On 16 June photographs appeared in the press of Charles Saatchi grasping the neck of his wife Nigella Lawson.
Public outrage and media frenzy ensued.
On 18 June Saatchi gave his version of events to The Evening Standard where he is a columnist.
‘About a week ago, we were sitting outside a restaurant having an intense debate about the children, and I held Nigella’s neck repeatedly while attempting to emphasize my point.
‘There was no grip, it was a playful tiff.
‘The pictures are horrific but give a far more drastic and violent impression of what took place.
‘Nigella’s tears were because we both hate arguing, not because she had been hurt,’ he added.
Two days later saw what has been seen as an admission of guilt as Saatchi accepted a police caution
Yet these were the words of Nick Clegg when he was challenged during a radio phone-in on his Call Clegg show LBC 97.3 and asked how he would have reacted had he witnessed the assault where Saatchi placed his hands repeatedly around Ms Lawson’s throat.
“I don’t know what happened. There was this one photograph. I don’t know whether that was just a fleeting thing.”
“When you see a couple having an argument…most people just assume that the couple will resolve it themselves. If, of course something descends into outright violence then that’s something different,” Clegg said.
This represents the view of society.
But when a politician – and not just any politician: that was the Deputy Prime Minister – holds this view, how are victims of violence to expect any kind of progress in how matters of domestic abuse are perceived and managed by society?
Clegg’s description of this as a possible ‘fleeting thing’ is abhorrent.
This is violence, and unacceptable.
The ‘length of time’ that passes while a perpetrator commissions an act of violence to his victim is utterly irrelevant.
Violence is violence, abuse is abuse.
In his statement to The Evening Standard newspaper, Saatchi said: “Although Nigella made no complaint I volunteered to go to Charing Cross station and take a police caution after a discussion with my lawyer because I thought it was better than the alternative of this hanging over all of us for months.”
I could make several – numerous – comments on Saatchi’s reasoning for accepting a caution, but this piece here is about the attitudes of society, not the abuser.
According to a UK government website, a caution is issued for minor crimes.
‘Cautions are given to adults aged 18 or over for minor crimes — e.g writing graffiti on a bus shelter,” the website says.
‘You have to admit an offence and agree to be cautioned. If you don’t agree, you can be arrested and charged.
‘A caution is not a criminal conviction, but it could be used as evidence of bad character if you go to court for another crime.’
When a perpetrator of domestic abuse can place his hands around the throat of his victim in public and still be compared to someone who scrawls words on a wall in spray paint, we have an undeniable social problem.
The message this conveys to perpetrators of abuse is inexcusable.
The message it conveys to victims of abuse is unforgivable.
“Domestic violence is a massive social problem in this country,” Sandra Horley, chief executive of UK domestic violence charity Refuge, said in a statement.
“Last year over one million women were abused.
“Every week in England and Wales, two women are killed by current or former partners.
“There are still so many myths and misconceptions surrounding this horrific crime.
“People often think that it only happens in poor families … but the truth is that domestic violence affects women of all ages, classes and backgrounds.
“Abusive men are just as likely to be lawyers, accountants and judges as they are cleaners or unemployed.”
Horley said that perpetrators of domestic violence “frequently try to minimise or deny their behaviour,” but that violent incidents rarely occur only once and can escalate to more extreme behavior.
“Research shows that strangulation is a key risk factor for domestic homicide,” she said. “Last year, almost 50 per cent of the women we supported had been strangled or choked by their abusers.”
The men who run our government have a duty to know these facts and figures.
They have a duty to be aware that domestic abuse is a crime.
A serious crime that kills two women every week in England and any incident can never be classified or justified as ‘fleeting’.
Our Deputy Prime Minister missed a vital opportunity to display and promote an attitude of zero tolerance to domestic abuse.
Instead, the message was antiquated. Domestic abuse is not a private matter.
It is easy to turn a blind eye but we should not expect domestic abuse to be dealt with behind closed doors by only the perpetrator and the victim.
Such attitudes only serve to condone the behaviour of the perpetrator and place full power back in their hands.
The Evening Standard has also adopted and endorsed these archaic attitudes. Its management has refused to drop Saatchi from his post as columnist with the paper, stating they do not wish to ‘intrude with the complexities of a couple’s marriage’.
At some point someone must do just that.
And for the biggest impact, that ‘someone’ has to be in a position of power, so that society will listen and will consider the validity of the message behind the action; the message that domestic violence is simply not acceptable and will not be tolerated.
We need a massive change in attitudes from our government, perhaps supported by an improved balance of female ministers.
We need strong leadership from our government and we need the general public to stop allowing domestic abuse to go unnoticed.
You can sign the a petition to support Refuge’s campaign calling for a public inquiry into the police and state response to victims of domestic violence here.
Re-blogged: This was written by me for Women’s Views on News and was originally published on their site on 25 June 2013