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Why it is important to hear Nigella's side of the story

Is Charles Saatchi's so-called "playful tiff" with Nigella Lawson proof that physical power remains the biggest inequality between the sexes?

They were enjoying lunch at a table outside a smart London restaurant when, according to Saatchi, they had an intense debate about the children. He said: "I held Nigella's neck repeatedly while attempting to emphasise my point." I'm so glad he didn't feel the need to ram home his message.

The pictures of Lawson, the Domestic Goddess, being clutched by the throat while having lunch with her husband were "horrific" as Saatchi himself acknowledged in the statement he made yesterday.

However, he also said "they give a far more drastic and violent impression" than the truth. He insisted he applied no pressure and his wife's tears stemmed from her hatred of argument.

Well, I beg to disagree with most of that. Judging any couple's marriage is dangerous: basing that judgment on a few snatched photographs more perilous still. One thing is certain in this case: is any act more controlling than holding another person by the throat? I don't think so. Is there any act less open to misinterpretation? Ditto.

By taking his wife by the throat on a number of occasions wasn't Saatchi letting her know where the power in their marriage resided – physical power? Wasn't there an implicit threat even if pressure was not applied?

That's why the pictures were so shocking. Here was a sophisticated and wealthy man exerting his inner brute over his glamorous and successful wife. Is there any other interpretation possible? Is there any other word for it than abuse? I don't think so. Just look at the pictures. Look into his wife's eyes. They registered fright. What I was expecting to see was surprise. I couldn't see any.

Forgive me for disagreeing. Playful it isn't. Other than that I make no judgment. I cannot. We cannot. We don't know enough to do so, nor arguably is it any of our business. Lawson went away yesterday – to avoid the press – says her husband. He remains at home adopting the attitude of a man weathering a storm in a teacup, albeit a large one.

What should his wife now do? Here again it is dangerous to interfere in the workings of a marriage. I have only one suggestion, that Lawson gives her version of events, to the police if necessary.

My reason is this: she is a celebrity and with fame comes responsibility. In other areas of domestic life she is a role model for legions of women. Now, if she can steel herself for the ordeal, she must be in this one too.

For the Domestic Goddess to be abused publicly in this way is a blow to all women. If she is silent about it like so many long-suffering and less powerful women have been for centuries it will be one blow after another.

Her reputation and private fortune have been built on her image as a glamorous, intelligent home-maker. If she is vulnerable to what looks like physical attack – and if she takes it without comment – a disservice will be done to all women.

Hers is a global brand. The pictures of her with her husband's hand at her throat have gone around the world. They will be seen by millions of abused women who lack position, education and financial independence; women who can't speak out about what they suffer, women who can't fight back through the courts or make a public exhibition of their abuser. They will also be seen by the men who deliver the abuse and used to justify their own actions.

She needs to explain what happened between her and her husband when he grabbed her throat four times, both with one hand and two. She needs to say whether she too believes (as her husband does) the pictures paint a false picture. And she needs to tell the police if they don't.

We know from her writing and from the book her first husband, John Diamond, wrote when he was dying of cancer, that she is courageous and prepared to be unconventional. Part of her charm is a lack of pretension. She's honest about her short comings. She's also savvy. She must know that the pictures present her in a worrying light. She must also know from the reaction to them that people are overwhelmingly sympathetic to her.

I can think of 59,847 reasons why she must speak out. That's the official number of domestic violence incidents police recorded in 2011-2012 in Scotland alone: 87% of attacks occur in the home and 81% involve a female victim and male perpetrator.

A Home Office report says that across the UK 1.2 million women suffered domestic abuse last year. Only one in four people who suffer abuse at the hands of their partner reports it to the police. How many must there be globally?

It's the enormity of the problem that puts a responsibility on Lawson to tell her side of the story and press charges if the incident was as abusive as it looked?

Just as Angelina Jolie had an opportunity to speak out about the breast cancer gene, so Lawson could speak out about domestic abuse if (and I do stress if) that's been her experience.

I understand it's a complicated issue. Witnesses say she was anxious to appease her husband; she leaned across and kissed his cheek. That could be submission or apology or a necessary move to contain the situation.

That said, they have until now looked like a successfully married, if sometimes volatile, couple happy in one another's company.

But then Wendi Deng seemed the epitome of a devoted wife when she launched herself between Rupert Murdoch and the man who threw a plate of foam at him. Murdoch is nonetheless divorcing her.

And Lyudmila Putin looked the part of the ageing wife being traded for a younger model. Now we read it's she who has been pressing him for a divorce.

Appearances are deceptive. We all, to some extent, have a public face and a private reality.

Saatchi says he and his wife "made it up by the time we got home". It's possible. There are layers to relationships and contradictions and idiosyncrasies but even behind closed doors there are laws to protect the weak and the vulnerable.

They exist because life can be trying and relationships can be exasperating. They exist because some people have a need to control the freedom of others. They exist because however civilised we become that physical inequality persists.

Thankfully most men find ways of having a discussion with their wife without taking her by the throat. It's a shame that Saatchi doesn't number among them. With pressure or without I would find it an unacceptable method of communication.

How does Lawson feel about it? I hope she tell us. By speaking up she will present herself to the world as a woman who is resilient and strong. If she does she will have a greater impact than she has ever had in the kitchen.

Contextual targeting label: 
Families

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