After Nigella, expert warns over treatment of women


Sufferers of domestic abuse should seek help, and resist the temptation to deny the problem, a leading expert has warned.

Emma Bell, the executive director of Jewish Women’s Aid (JWA), advised women who fear they could be victims to “talk to someone. They should talk to a family member or a friend — someone they trust. They should then think about professional support. It’s an old cliché, but a problem shared really is a problem halved.”

She added that abuse affected women of all social classes. “There’s a big myth around abuse that it doesn’t happen if you’re rich, successful and educated. Abuse doesn’t discriminate against wealth, class, age or background.”

Ms Bell was speaking in the wake of an incident this week in which art collector Charles Saatchi was photographed gripping his wife, Nigella Lawson, by the throat and pinching her nose in what appeared to be a heated argument.

The TV chef, 53, was in tears after leaving Scott’s Restaurant in Mayfair, where the couple were celebrating Mr Saatchi’s 70th birthday.

Mr Saatchi later dismissed the incident as “a playful tiff”. He added: “There was no grip. Nigella’s tears were because we both hate arguing, not because she had been hurt.

“We were sitting outside a restaurant having an intense debate about the children, and I held Nigella’s neck repeatedly while attempting to emphasise my point. We had made up by the time we were home.”

The following day, Mr Saatchi voluntarily attended a London police station where he accepted a caution for assault.

Last year, Mr Saatchi was photographed placing his hand over his wife’s mouth while dining at the same restaurant.

Ms Bell said that, in her experience, perpetrators of abuse generally “make a lot of excuses for their behaviour. They blame the woman or say it was a play fight. They’ll bring flowers, chocolates, and be terribly apologetic, and then do it again.”

Abuse within the Jewish community reflects the extent of the problem nationally. About 25 per cent of Jewish women are victims, according to the JWA. Ms Bell said: “There are more people who feel the shame and stigma of domestic abuse in the Jewish community because there’s more emphasis on religion and family life.

“But Jewish women are speaking about it more and we have seen a year on year increase in reports of domestic abuse in the Jewish community.”

She emphasised that abuse took place across the community, from strictly Orthodox to secular families.

She said: “We’ve had clients who you would have never have guessed were victims, which makes it harder. We see every kind of abuse — physical, emotional, financial and sexual”. But she noted that “fear, power and control are always clear indicators of a relationship that is abusive”.

Some women were reluctant to acknowledge they were in such a relationship, Ms Bell said. “They need to look at the facts and ask what they would say if it was being done to someone else.”

Ms Lawson had departed from the family home after the incident. Mr Saatchi said they had agreed she would leave “until the dust had settled”. The couple are due to celebrate their 10th anniversary in September.

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