Behold, a certain lawyer stood up from the crowd to test Jesus and after establishing that inheriting eternal life involved loving one’s neighbour he tested Jesus again, and asked: “Who is my neighbour?”
Jesus told them a story of a well-known and rather rich couple travelling on that well-known road in London town called ‘Mayfair’. There they stopped for a meal to refresh themselves. During that meal it is said that the man on four separate occasions strangled the woman and pinched her nose.
“And,” Jesus asked the crowd, “do you know what those who saw this happening did?” A little girl at the front of the crowd put up her hand, and Jesus motioned for her to answer. The little girl said: “Did they walk by on the other side, Rabbi?”
“No,” said Jesus. “They took photographs and shared with reporters how scared the woman looked.”
Jesus turned to the crowd and asked them: “And who was a neighbour to this woman?”
And the little girl breathed in deeply and stuck up her hand again. Jesus gestured to her to answer. The little girl shuffled her feet and looked at the ground as she said:
“Nobody. Nobody was a neighbour to the woman.”
The recent photographs released throughout the media which seem to depict the art collector Charles Saatchi strangling the celebrity chef Nigella Lawson and pinching her nose have yet again raised public consciousness of the horror of domestic abuse.
Some have condemned the photographs as graphic. As a professional working to end violence against women, I wasn’t horrified by the photographs, but was very concerned about the language media outlets use to describe what seems to be a violent assault.
Language such as “big bust-up” “row” and, as Charles Saatchi has now described it himself, “a playful tiff”. All such language detracts from the severity of the situation and reinforces the widely-held belief that domestic abuse is a relationship issue, when in fact it is the issue of an abusive person.
One person who watched the attack said: “It was utterly shocking to watch… It was horrific really. She was very tearful and was constantly dabbing her eyes. Nigella was very, very upset.”
And yet nobody stepped in, nobody called the police or challenged the abuse. When I tweeted my concern that none of the bystanders did anything, one man replied: “But if you interfere in assaults all they’ll do is tell you to fib off and stay out of it.” A statement many would probably agree with.
I personally had an experience last week of standing up when someone was abusive. I was on the train and a man became aggressive and abusive to his partner. Most of the passengers looked away, but one man stood up and started challenging the abuser. I too stood up and tried to help the woman. I called the police and stopped the train. Nobody thanked me, in fact the abuser swore at me, called me names and told me it was “none of my f*cking business”. Then the police said they were unable to do anything. The abuser took the woman on another train and I was left feeling distraught, knowing this man was probably going to be even more horrifically violent when the couple got home.
And yet, by standing up and speaking out, the other man and I showed the woman that she matters. And we showed the abuser and every other passenger on the train that this is our business, that domestic abuse is a crime and a public safety issue, not a “private matter”.
Alongside the online views around the bystanders not getting involved, there are those saying Nigella should leave, those justifying Charles Saatchi’s behaviour and those joking about the situation, with Nick Griffin, leader of the British National Party, saying: “If I had the opportunity to squeeze Nigella Lawson, her throat wouldn’t be my first choice.”
Whether the comments are overtly offensive, like Nick Griffin, or implicitly blaming Nigella for her husband’s choices, they all reveal a level of misunderstanding about domestic abuse that needs to be addressed. That the majority of people are asking why Nigella doesn’t leave, when we should be asking why Saatchi doesn’t leave shows a worryingly high level of collusion with abuse that each of us must be willing to own and address.
As Christians we are called to a narrow way, to be light and salt. To do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God. To bind up the broken hearted and set the captives free. To not walk by on the other side, or stand and take photographs, but approach the hurting person (or learning more about abuse) offering them assistance (or calling the police) and being willing, at all times, in all situations to bring light into the darkness.
Charles Saatchi has accepted a caution for assault.