A few people have asked me how I feel about Nigella Lawson, now that she has admitted to taking cocaine. It seems to me to be a rather strange question to ask. The worry I have is that there is another, more loaded question hiding behind it: "Do you think she brought it all on herself?"
Ah, the big "NO." I will never tire of the big "NO."
Let me break it down for you in simple terms:
If Nigella snorted cocaine, it does not mean Charles Saatchi had the right to physically or emotionally abuse her.
If Nigella snorted cocaine off the buttocks of two, much more attractive men than her husband, it does not mean Charles Saatchi had the right to physically or emotionally abuse her.
If Nigella snorted cocaine off the buttocks of two, much more attractive men than her husband, whilst also smoking a joint and posting an online blog entitled "CHARLES SAATCHI HAS NO PENIS," it does not mean Charles Saatchi had the right to physically or emotionally abuse her.
ARE YOU GETTING IT, YET?!
Nigella took drugs. Whatever your stance on drug-use, that doesn't mean that Saatchi was in any way justified to subject her to a life lived in fear, as she put it herself. In the same way that a woman does not ever "invite rape" by walking alone at night in a short skirt, nothing a victim of abuse does should ever be thought of as a justification for the way they are treated. The responsibility lies in the hands of the person who chooses to behave abusively and always in their hands.
Why is it that we - in particular, the media - are so obsessed with making an excuse for abusive people? Is it because to think of a person as simply being abusive for the sake of it - for the enjoyment of it - is so utterly hard to comprehend?
The way the press has behaved since Nigella's admission has utterly appalled me. Here is a woman, standing in a court of law as a witness, yet she's being treated as though she is on trial. Indeed, she told the court: "If you want to put me on trial, put me on trial. I don't feel it is right to have me here as a witness for the crown and treat me like this."
Nigella went on to tell the court about the abuse in her marriage to Saatchi, explaining that the cause of the infamous photo, in which Saatchi was pictured grabbing her throat, was an innocent comment about how much Nigella wanted grandchildren some day. Saatchi grabbed her by the neck and told her that he was the only person she should be concerned about. Nigella explained that she had been left with "emotional scars" as a result of his behaviour towards her. She described Saatchi as "brutal" and she referred to the abuse she suffered as "intimate terrorism."
Here is a woman, known to millions around the world, standing up and saying she has been abused by her husband. And yet the story the papers choose to run with?
Yes, you read that sub-heading right. "TV chef's cocaine shame." Nigella's shame. Not Saatchi's. Not the man who throttled his wife in public, who is now waging what can only be viewed as a witch-hunt against her. No shame for him. Instead, we mock and chastise a woman who has had the bravery to stand in front of the world's media and say that she once loved a man who chose to treat her appallingly.
One in four women will experience abuse at some point in her lifetime. And those women who experience abuse are up to NINE times more likely to resort to substance abuse. These women could be our mothers, our sisters, our best friends. And we allow our media to twist the story to make them to blame?! How can we sleep at night?!
I suspect there'll be people reading this, feeling terribly clever because they're about to stick their hand up like the snotty kid in class and yell "ooh, but she first took cocaine when she was married to John Diamond and he wasn't abusing her!"
Well, no. He wasn't. He was dying. He was experiencing physical and emotional pain and he took cocaine to relieve some of that. Nigella, who at a young age, was about to become not only a widow, but a single mother to their young children, joined in. I don't use drugs - never been so much as been tempted - but I cannot and will not judge someone who has admitted that she simply felt as though she needed an escape from her situation. And knowing that Nigella used cocaine again in order to provide her with a brief escape from an abusive marriage, I can fully empathise.
Let's get personal, shall we? Regular readers of this blog will know that I experienced a 20-month abusive relationship. I've had counselling and support from a women's abuse charity and I've put myself back together, after my ex took such great pleasure in breaking me apart. But in those first, miserable weeks and months after I found the strength to walk away, I could barely function. I couldn't stop thinking about what had happened and I didn't know how to handle it. All I wanted was to make the pain go away.
I was not an alcoholic, but I began to rely on having a large glass of wine every night, to "take the edge off." Without it, my experience was too sharply focused. After a glass of wine, the focus was softened and I could deal with it. It wasn't healthy. But it was the only way I could cope, before I was finally assigned a support-worker from a women's abuse charity and I began walking the road to recovery. So am I going to judge Nigella for needing something - anything - to distract her from the nightmare she found herself in? No.
In spite of her fame and fortune, Nigella is just like any person who has experienced abuse. What she needs now is our support and to be given the time and space to piece herself back together again. It's not a quick fix and it sure as Hell isn't easy. And you know what? It's made a whole lot harder by having the press act as though her drug-use is an excuse for Saatchi's actions. She has been a victim at the hands of someone she loved and trusted. Let's not allow the press to persecute her and make her feel like a victim all over again.
I hope that Nigella is given the privacy and support she needs at this horribly difficult time. There's no excuse for abuse. Ever.