Nigella’s “tiff”? 30 percent of women suffer DV, says WHO report

By Caitlin Kelly

Nigella Lawson at a Borders book-signing
Nigella Lawson at a Borders book-signing (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And, of course, more depressing news about how many women are sexually and/or physically abused by their male partners, from a new report from the World Health Organization:

A new international study released today has come up with a global
number, and it’s a big one: around the world, 30 per cent of women are
victims of physical and sexual abuse by their partners. The paper,
published in the major scientific journal Science, is based on a
meta-analysis of 141 studies from 81 countries conducted by a team of
European and North American researchers – the lead author is Canadian
Karen Devries, a social epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene
and Tropical Medicine.

The research, done in collaboration with
the World Health Organization, found wide variations between regions of
the world, with the highest rates in Central sub-Saharan Africa, where
the rate of sexual and physical violence from a partner is 66 per cent.
In South Asia, the rate was 41 per cent. But, even in Western Europe and
North America, countries that celebrate the advancement of women in
society, the rate was disturbingly high. About one in five women in
those regions experience physical and sexual abuse from a husband or

For those of you who missed the story, which was recent front page news in Britain, cookbook author and television star Nigella Lawson was photographed in a restaurant — with her husband’s hand on her throat.

That would be the uber-wealthy 70-year-old adman Charles Saatchi, who dismissed his odious and unlawful behavior as “a playful tiff.”

To which I say, with the greatest respect, fuck off.

Here’s a description of the event, from the Daily Mail:

The couple, who are thought to be
worth £128million, had just finished eating outdoors at their favourite
seafood restaurant Scott’s last Sunday when Mr Saatchi is reported to
have started a heated and angry exchange with his wife.

Miss Lawson, 53, looked tearful as he
grabbed her neck four times, first with his left hand and then both. As
he held her neck, they clutched hands across the table before Mr Saatchi
tweaked her nose and used both wrists to push her face.

Afterwards, Miss Lawson dabbed her tearful eyes in a napkin as he tapped his cigarettes impatiently upon the table.

She then gulped a whole glass of wine
before appearing to attempt to pacify him with a trembling voice. During
the attempted reconciliation, she leaned over the table and kissed his
right cheek.

Kissing your abuser?

Sounds about right, sadly.

And when a woman with the insane, gob-smacking wealth and social capital of a Nigella Lawson puts up with this bullshit, imagine all the women — broke, pregnant, breastfeeding, financially dependent on their husbands or partners — who can’t just move into Claridge’s while they find a terrific divorce attorney.

When I interviewed 104 men, women and teens for my 2004 book about American women and gun use, several told me how they had been beaten, threatened and stalked by their husbands or boyfriends, their children and pets threatened with harm. One woman told how her husband kept a loaded shotgun beneath his side of the bed, nor would her father allow her to return to her family home to recover and figure out what to do next.

One woman, so terrified of her husband she moved into a friend’s home and hid her car in her garage, was so fed up she went with her father to confront the SOB who was terrorizing her. Her father brought a handgun, which slipped from his pocket. She stepped on it as her husband lunged for her.

She shot and killed him, point-blank.

Domestic violence is no joke. It is common, widespread, destroying thousands of lives.

Three women die every day at the hands of someone who coos “I love you” when they aren’t beating the shit out of them.

33 thoughts on “Nigella’s “tiff”? 30 percent of women suffer DV, says WHO report

  1. It’s weird how having more resources does not seem to make any difference. Rates of domestic violence in South Asia are actually higher among educated women.

    But then I see how lower class women act. On the whole, they put up with a lot less crap from just about everyone. So if they put up with less from their husbands, I can understand that. Class is a very odd thing.

    The statistics you cite are really unfathomable. !/3 I can get my head around. But something close to 2/3? I am not surprised, and yet I can’t grasp it. I can understand that rate of victimization. I can’t understand that many men being willing to be perpetrators.

    But I am glad that the rates in the Western world are actually lower. It seems to me sometimes we act very proud of progress I’m not sure is there. So I am glad it is. 1/5 is of, course, too high, but 1/5 is not 2/3.

  2. One of the many ways that men exercise control over women is through finances — access to cash, credit cards, bank accounts, credit. Maybe women who marry bazillionaires are so dependent on them — or their lavish lifestyles — they are unwilling to cut ties and drop to a lower/safe level of living? Seems bizarre to me, but I have never been abused and would call the cops in a heartbeat on anyone who tried.

    The day no man raises his fist — and no woman cowers in fear — is the only day worth celebrating for me.

    This also has to do with complex issues of self-esteem. Who kisses someone who’s just put their hand on your goddamned throat?!

  3. My son was recently approached by a woman executive at his workplace who asked him to help her. She is terrified of her husband, has a restraining order against him and wanted to carry a handgun and learn how to use it. She knew he was knowledgeable and he agreed to help her train.

    1. Wow. That’s a great step for her, and congrats to your son for being a man she felt safe enough to even discuss this with. That’s a testament to his character.

      The single largest danger for women being abused — which she may know and your son MUST know (they should both read my book)– is that when a woman leaves the family home, ironically, she is MOST in danger of being stalked and killed. These guys are deadly and will not take no for an answer. I wish him and her the best.

      1. Thanks, Caitlin. He really is an upstanding guy and totally trustworthy. I will look into getting that book for him. I have been so outraged and discouraged over my many years when another woman is killed because she left. Or the children are killed as well for revenge on her – the one thing she loves most. It usually starts with the family pet being killed in front of her. I never thought for a minute these men did not know what they were doing and did not know it wasn’t wrong.

  4. Jessica Slavin

    Yes, I looked at the photos, and my stomach just churned. It was so disturbing to see Nigella, who had always to me seemed really sure of herself and self-possessed, tearing up and looking sort of, well, mewling–it was so stark. An image that tells a thousand words about the world we inhabit.

    One year I was organizing an event for a local women’s bar association, and Catharine MacKinnon (a well known feminist legal scholar) was the speaker. I drove her to and from the airport. She was lovely, and I was able to talk with her about domestic violence in refugee law. I have done some refugee work, and was teaching refugee law at the time, and the availability of political asylum for victims of domestic violence is an interesting issue that related to some of what she spoke about in her talk.

    Her perspective really shocked me, but strikes me as correct, and I took it to heart. She said that of course refugee protection may help some particular woman to leave some society where she cannot get any legal protection due to her gender. But that the woman may just end up in the same kind of relationship in the next living situation. Because while the news and the governments are always focused on wars, and nation-states, meanwhile, there’s a worldwide war on women that gets much less attention. It is easier to get people to talk about the realities of “conflict-related” violence against women than to talk about the fact that, e.g., even Nigella Lawson apparently lives in a prison of sorts. Because in the latter case, it’s “domestic,” private, blah blah blah.

    Anyway, great post, thanks.

    1. Thanks for such a fascinating comment…what great work you do!

      One of the many very messy pieces in any conversation about DV is the personal nature of it — i.e. it can read as victim-blaming if we actually talk about women who keep ending up in abusive relationships over and over again. Which some do. It’s complicated: does she have sufficient skills to earn an independent living? To support her kids? To get the hell away from her abuser so he does not (as they often do) stalk and kill her anyway? Is she willing or able (yes) to acquire a firearm to protect her own life and that of her children?

      If I were queen of the world, I’d forbid the use of the word domestic violence and substitute the phrase “intimate terrorism.” You know that world. I interviewed Michael Dowd for my book — considered one of the nation’s top defense attorneys for “battered women syndrome” — and learned a lot. His most chilling insight was that abused women are like soldiers in combat — accustomed, every single day, to a level of personal and unprotected terror few of us will ever comprehend. They are sophisticated observers of cruelty. They just know, he told, the DAY they are going to be killed — which is when, typically, they finally act, and kill their abuser.

      Cheery stuff, my dear. 🙂

  5. Jessica Slavin

    Yes, precisely that is the mindset. I think of this woman, Her ex husband shot her in cold blood, in broad daylight, at a spa (her workplace) not far from where I sit writing this. What can one do for protection, in this case? When someone is willing to kill himself or risk life in prison, to murder you? There is not much. And on the other side, no easy answer either, because what should society do, lock up anyone who makes threats? Perhaps. Make it harder to have guns….. Ah, fantasy.

    Anyway, in teaching refugee law, it was so fascinating, realizing how purely gendered, and gender-biased the conversations around “domestic violence” are. The definition of a refugee is someone who is persecuted “on account of” race, religion, ethnicity, political opinion, or “particular social group.” Even if cases where it is quite clear that the state refuses to protect against extreme violence directed at women by their intimate partner, where it is able to provide such protection and does provide it against other extreme violence, still, many cannot see how this is “on account of” the woman’s gender. It is terrible, but at the same time, it is wonderfully revealing of the underlying illogic and assumptions/cultural blinders that shape our conversations about intimate terrorism. Actually, can we make that sound even less private? How about “personal terrorism”? Or “individual terrorism”?

    Again, thanks for the thought-provoking post! I really wanted to discuss the Nigella story in some way, this was good.

    1. I hope you’ll blog about this as well…or re-blog this, if useful.

      As you know, and I do, most of the men who kill their female partners also also quick to kill themselves — “I can’t have her and no one else can either”…or something.

      This veers into a different conversation, and a very complex one, but, frankly, if I were being stalked by someone quite intent on murdering me, (and make no mistake, they are), I’d probably buy a handgun, stat, and carry it with me at all times. And yes, I know that many states are not legal to carry…

      I’ve done enough weapons training to know I’m good with a Glock 9mm and any woman can be, if she wants to, and can afford a gun and ammunition AND get proper training.

      The larger problem, and it’s a big one as well, as that if you fire your gun to defend your life, you may not go to prison — but it’s also possible your bullets will also injure or even kill someone who is nearby. Ballistics (which I have also studied) are another matter. So then you’re facing a possible civil and/or criminal suit for simply trying to stay alive.

      It’s a huge, scary mess.

      Best to get the HELL away from any man, at any age, who is a threatening POS.

  6. Pingback: Jessica’s Wednesday Poem Club, Thursday edition! | jessicaslavin

  7. Ms. Lawson, like many abused women, has been brainwashed to think this is normal and that she’s in the wrong. Perhaps with all the press going on though, she may wake up and figure out what’s wrong and extricate herself from the situation.
    That’s the hope, at least.

  8. WTH?? That is just the most depressing statistic. So incredibly sad but shockingly true. Parents really need to educate our young boys on how to respect women properly and rightfully, right from the start and we need to educate our young females to be stronger, more independent and to KNOW they have power to never accept that disgusting, fucked up behaviour. I know, if it were only that simplistic.I have two teenaged boys and one teenage girl and I work hard on that type of social education. If I do one thing right, they WILL be good humans. Women have come a long way but clearly we still have a very steep uphill climb. I too have faced abuse from a partner when I was much younger(my first teenage love). How crappy is that? I tell you one thing, I learned from that experience( BIG TIME) on how NEVER to be treated again.EVER. Thank God I learned at an early age and could escape a life of horror. I have a big heart for the women of the world who can not just leave so easily. It is never as simple as that. My wish for the world? More girl power. More love. More empathy.

    1. Good for you! You are absolutely right that this is a matter that starts with clear, unwavering messages to the girls and boys we’re educating and raising — you touch a woman, you threaten a woman, you fuck with her money or family or pets or car or friends or work — you MESS with her, and it’s game OVER.

      Women have to know to LEAVE: to have their own funds (no matter what it takes to acquire them, legally, in her name only); to have trusted friends and family; to know the law and use it. To GET away from any man who hits, beats, verbally abuses her.

      To many girls and women — and the boys and men doing it — abuse is NORMAL. They see it in hideous, misogynist porn and in song lyrics and in film and on the Internet. They see it among their friends and peers. They see celebrities (hello, Rihanna?) putting up with shit as if it’s a smart, healthy choice.

      It makes me completely nuts. Women have to walk. Men have to be arrested, prosecuted and jailed.

  9. So…this is what I took from this because I am who I am…she’s freaking 53!? Man, I hope I look half as good at that age!

    I guess one consolation is that at least I won’t be married to some dillhole, and be too afraid to kick his ass to the curb.

    Seriously, 53? My lord, that’s criminal.

    1. I suspect, to some degree, this is true. Why anyone, anywhere, puts up with this crap — someone with so many choices?! — is beyond me. I do get it, intellectually, having reported on it. But terrifying.

  10. One thing: Verbal abuse doesn’t get enough mention. I didn’t even know it existed until I was in my twenties. It is a powerful Test in the hands of the abuser to see how far he/she can go with their victim.

    1. Very true. I grew up in a family that said some truly toxic things to me, and to one another. It leaves you primed to take more of that shit from the rest of the world — until or unless you can break that pattern.

      1. Don’t know if you caught my most recent post sharing my thoughts on anger – you might find it interesting.

        Regarding victims perpetually putting up with being abused I think there are a few core factors at play. Somewhere low self-esteem must come into it bringing the tragic notion that someone convinces themselves that they deserve it.
        Then there’s the phenomenon of ‘normalisation’ where, just like the soldiers you mentioned, living with fear and the constant threat of violence becomes normal.

        Finally, the victim continues to ‘love’ the abuser because they must convince themselves that their partner is deserving of love – otherwise they have to admit failure, or having gotten it wrong which would completely invalidate their choice of loved one leaving them even more beaten and defeated.

        Education is surely the way forward. Stronger male role models are especially important. The further proliferation of guns can not be part of the solution.

      2. I didn’t…and I have a post written on a recent loss of my own temper as well.

        You make great points. It’s not necessarily that you think you deserve abuse — but you have never known love WITHOUT attendant toxicity. Until or unless you do, you just can’t conceive of another way to be “loved.”

        The constant threat of violence — against your kids and pets, all you hold dear — is a terrible weapon itself. Men do not have to ever lift a finger (and, funny thing, also can’t then be charged legally because “they haven’t done anything) to scare the living daylights out of a woman.

  11. I have to confess that I am not a Nigella Lawson fan; to me her TV shows come across as shallow and pretentious. However, that is a separate matter and there is no excuse whatsoever for what’s happened to her. An appalling experience that nobody should have to endure – though, as we know, so many women (and, I might add, some men) actually do. Based on what’s reported in the media it does look as if the restaurant incident was a pretty classic domestic abuse. pattern – in public. So, I have to ask, what’s it like behind closed doors?

    Abuse extends well beyond physical; I think there is also an awful lot of domestic psychological abuse that isn’t reported and which, perhaps, the victims regard as ‘normal’. These behaviours are all to do with power and with destruction of self-esteem as much as anything else, and to my mind they are a particularly vicious and cowardly way of exercising it. The sad part is that abuse keeps happening, in households around the world – and if we look more broadly at other cultures, it’s evident there, too, framed by its own cultural forms.

    I would call it ‘animal behaviour’, but it’s not. Humans do it consciously. The sad part is that, through that same consciousness, we should have the ability to stop it.

    1. I attended a conference on DV while writing my book about women and guns, and interviewed the man who has likely defended the most women who have shot and killed their abusive husbands. The range of behaviors and techniques they use to terrorize and control “their” women is shocking and depressing indeed.

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