The often-discussed issue of domestic abuse reared its ugly head in the tabloids again last week when shocking photos revealed British businessman Charles Saatchi clutching his wife, celebrity chef Nigella Lawson, by the throat at a London restaurant.
Saatchi grabbed Lawson by the neck on four separate occasions, and judging from the photos, he twisted her nose a few times as well. Lawson, looked startled, embarrassed, and understandably upset. Nigella took her two children and left the family's house last week.
Meanwhile, Saatchi, 70, voluntarily went to police last week and received a caution after being interviewed by British law enforcement. In a statement made last week, Saatchi said he approached police on his lawyer's advice to avoid any lengthy investigation.
Saatchi also recently stated that he believes the photos look more dramatic than the "argument" really was, even telling the London Evening Standard the altercation in question "a playful tiff."
"The pictures are horrific, but give a far more drastic and violent impression of what took place," he said. "Nigella's tears were because we both hate arguing, not because she had been hurt."
But Henry Gornbein, a family law attorney practicing in Michigan, sternly disagrees, saying the photos depict textbook domestic violence.
"It's abuse without question," he said. "Grabbing someone around the throat? I don't think that's playful at all. And even if it is, it's still humiliating someone in public."
Furthermore, Gornbein ponders how many more domestic violence episodes there are between Saatchi and Nigella. He believes this wasn't the first instance of abuse in their 10-year marriage.
"To me, that's usually the tip of the iceberg," he said. "If someone's that outrageous in public, then what's going on behind closed doors?"
An Abuse "Epidemic"
Gornbein says domestic abuse has many forms, including physical, mental, financial intimidation, concealing information, controlling someone's access to resources, and manipulation of spouse or children — all of which he has seen in his time of legal practice – all of which are all too common in the world today.
According to a recent World Health Organization (WHO) report, domestic abuse isn't just an English problem — it's a "global epidemic." Although the violence isn't strictly exclusive to women, 85% of victims are indeed female.
In the United States alone, 1.3 million women are victims of physical domestic abuse each and every year. When looking worldwide, the WHO report shows that more than a third of women surveyed claimed they are or were victims of physical or sexual violence at some point in their lives.
But perhaps even most concerning is the fact that 70% of domestic violence cases go unreported. Domestically abused women typically have a tough time empowering themselves to seek the appropriate help, said Houston-area family law attorney Sondra Kaighen.
Even in the cases where the domestic violence was reported, studies show that a woman will be abused by her spouse or partner 35 times, on average, before taking the matter to authorities.
Taking into account that a woman leaves an abusive relationship an average of seven times before parting ways for good, Kaighen says abused women can be manipulated into staying in unhealthy and violent relationships.
"I believe that the women love their abusers, and they believe them when [their abusers say] ‘it's over, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to do it, I'm going to get better.' These women really want to believe their spouse or significant other," she said.
The issues and consequences of domestic abuse don't seem to be diminishing, either. On many occasions, abuses typically don't end after a restraining order is acquired or even an arrest.
According to multiple studies published between 1985 and 1999, court-restrained abusers found re-abuse rates to range from 24 to 60 percent. Another study shows 31 percent of female abuse victims reported additional physical violence within two years of their abuser's arrest.
"It's a problem that's just not going away," Gornbein said. "I wish there were easy answers, but there just aren't."
With domestic abuse so widespread, Gornbein says there are several domestic abuse organizations hoping to end the worldwide epidemic. But first, he says; should someone become a victim of domestic violence, contact authorities first.
"First thing to do is you're a victim of domestic violence is to call 911," he said. "There are also numerous agencies and hotlines throughout the country that are certainly worth reaching out to."
Additionally, Kaighen always recommends her clients to enter some form of counseling in an effort to overcome any pre-existing thinking patterns ingrained in the victim's head.
"If they can start changing those thinking patterns, make them realize they have value, then progress will be made," she said. "But until you do that, you can get them out of there, but they're
going to go back or they're going to fall into the same type of relationship."
Either way, if you're a past or present victim of abuse, the National Domestic Abuse Hotline (1-800-799-7233) is a great way to start.