Like many people I was almost vomiting up my breakfast this morning when I saw the photos of Charles Saatchi gripping his wife around the neck in a clearly aggressive way – and then pictures of her biting back the tears and clearly trying to hold her head up whilst not completely breaking apart as she left the restaurant.
The social space has been crazy ever since with “Nigella”, offering sympathy and advice, also berating the ‘onlookers and paparazzi’ who just recorded the event, but did not intervene. Not nearly as much of it is taken up with “Charles Saatchi” – the one who should be the subject of relentless questions and scrutiny today – there is some of course, but comparatively little compared to the attention Nigella, the onlookers and the paparazzi are getting.
A man publicly argued and gripped his wife around the neck during this argument. He has history of clamping his hand over her mouth in public – but this time his anger clearly out of control to blind him to the consequences of his actions in public.
Why is this something that should concern us, other than the obvious?
As the ex-wife of an abusive man (I am fine seriously, over it a long time ago I was extremely young and even when it was going on I was so controlled I didn’t even realise it was not normal) I would say that before we even talk about the inhumanity of the watchers, what is really concerning is that if he can lose it to that extent in public, what is he doing when he does not have eyes other than his wife’s silently begging him to stop?
His anger is clearly out of control, and that is dangerous, I believe the police should be all over this – but I am sure they are, we are just not being told, which is fine.
People who lose control of their rage in public and commit crimes in full view of everyone, driven by anger, will most definitely be doing worse behind closed doors when that temper goes off again. Therefore it is perfectly right, moral and your obligation to phone the police if you see this kind of abuse in public, regardless of the fame of the recipient. So…
Reason 1: Because the abuse of the recipient has to stop – that is the primary reason why we should be, and are, all concerned
Nigella looks destroyed, humiliated and obviously upset as she leaves the restaurant. I suspect that, like me all those years ago, she has been playing pretend – that this is fine and she can handle some of the flak she takes when Charles loses his rag; that she can privately suffer but protect the public persona; not the public persona brought about by fame (I had a public persona and I was not remotely famous, I was just trying to exist in the real world and by having a publicly strong me then it made the abused me far less important and not the driver of my behaviour and actions).
What I think she has had to face is that this public display brings about two unavoidable things:
- her husband’s anger is out of control and she has lost any iota of her own ability to keep his behaviour hidden
- everyone knows now and she is now going to have to start that terrible climb up the mountain of leaving this man, breaking down with her friends, gathering her family around her
And the last bullet point will be the most difficult, and the most dreaded, and I of course wish her all the love and luck in the world. I am sure her friends have rallied, of course and so we can rest assured as people that she will be being loved and helped and so we can move on. She really won’t be reading those tweets to *be strong* but her friends might. So…
Reason 2: here is a devastated person
The behaviour of those who watched and recorded the incident is of course deplorable in hindsight, and I am also absolutely sure that there are many who witnessed this and are kicking themselves for not doing something. Some are saying it is because she is famous and their notoriety might have stopped passers by, fellow diners or paparazzi from stepping in. I doubt this – it is a general and real fear of facing a person with anger that has raged over into publicly unacceptable behaviour. (The paps? Well we had all of this debate with Diana didn’t we?)
My ex backhanded me in a restaurant once in front of fellow diners, and even the security on the door, in a relatively smart place in Melbourne. I was so humiliated and felt all the eyes were on me and my bloody eyebrow, I looked to the security man but he averted his eyes, everyone averted their eyes (this was the early 90s so yes different to now, but not much it seems). It took all the strength I had to stand up and leave, and as I left the security dude mouthed his apology – that made me cry. That was what I recognise in Nigella’s face as she leaves – so I suspect the paps were being as kind to her as they were snapping, and I expect that is what pushed her to tears – I really don’t expect being abused by her husband was a new thing, but maybe people seeing her as an abused person who needed help was a new thing.
It’s so hard…
Reason 3: We need to change our reaction to violence in public
What can we do?
Well, firstly if you are in possession of a camera and your role is to take photographs in public of famous people and you stumble on this again, I would say photograph the abuser, he is also famous – why do we only see the abused? Use your role to shine a big mirror, a gigantic magnifying glass on the face of the person out of control – show them. Why do we only see Nigella’s humiliation? Why are there no tabloid splashes of his face as he did this?
If you witness this happening to anyone: phone the police, use others around you to detain the abuser, photograph and record it for the police, not the newspapers.
Comfort the humiliated abused person but know that they need their friends and will not want you to be their comforter – get them to tell you who to call and then phone a friend. But above all, make the focus of attention the abuser – protect the abused.
In trains the railways have come up with a very clever way of policing their quiet carriages, relying on the power of crowd-sourced humiliation. We don’t blush with shame or run out of a silent carriage whispering into our phones because of fear that the conductor might discover us chatting on the phone in a publicly quiet zone – but because our fellow passengers will frown at us, disapprove and probably talk about us behind our backs.
We need to make sure abusers feel the same shame. I know it does not stop the abuse in private, but even if they have to practice restraint in public – at least there is some little part of themselves that is learning to control the anger, and that can only be good practice.
So I think there are three things we can do:
- Photographers can photograph the abuser/s not the abused
- Onlookers can protect the abused and get their (the abused) friends there fast
- Document the abuse for the police not the newspapers
I do worry that we are descending too fast into the future portrayed by Charlie Brooker in his series Black Mirror. Indeed in Series 2 Episode 2 he depicts a world where a frightened and confused woman wakes in a world she does not remember, nor understand, is just watched and filmed as she enacts her despair and confusion in public, there is no humanity behind the phones held aloft. Did we not see this when the Queen visited the BBC earlier this month? I cannot insert a photo here because of copyright restrictions, but Google “Queen visits the BBC” and check the images.
This is as much about an abusive man being exposed as it is our reactions to this. Please can we wake up and see that we have to change our public response to horror – and bring back our compassion and humanity.