Laws: Nigella's dilemma - would we intervene?

MICHAEL LAWS
Last updated 05:00 23/06/2013
Nigella Lawson
Getty Images
Nigella Lawson.

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OPINION: In a week of wild wintry weather, perhaps the most disturbing news story emanated from overseas and concerned cooking. In specific, domestic goddess Nigella Lawson - the pre-Raphaelite TV personality who has reshaped sin as a chocolate torte.

Lawson is equally famous for her connections - the daughter of a former Chancellor of the Exchequer, married to wealthy advertising tyro Charles Saatchi, and with enough rich and famous friends to be an A-lister wherever she goes. In short, the lady has it all.

And now she has something else: an unwanted reputation as the planet's most high-profile spousal abuse victim. The assault occurring in the most public of places - a high-end London restaurant, in front of shocked diners and a very grateful photographer.

In the wake of the assault photographs being published, and Charles Saatchi's initial denial and subsequent police caution, all manner of sociologists, psychologists, feminists and commentators have entered the fray. Lawson is universally portrayed as a victim and Charles Saatchi as a beastly brigand.

But the most intriguing question of the week was posed locally: Would Kiwis have acted or intervened in a similar situation? No British diner did - and none contacted the police either. The greater shock seems to be that Saatchi's public behaviour was tolerated.

And the moral lesson suggested is that Kiwis wouldn't have stood for such a thing. We are more humane than the jaded, self-absorbed Brits. We would have been at Nigella's side in a flash.

Really? The evidence very much suggests otherwise. We are a country with serious levels of spousal and child abuse - per capita, somewhere near the top of those countries that measure such things.

And witness interventions are relatively rare, especially with spousal abuse. In part, that is due to our collective if unstated reasoning that the victim might well be to blame. What preceded the assault, a witness cannot tell.

We are sanguine enough also to know that the most moderate of individuals, and the most complete of relationships, can often be stressful, difficult and sometimes angry. And there are some spouses who deliberately provoke aggression, because that is their confrontation technique.

And if the physical effects are likely to be petty - as with the Nigella Lawson case - we are more likely to gossip than complain.

We are also cowards. Charles Saatchi, ironically, would be more likely to get a Kiwi comeuppance because he's elderly, white and weedy. If he was a muscular Mongrel Mob attacker, most Kiwis would shrink from any direct contact. After the damage has been done, we might phone the police.

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But more likely, not. We are a society that prefers non-involvement, especially with people we don't know.

And liberals and White Ribbon campaigners can tut-tut as much as they like, but most Kiwis regard people who stay in a relationship - after being assaulted - as architects of their own misfortune. There's the door, there's the welfare system, there's the authorities - what's the victim's problem?

Which is why the next move must be Nigella's. Her relationship, her experience, her public humiliation, her problem. Turn the page.

- Sunday Star Times

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