Looking the other way

It felt like a hit in the solar plexus.


Nigella – from

I’d just finished laughing online about my domestic weekend making soup and pizza and calling myself Nigella when the photos came through on the internet.

Nigella being throttled by her husband, 70 year old Charles Saatchi.

And there it was, the evidence – as if I needed any – that domestic violence occurs in every strata, every class, every marriage – celeb or not – and it is brutal.

Wealth, beauty, charm, talent, and even fame will not shield you from it, necessarily.

But what I wanted to know was this – why did no one help?

If Charles Saatchi had gone up to a strange woman dining at the chi-chi restaurant in London and placed his hands around her neck in such an intimidating way that she shot back in fear and burst into tears, wouldn’t someone have called the police? Or at the very least, intervened?

Why didn’t someone help Nigella?

Why didn’t someone go up to the table and tell the man to stop it or the authorities would be called? Was it because they are married? And if so, does the complication of the marital relationship mean that Nigella does not need help.

She made her married bed and now she must lie in it?

It reminded me of a time in Bangkok years ago when I was travelling. I was walking around a shoe shop looking for a bargain and as I was shielded by a large display of shoes an English man and his Thai woman-for-the-week (yes, I’m absolutely certain she was hired) came in. He didn’t see me.


Because the moment they came in he started hectoring her and pushing her and calling her a ‘Slut’ and a ‘Bitch’. She was obviously distressed and fearful, I could hear it in her voice, so I made my presence known and walked towards the git from Great Britain to stop him.

But a funny thing happened. The moment he saw me he changed. He put his arm around the woman (to acquiesce or intimidate?) and smiled – embarrassed – at me. Caught!

But despite an exemplary display of behaviour of gentlemanly charm and good-nature I had no doubt that the moment my Western disapproval disappeared he would be back to asserting his dominance over the hapless woman, and no one would lift a finger to help her.

Is this situation any different to the one we hear reported from London? Does the marital relationship mean that the man has the marital right as the ‘head of the household’ to treat his wife in whatever manner he pleases? Of course it doesn’t, and yet despite all the legal protection in the world, still no one intervened.

But the real kicker in the story for me was this. The forlorn kiss Nigella placed on her husband’s cheek. A sign of  submission akin to a dog rolling over onto her back revealing her belly. ‘Kick me again if you must.’

Shame on the other diners in the restaurant (and for that matter the photographer also!) who didn’t intervene because of a misguided sense of polite propriety. Would you watch a woman being denuded and flayed in public and look the other way also?

And as for those who say – it was a private matter between a husband and wife, here’s the thing.

When isn’t it?

A huge percentage of domestic and emotional abuse happens out of view, behind closed doors. When an incident happens like this in public isn’t that a frightening warning sign – a tip of the iceberg of behaviour that is surely happening out of the public eye?

But he didn’t throttle her. He didn’t leave her body battered and bruised. He didn’t ‘hurt’ her, physically. He only scared her.

Her husband, the man she trusts to be the closest to her. The one who sleeps next to her in the marital bed, who has pledged to love and cherish her ’till death do us part’.

And when he placed his hands around her neck in a display of utter dominance not one person came to her aid. Everyone looked the other way.

Nigella, and others like her, must surely feel the loneliest wretch in the world.



If you are frightened of your partner you need to read this: Signs of abuse 

In NZ call 0800 REFUGE Women’s Refuge

In UK call 0808 2000 247 Refuge

In Australia call – 1 800 RESPECT ReachOut

In US call – 24 hour helpline – 800-799-7233 Where to get help in US



'Looking the other way' has 18 comments

  1. June 16, 2013 @ 11:11 pm MisssyM

    I was shocked when I saw it. Unlike many others though- she has the financial power to walk away. What’s stopping her??


    • June 16, 2013 @ 11:16 pm vegemitevix

      I think the answer to that is in the kiss she placed on his cheek, which is the sign of a cowed submissive woman who has grown used to the abuse. When you get to that stage it’s amazing how many excuses for his behaviour you can come up with.


    • June 17, 2013 @ 8:02 am Looking for Blue Sky

      Walking away is almost never simple: there can be threats to kill you or your children if you do. Often people in these situations get to believe that they are worthless and deserving of the abuse they receive – because they are told that every single day.

      That’s why outside help is so important, because it can be VERY hard to leave, and you’re often still not safe when you do – many people continue to be abused and even attacked/killed after they leave


  2. June 16, 2013 @ 11:52 pm Melissa

    I had just seen an ad on tv with Nigella on it before I saw the news item about her husband. I’m horrified by it, and also horrified that no-one stepped in to help that poor woman 🙁


    • June 16, 2013 @ 11:57 pm vegemitevix

      Absolutely horrifying. Do you think something like that would happen in NZ unchallenged?


      • June 17, 2013 @ 12:31 am Melissa

        Absolutely. Unfortunately I think it happens everywhere. It does take guts to step in with a situation like that. Personally I have asked a friend if she was ok after seeing bruises on her. Turns out she wasn’t and just needed some help to get out.


  3. June 16, 2013 @ 11:52 pm uniquenique01

    If no one stands up to stop it the victim will always think they are at fault and deserve the abuse but then again from personal experience of standing up when I have seen it the victim will not always thank you either. Domestic violence definitely has to be brought out into the open and dealt with so that those subjected to it know that they are not alone and that there is help out there.


    • June 16, 2013 @ 11:56 pm vegemitevix

      I absolutely agree that it takes balls to ‘get involved’ and say something and that you may not be thanked by the victim. Often there is an unreality to her situation – a deep sense of humiliation that something ‘like this’ is ‘happening to me’. But to not step in aren’t we ensuring that the abusers will continue to get away with it? I think it’s a community problem, and one we should have no tolerance for.


      • June 17, 2013 @ 12:12 am uniquenique01

        oh no – no choice at all you have to take a stand always better to take a stand I don’t know if I could turn away. But I agree as an entire community we have to take a stand too if only people would realize how much of a difference they could make by confronting the issue instead of pretending they didn’t see it


  4. June 17, 2013 @ 6:58 am Michelloui

    I too am reeling from this news story. Your description ‘hit in the solar plexus’ is a good one. I’ve experienced public emotional abuse many times. I know it isn’t the same as physical and no, I have never been afraid for my life as Nigella may be, but there is still that horrific feeling of desolation, hopelessness, isolation and belief that you are a really awful, stupid, pathetic person–why else would someone treat you like this in PUBLIC? It took a lot to get away from it. And ‘why doesn’t Nigella just leave’? Who knows what else is going on in her story? It is not always as simple as ‘just leave’ even though to us outside observers it may seem like that. There will be many layers of reasons–some that we might think are ridiculous.

    Anyway, enough about the victim, your main thread is about the bystanders and why the hell didn’t anyone step up and do something? It’s called the Bystander Effect. Very basically, if people see a crisis–specifically someone who may be in need of help, the likelihood of help is related to the number of bystanders. The more bystanders the less likely anyone will step forward and help. This has been found in studies in all kinds of situations with all kinds of victims. Wiki explains it better than I. While it doesn’t excuse the people for not helping, it does explain that as human animals they behaved just as a psychologist would have predicted in that situation.

    Different variables do influence the bystander effect and in this case I would also imagine that the environment had something to do with it as well (I don’t know of any studies done on the bystander effect with regards to celebrities, psychologists would be interested in this case). This couple were in a restaurant known for celebrities and therefore staff and non-sleb patrons very likely prided themselves in how they treated slebs with respect and privacy and for them to change that and step in would have been a big change of behaviour. This of course compounds the bystander effect.

    Interesting to study, but sad to observe.


    • June 17, 2013 @ 8:47 am vegemitevix

      Thank you Michelle for explaining, it goes a long way to my understanding. I too understand those thoughts – I deserve it. I shouldn’t embarrass him. I shouldn’t be ‘too much’ or he has every right to squash me. I also understand how hard it is to say ‘enough’. In my experience it’s the very people who don’t appear to need help – because they’re famous, talented, beautiful – that really, oh God they really do.


  5. June 17, 2013 @ 7:28 am MidlifeSinglemum

    If you don’t want to get involved would it be appropriate to call the police in an instance like this? Or would that be OTT as she wasn’t actually hurt just scared and intimidated? Would it be appropriate to go up and ask the woman if she needed help or would that inflame the situation? #seriousquestions Thanks for writing this post – it really made me think. And Michelloui’s comment below about the amount of help offered is negatively correlated to the number of bystanders – so true. Btw – I read online that NIgella left home with a suitcase yesterday. I I’m sure all the twittering and media coverage helped her make this move. So commenting on social media about what you’ve seen can also be a way of helping indirectly.


    • June 17, 2013 @ 8:48 am vegemitevix

      Yes I agree. Or go up to the Maitre D of the restaurant and make a complaint even if it is in the form of a ‘public disturbance’. Anything at all that gives the victim the chance to gather her remaining dignity and flee.


    • June 17, 2013 @ 8:49 am vegemitevix

      And thank you so much for sharing this post. xx


  6. June 17, 2013 @ 7:16 pm Steve

    Poor Nigella. Damned whatever she does. I’m guessing right now it’s a weird kind of self preservation kicking in. Trying to save the relationship rather than herself because she isn’t yet separating the two. I hope she is getting support from friends and family to make the right choices. As for Saatchi… the man needs counselling / anger management / something to make him stop before he ends up with nothing to stop for.


    • June 17, 2013 @ 8:59 pm vegemitevix

      I agree, I think it is self-preservation. I don’t know much about Saatchi but I suspect he subscribes to a misogynistic view that he can pretty much do what he wants to his wife.


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