoubtedly plague her for the rest of her career. Her dignity has been denied on a national scale, with paparazzi watching their home and waiting for a public reappearance of her wedding ring.
The sad reality is that, according to the general pattern of violent relationships, Nigella’s wedding ring will more than likely reappear. Domestic violence’s seriousness is swept off, downplayed and forgotten. Its chokehold is a gradual one and is easily glazed over by apologies and promises that it won’t happen again. Educated, upper-class men don’t really abuse their wives. Saatchi has convinced the police of this, having been let off with a caution and downplayed the ordeal as a “playful tiff”. But will he be able to convince his wife of it too?