Domestic Violence in High Places


A trending story about the multimillionaire former advertising guru, Charles Saatchi, who allegedly choked his celebrity chef wife, Nigella Lawson, confirms that being rich and famous offers no guarantee of safety from domestic violence.

Apparently, photos were taken in an upscale London restaurant of Mr. Saatchi with his hand literally wrapped around his wife’s throat. While he explained the situation by saying it looks more dramatic than it was, the photo shows tears in her eyes. Again, he explains the tears by saying that she was crying because they both hate to argue. It seems self-evident that the alleged victim hated it more than the alleged perpetrator.

The incident culminated in his filing for divorce and expressing his disappointment that she had not come to his defense in the press.  She reportedly is declining to speak to him publicly or privately.

Classic Patterns of Domestic Violence

So many questions remain about this couple, but what has been revealed illustrates some classic patterns of domestic violence and some of its day to day manifestations known as ‘intimate terrorism’:  

Whatever happened that night, or other nights, if any, the wife made no public outcry? Often victims fear embarrassment or financial repercussions or shame for their children and so they do not seek help. 

No one in an upscale restaurant ‘noticed’ or intervened. Frequently even friends and family, let alone strangers, decline to ‘get involved’ in what is perceived as a private quarrel, even though one person may be in physical danger from the other or is obviously being bullied.

The photographer took and presumably sold pictures taken without any attempt to stop the activity he or she found so fascinating. The photographer may have thought the pictures alone would inhibit the behavior, but that is a generous interpretation of passivity. Everyone tends to ‘look the other way’ in these cases or only pay attention if somehow they are stimulated by or paid for the ensuing gossip.

Charles Saatchi immediately ‘lawyered up’ and turned himself into the local police, accepting a citation voluntarily. Often in these situations the alleged perpetrator finds excellent legal counsel and follows experienced advice long before the victim has rallied her or his strategy, or even realizes the need for legal protection.

He filed for divorce first or at least ‘announced’ he was filing first. A frequent tactic in domestic violence cases is to catch the other spouse unaware or unprepared, thus effectively diverting from the perpetrator’s own behavior. 

Lessons For Us All

Some ‘takeaways’ if you feel you are a victim or know a victim of intimate terrorism include:

(1)   All the experts agree that intimate terrorism and even more violent versions of domestic violence know no geographic or economic boundaries. There is no reason to feel isolated or ashamed of your pain.

(2)   Begin preparing to leave if you are a victim: research options online, seek confidential counsel and secure some financial resources.

(3)   Confide in supportive friends and other adult family members so that you have a safety network when and as needed.

(4)   If you are the friend of a victim, begin preparing to help and risk speaking up even when it is uncomfortable. Whether you confront the aggressor or comfort the victim, you are doing the right thing.


All of us need to recognize that victims of domestic violence are truly victims who need support, whether the abuse is physical or psychological or any combination. We should stop telling ourselves these kinds of things are not happening in our zip code – because they are.


About Gemma Allen

Gemma Allen is a partner in Ladden & Allen, Chartered, and has practiced family law for most of her career. Ms. Allen has written more than 50 articles and lectured on topics that include divorce, child support, maintenance, mediation, cohabitation, women and money, and reconciliation. She co-authored The New Love Deal: Everything You Must Know Before Marrying, Moving In, or Moving On! and helps you navigate modern relationships in “Relationship Gems.”