I have inserted links to the relevant articles to source quotes, but I would suggest that people do not click on them.
The more I think about the Mirror/Sunday People’s decision to publish photos of Charles Saatchi gripping his wife by the throat, the more irked I become.
The paper, in its decision to publish, has done a disservice to victims of domestic violence.
It should go without saying that what Charles Saatchi did was wrong. But domestic abuse is a sensitive issue and there is a right way and a wrong way of dealing with it.
Much of what is the right and the wrong thing to do in the field of domestic violence is counter-intuitive.
One of the principal weapons in the armoury of professionals working in this field is secrecy. DV professionals undertake painstaking efforts to establish secret and secure channels of communication with victims. They use them to allow victims get help safely and, if the time comes, to leave the relationship in the safest possible way (I say “if” simply because many victims choose not to do so). These efforts are made both to provide the victim with a space in which they feel free to speak to professionals and get help, and for the victim’s own personal safety.
Abusers are, by nature, controlling people, and are often prone to jealousy and paranoia. They use perceived slights as ammunition against their victims. Something as trivial and innocent as smiling at a stranger can be enough to provide the pretext for abuse, humiliation and violence. If they find out that the victim is speaking to a DV professional, that can be enough to put them at risk of serious violence and scupper all the efforts made to help them.
Indeed, the most dangerous time for a victim of DV is, perhaps counter-intuitively, the moment she leaves the relationship. This is in part because the issue is brought to a head and the abuser has lost control of the situation. DV professionals make significant efforts to lay the ground for the exit in advance and in secret, ensuring that the victim leaves on their own terms, with sufficient security in place to ensure that they are safe, in control of the situation and hidden from their partners. This is something that cannot afford to go off half-cocked.
Cases of domestic violence must be handled with sensitivity, discretion and confidentiality. The victim has to be made to feel safe and secure.
Now look at what the Mirror did.
First, look at how they obtained the story. The account given by the photographer contains some telling details.
But the photographer, who did not want to be named, said: “The pair did not know they were being photographed. I was completely hidden.
“It wasn’t a game, from what I saw, it was more… if that was a game it was a pretty rough game.
“I couldn’t hear what they were saying. The conversation and action became so worrying for the couple sitting next to them that the woman put her hands over her mouth in shock.”
As does a line in this article:
Last December, there were concerns raised when she and Saatchi had a another bust-up at Scott’s.
He put his hand over her mouth in an apparent bid to shut her up.
Putting those together, the shot was obtained by having a concealed paparazzo lie in wait with a telephoto lens (the fuzzy nature of the photographs is also a giveaway). The reference to this not being the first such occasion suggests that the photographer may have been stationed there specifically to capture such an incident.
Second, think about what has to happen to make the story libel-proof. To ensure that the paper can fall back on the Reynolds defence, they have to put the allegation to Charles Saatchi and get him to comment on it. In other words, they had to tip off the abuser in advance of publication. It is not particularly far-fetched to think that they might accuse the victim of setting him up, or just generally use it as another pretext for violence.
Third, no suggestion has been made that Nigella Lawson consented to these photographs being published.
Put simply, the Mirror, likely acting on knowledge that Charles Saatchi had form, stationed a paparazzo in his usual haunt in the hope of catching him in the act (or took advantage of an enterprising paparazzo who decided to do this of his own accord). Once they got the photos they tipped off a potential abuser and then splashed the pictures all over the front page. Not one or two photos to confirm that it was what it looked like, but complemented by a full online gallery, complete with a tasteless reference to an olive branch (the foliage in the photos).
If they knew that she was, or might be, the victim of domestic violence, they took the decision that the best course of action was to get them papped.
They took pictures of a woman who, in the words of one onlooker “had been abused and humiliated in public”, and decided to magnify the publicity of the abuse and humiliation she received. They decided to tip off an abusive husband, with no evidence of any regard for the wife’s safety.
Now consider the likely consequences: an enraged abuser, a humiliated victim at an elevated risk. Rather than going to Nigella Lawson in confidence, offering her support, asking whether she wanted the photos published, or going directly to the police, they picked a fight with a Saatchi on his home turf: PR. So far, he has played the PR game pretty well considering his hand. If the relationship is indeed one of control, the ratchet may well have tightened. If she wants to leave the relationship, the publication may have actually made it more difficult to do so.
The decision to publish does not appear to have been taken out of concern for a victim of domestic violence, but out of a desire to sell newspapers masked in sanctimony.
Although the original story was published in the Sunday People, the Mirror’s sister Sunday paper, I have referred to both papers as “the Mirror”. They use the same website, are owned by the same company, and are treating this story as a joint effort. There seems to be little point distinguishing between the two titles.