Nobody Knows Best

A man assaults a woman and appears to try to choke her.  In public view.  She has red eyes and shows clear signs of distress.  Let’s suspend the issue of no one intervening but in fact recording pictures of this assault for later sale.  Let’s just look at the incident itself.

Where is the wrongdoing here?  Surely it is clear that the aggressive party is doing something wrong.  Isn’t it?

Naturally, you’d expect the conversation that follows to be about what a jerk this guy is.  That violence of any kind is never ok.  That we just caught a public glimpse of what 1 in 3 women can unfortunately expect to experience during their lives, in silence and in private.  Are we not collectively outraged at the criminal behaviour of this abusive man?  He is the headline, right?  No?

Oh.  That doesn’t seem right…

Given all the reasons women might stay in an abusive relationship, it seems a more useful question might be “Where do women get the courage to leave their abusers?” or “Why do batterers assume they have the right to abuse?”    Source here

The absolute focus of media and the ensuing discussion should be The Perpetrator and What He Did Wrong.  I shared something written about the language employed by the media which puts the focus of violent crime on the victim rather than the attacker.  This is a powerful not-so-subtle message every time we scan the headlines. We avoid naming the problem.  Forthrightly and without shame.  His violence is the problem.  

The second blow to the victim in this case (and so many others) is the immediate pressure on her to ‘do the right thing‘.  ‘People look up to her’.  She needs to ‘make a stand’.  Examples of this are in articles referred to at the end of this post.

She needs to do bollocks.

Perhaps we can express hope that this person finds a safe place to be tonight.  That she be surrounded by people who care about her and will let her cry.  Who won’t say ‘I told you so’, ‘What did you say to upset him?’ or ‘You have to do A B and C!’  Then, with important support and a fragile trust, hopefully she can plan the steps necessary to keep her and her children safe and secure for the future.  Except this particular woman will be doing it under the watch of the public eye.  Horrendous concept.

Victims of abusive partners will be carrying enough guilt, shame and self doubt to last a lifetime.  They and their vulnerable children don’t actually need to be dumped on, pressured or questioned about this incident or any other that may have come before it (shocking, I know).  Many comment on this topic generally out of ignorance (hey, if you haven’t felt the hell of family violence close to you, that’s bloody excellent news) but also a certain arrogance.  This also happens with other victims of crime, most notably, sexual violence.

Some words of caution to the pious and pontificating: You think you know what you would do if this was you.  You haven’t got a bloody clue.  Oh, you have been in this situation but sorted it like a legend?  Great.  Everyone is different.

Perpetrators of physical and sexual violence are most often a person known to the victim.  Family.  Lovers.  This means that the incident does not happen in isolation. But nor is it their entire character.  It happens slowly.  Over time, abusers chip away at their target.  They are not swinging their fists upon introduction and are so commonly charming and affable.  The relationship between abuser and their victim is complicated and confusing.  It is extremely difficult to process the reality that the person you know/trust/love is capable of such vile behaviour.  That they could be like that.  I didn’t admit in my own mind that what happened to me was rape for…years.  I became easily confused, doubted myself.  Because abusive acts are so hard to deal with.  No one thinks they know people capable of such things.  It can take a lot of help/work/time to work through all of the other white noise of trauma to get to a place of understanding which observers seem to reach so readily for us.

So please don’t tell all and sundry that Nigella, or any other trauma victim, should do anything for you.  They do not have to assume the position of Poster Child for the rest of us.  How they respond to being hurt is NOT a decider of their worth in any way. When you express these dangerous opinions you don’t know who you are silencing in the future.  Who you are shaming in the present.

The most productive thing we can all do for victims of serious crimes is advocate for a system that supports victims at all times, a media that focuses on the perpetrators of violence and names the problem and a public discourse that respects those who deserve it.

*Any person who is a victim of such intimate terrorism


The Only Decent One I Found at regarding what sparked this conversation

Avoiding Victim Blaming Center for Relationship Abuse Awareness

Everyday Victim Blaming A campaign to change the language, culture and attitude around violence against women and children

Why Do They Stay? Some ideas on the multi faceted influences at play in abusive relationships

White Ribbon campaign to address violence against women in Australia


  • 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732): 24 hour, National Sexual Assault, Family & Domestic Violence Counselling Line for any Australian who has experienced, or is at risk of, family and domestic violence and/or sexual assault.
  • Lifeline has a national number who can help put you in contact with a crisis service in your State (24 hours)
    131 114
  • Police or Ambulance
    000 in an emergency for police or ambulance.
  • Translating and Interpreting Service
    Phone to gain access to an interpreter in your own language (free)
    131 450
  • Mensline Australia
    Supports men and boys who are dealing with family and relationship difficulties
    1300 78 99 78
  • Kids Help Line
    Telephone counselling for children and young people
    Freecall: 1800 551 800.
    E-mail and web counselling
  • Australian Childhood Foundation
    Counselling for children and young people affected by abuse
    1800-176-453 or 9874 -3922 or
  • Relationships Australia
    Support groups and counselling on relationships, and for abusive and abused partners.
    1300-364-277 or Vic (03) 9261-8700. Website:
  • ASCA (Adults Surviving Child Abuse) A service to adult survivors, their friends and family and the health care professionals who support them.
    Support line: 1300 657 380
  • National Disability Abuse and Neglect Hotline
    An Australia-wide telephone hotline for reporting abuse and neglect of people with disability.
    Ph. 1800 880 052

3 thoughts on “Nobody Knows Best

  1. I agree with you. I’m sad for Nigella, and sad that in our society, we won’t intervene in what is clearly violence. Even just walking up and saying “Is everything okay here” would probably have been enough in public, to stop that fight. But then, if an abuser is capable and fine to do that in public, that is probably the tip of the iceberg of what goes on behind closed doors.
    I’m glad that today it has sounded like she’s left him – FOR HER OWN GOOD. I’m sad that with the timing, it probably has elements of her doing it out of embarrassment and shame, both of which should NOT be hers – this is NOT her fault.
    I’m also a bit shocked at some of my friends’ comments on facebook – things like “Oh no that’s not abuse, it was a game between them” and “But she was so CALM, she couldn’t have been being hurt to be that calm” etc. Oh yes you can be – dissociation, numbing, feeling helpless, feeling trapped etc – all can contribute to being ‘calm’ appearing while being abused. I find it scarier than if she had acted shocked – it means IMO she’s used to the abuse, and that is so heartbreaking.
    I hope she keeps herself safe. NOT for me or anyone but herself and her children.

  2. I agree that the media and our conversations should focus more on how to stop violence from happening and to blame the perps. Obviously a lot of strong women have made great strides in fighting back and I love teaching self defense, but I was raised to find a solution to the problem at it’s root. It’s a trail of breadcrumbs and we are smart enough to figure this out. How can we discourage men from hurting women and encourage others to put down their phones and intervene? We’ve already started talking about and that is the first step. Once enough of us are aware of how we are the solution than WE will band together more so and take action. Thank you for continuing this conversation.

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