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Run, Nigella, run.

Sunday People cover.
The Sunday People cover that showed Nigella being assaulted.

By MIA FREEDMAN

‘But how could this happen to her?’ Did you find yourself thinking that when you heard that Nigella Lawson had been physically attacked by her husband in public? I did.

She’s fiercely intelligent, wildly successful, supremely confident and independently wealthy. How could a woman like THAT fall victim to abuse? And please. Let’s not call it alleged.

He grabbed her repeatedly around the throat and choked her, firstly with one hand, then with both. He pulled at her nose. She tried to calm him down and ended up fleeing the restaurant in tears. It was all captured by someone with a camera. Thank God.

Because any man who assaults his wife in public… well, imagine what he must do in private.

Allegedly. Whatever.

But that thought –  the shock that a woman like Nigella would never find herself in an abusive relationship – was fleeting. You see, I know what it’s like when the image you present to the world is in stark contrast to the life you’re leading at home.

Nigella Lawson
Nigella is intelligent, confident and independently wealthy.
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I spent more than two years in an abusive relationship in my early twenties. My boyfriend never assaulted me but his abuse encompassed everything but physical violence.

On paper, it made no sense. While I was hardly Nigella, I had a great job, amazing girlfriends, a close, supportive family and financial independence. Comparatively, he had nothing. A patchy job. An expired lease. Broke.

Nigella’s husband is the opposite of my ex. Charles Saatchi is rich, powerful and successful. No matter. Abusive men come in a variety of packages and exist in a variety of circumstances.

What women who stay with these men have in common is this: we find ourselves complicit in protecting these men. We help to hide their behaviour from public view.

We keep their secrets from those who love us, from those who would rightly tell us to get out, get away. We make excuses. We smooth over cracks. We tell ourselves it will get better; that it won’t happen again. We accept their apologies and we hope like hell they’ll change.

They don’t.

Unless you’ve lived it, it’s so very hard to understand how easy it is to become trapped in an abusive relationship. Intelligence or money,  confidence or even fame can’t protect you.

Lawson and Saatchi.
Lawson and Saatchi.
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To escape, you need a circuit breaker. Something to jolt the pattern of abuse. For me, it was my boyfriend going overseas for a working holiday. The physical space allowed me to breathe, to think, to regain my bearings and my strength.

Gradually, I told those closest to me the truth. It was like an insurance policy. I knew it would be so much harder to go back once I was fortified by my friends and my family. And it worked.

Nigella didn’t choose to out her abuser in this way. She had no way of knowing he’d allow his violence to explode so publicly in front of witnesses and cameras. But now that it has happened, I hope to God it’s her turning point.

And that she seizes the moment to gather her children and run towards a new life free from abuse. Because no woman – or man – should live in the shadows of an abuser and the path to escape starts with a single step.

UPDATE: Nigella Lawson‘s husband has dismissed allegations that he assaulted his wife in public, saying they just had a “playful tiff”. Earlier this week, UK tabloid Sunday People published images that appeared to show celebrity chef Nigella Lawson being assaulted by her husband during a public fight at a restaurant.

Charles Saatchi told London’s Evening Standard newspaper: “There was no grip, it was a playful tiff. The pictures are horrific but give a far more drastic and violent impression of what took place. Nigella’s tears were because we both hate arguing, not because she had been hurt. We had made up by the time we were home. The paparazzi were congregated outside our house after the story broke yesterday morning, so I told Nigella to take the kids off till the dust settled.”

Yesterday, Lawson was photographed leaving her London home with suitcases.

 If you need help or just somebody to talk to, you can contact 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) or go to their website. They are the national sexual assault and domestic family violence counselling service.

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