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The many faces of domestic violence

By: Maria Kari

According to a World Health Organisation (WHO) report released this week, physical and sexual violence now affects a third of women worldwide. The consequences of this includes a myriad of health problems, including broken bones, bruises, pregnancy complications and depression, coupled with the harsh reality that many of these women may possibly spend their lifetimes in such relationships.

Last year, a host of high-profile rape cases in India helped shed the spotlight on the pandemic of sexual violence against women. Though we have a long way to go and much responsibility to bear, as a society, the immediate result has been incremental yet positive.

More recently, this week, the world was shocked by pictures of art collector husband Charles Saatchi publicly grabbing the throat of his celebrity wife, chef Nigella Lawson, in what he would shamelessly describe later on as a “playful tiff”.

Like everyone else who has seen these degrading photos, my first reaction was: where was everyone and why did no one intervene? After all, the couple was out in public, surrounded by many, as they lunched at their favourite restaurant where they have been photographed countless times.

Despite Lawson looking visibly upset in the presence of many onlookers, including customers, paparazzi and staff, who craned their necks and watched in shock, everyone seemed to be unable or unwilling to intervene or call for help.

Although Lawson has not yet filed a police report, once the pictures went viral, the police issued a caution to Saatchi (who accepted it because he did not want it “hanging” over them). The Community Safety Unit, which deals with hate crime and domestic violence in the UK, is also making inquiries.

While it is undeniably intimidating to intervene on an obviously private matter taking place between a powerful celebrity couple, the fear on her face and the tears in her eyes — as pictures also show — coupled with her silence since that day, are unsettling.

No doubt, stories of celebrity domestic abuse have been instructive in raising awareness and breaking societal taboos. In 2009, Rihanna’s assault by her then-boyfriend Chris Brown, which left her battered and bruised, brought the realities of dating violence to the forefront, making the songstress an unintentional example for many women worldwide.

But why is it that we, as a society, only really sit up in shock and are outraged when one of the following happens: a woman is treated excessively brutally and left for dead or when photos of a rich, famous and beautiful woman under assault are exposed?

As co-author of the WHO report, Claudi Garcia-Moreno, states (speaking in context of the brutal gang rape in New Delhi), “these kinds of cases raise awareness, which is important, [but] at the same time, we must remember there are hundreds of women every day, who are being raped on the streets and in their homes, but that doesn’t make the headlines”.

If the WHO report is anything to go by, then 25 per cent of women worldwide are currently trapped in abusive relationships. And unlike the Nigella Lawsons and the Rihannas of the world, many of these women wouldn’t have the financial means to support themselves, or the freedom to walk away should they decide to do so.

Regardless of whether it is an isolated incident or a repeated offence and regardless of the degree, amount and frequency of abuse being inflicted on the victim, the vulnerability and the silence of our fellow sisters should be enough cause for concern.

The Express Tribune

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