Nigella & Saatchi – The message needs to be clear that this behaviour is unacceptable

I was shocked to see the pictures of Nigella Lawson being throttled (‘playfully’ or not) by her husband Charles Saatchi. To see someone who has delighted us for years with her rejection of the model of the ‘perfect woman’ – daring to be voluptuous not skinny and powerful, yet a lover of cooking and entertaining, has been an inspiration to many.

Nigella herself has been the lost voice in this story – whilst we know that Saatchi has been cautioned and that she was visibly upset in the wake of the incident, it is unclear whether her leaving the family home has been to let the story die down or to give herself some space to consider her future.

It is futile to speculate whether this is the latest in a long line of such incidents or a one-off, but the story is now in the public domain and has brought the issue of domestic violence into the spotlight.

Refuge is a charity that helps victims of domestic abuse in the UK, giving abused women a place to go when they decide to leave. Women’s aid has found that 1 in 4 women in the UK will suffer domestic abuse over their lifetime and at any given time the problem affects 6-10% of them.

Whilst Nigella has greater means than those who use Refuge’s services, her case does show that the problem is a human rather than an economic one. What happens behind closed doors is only truly known by the man and woman involved, whether that door is to a million pound mansion or a council flat. What is clear is that on average a woman will be attacked 35 times before calling for help.

Questions have been raised about whether the caution for Saatchi is enough. Given the current state of the evidence – some very incriminating photos but no complaint from the victim and no evidence of other incidences – I’m not certain what else the police can do at this point.

However, we do need to ensure that getting away with a caution does not send out the signal that violent behavior towards women deserves no more than a slap on the wrist and immediate leave to go home and do it again. Saatchi himself has not apologized, but only admits to accepting the caution because he ‘didn’t want the issue hanging over us.’ There is a shocking lack of humility here, which seems to me to say that Saatchi isn’t sorry that he did it, just sorry that he got caught. It is important that those following this story know that whatever his intentions, his actions were totally unacceptable and that Nigella knows that there is never any excuse for such physical actions.

Last week, the government rejected the chance to add Sex & Relationships Education (SRE) to the National Curriculum. This was an attempt to add clear guidelines for what constitutes sexual and domestic abuse to the current biological explanations. It is important that, whether taught at school or elsewhere, domestic violence is highlighted as a real problem in our society – currently women who are killed by a violent partner or ex-partner constitute nearly 40% of all female homicide victims in the UK.

This problem is real and so much bigger than Nigella & Charles. With 70% of UK adults wanting their local council to fund domestic violence services, there is a clear case for extending government support. Hopefully this can be taken up as an issue in the near future.

Sex & Relationships Education – we have a duty to ensure that teenagers understand consent

Tomorrow, a new clause to the Children and Families Bill, tabled by Labour shadow ministers Lisa Nandy, Stella Creasey and Sharon Hodgson will be voted upon in the House of Commons. Clause 20 is attempting to put relationships on the agenda for compulsory sex education instead of leaving the focus solely on the mechanics and biology of sex and sexual health.

Voting for this amendment is an important chance to ensure that the next generation grow up with clearer ideas of what constitutes sexual consent, a healthy relationship and sexual abuse. Historic cases of domestic abuse and sexual assault are currently regularly reported on in the media. This bill represents a chance to do something practical about protecting potential future victims.

Recent research has shown that there is a dire lack of understanding about acceptable behaviour in the vulnerable teenage age group:

*Women’s Aid & Avon found that 50% of 16-18 year olds wouldn’t know where to go to get support if affected by domestic abuse

*18% were unsure or didn’t believe that slapping counted as domestic violence

*A YouGov poll in 2010 showed that almost a third of 16-18-year-old girls said that they had been subjected to unwanted sexual touching at school

*The NSPCC found that a third of girls in relationships aged 13-17 have experienced physical or sexual violence in relationship, with one in 16 of this group reporting experiencing rape.

Whilst every parent would hope that their child would never need to worry about these issues, surely they would prefer that their child was forearmed if the situation did arise. We’ve been teaching children about ‘stranger danger’ for decades, but they also need to be warned that certain types of behaviour from people that they know and love are also unacceptable.

There can be no British stiff-upper-lip excuse for avoiding these issues. We need to ensure that the moral lines concerning trust and acceptable behaviour in relationships are clear to both boys and girls.

Hiding sexual abuse away and failing to discuss it has been proven to be a woefully neglectful tactic. Abusers, although immoral and shameful, will always be out there – just as murderers, thieves and fraudsters will be. We have a responsibility to teach the young people of today how to identify inappropriate sexual behaviour and protect themselves.

The campaign is being supported by One Billion Rising UK  and the #Yes2NC20 tag is being used to collate responses to the campaign on Twitter. The campaign has also been supported by Jo Hayman, Chief Executive of the PSHE Association.