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Against Violence: An open letter to everyone.

Purple ribbon for Domestic Violence Awareness.

I have just read about the violence committed against T.V. Food celebrity Nigella Lawson at the hands of her husband, Charles Saatchi.  I am sick, and I’m angry.  These stories seem to be too prevalent in our world; yet no matter how many times media turns its attention to such things, you always know there are countless cases that go unspoken.  If you haven’t heard about this incident, while dining at one of their favorite locations, Lawson and Saatchi began to argue during their meal.  No big deal; Couples argue.  Some argue softly, some loudly.  This, however, was different.  Saatchi, who apparently is known to be hot tempered, did not just reduce Lawson to tears amidst a verbal assault, but several times throughout the course of this argument Saatchi gripped Lawson’s neck as in a choke-hold.   Paparazzi was on hand to catch photo’s of this altercation (you can view the photo’s here. Warning: images may not be suitable for younger audiences).  The images clearly show a husband rendering violence toward his wife.  The look of fear, hurt and shame that comes flooding through Lawson’s eyes convey the entire painful story.

Since this incident, Saatchi has stated that the public outcries over his actions are completely unwarranted.  According to him, the altercation between him and his wife was nothing but a ‘playful tiff.’  I’m sorry.  My wife and I have had playful tiffs.  We have also had serious arguments.  Never once have we reduced our actions to physical displays of violence.  Never once have we gripped the other’s neck in an attempt to choke out their confidence and self-respect.

But even if we, by some twisted sense of logic, take Saatchi at his word, does this really change the situation?  Does it make it any better?  For even within a playful tiff, violence is never the answer.  Violent acts are never the manner in which we interact with another, never mind ones we love and care about.  Violence and Love simply do not mix.  To have any sense of the inherent and God-given dignity of another, as a lover, a friend, or as one made in the image of God, one must conclude that violence toward another is a complete denial of that belief.  It is never ok to put your aggressive hands upon a woman, a man, or a child.  Domestic violence is despicable, shameful, and vile in the utmost degree, and it needs to stop.

I could easily go on. But as I read the report of the incident another element began to concern me.  This event was caught on camera by paparazzi.  People were on hand to catch the violence take place.  Frames were snapped as Saatchi’s hands approached Lawson’s throat and began to squeeze.  Furthermore, when Lawson left the restaurant afterwards, cameras were poised to catch her tears.

But did you who took the pictures ever consider putting down your bloody camera in order to intervene?  Did you consider asking if Lawson was ok, or if she needed help, instead of profiting from images captured at her most vulnerable? Did you ever think that such an act of violence should not be recorded, but stopped? Jesus said ‘A greater love has no one then this, that they lay down their life for their friends.’ (John 15:13)  What would you be willing to lay down in order to help and protect one being shamed and brutalized?  Would you lay down the possibility of exclusive photos and paparazzi glory?  Would you be willing to lay aside earthly gain for the sake of acting according to a higher standard?

The act of sitting by as domestic violence takes place is frankly almost as shameful as doing the violence ourselves.  Sure, we may inwardly be disgusted and horrified.  We may even silently speak a prayer.  But unless we stand up against the perpetration of violence in our world, all we do is give the violence space to breathe.  This goes for the paparazzi who took the pictures, to the other diners and restaurant staff just a few feet away, and to us who read about this report and grumble in disgust.

Violence is a problem in our world and as citizens of this globe it is up to all of us to work towards its eradication.  We can’t ignore it.  We can’t turn our heads at the horror and wish it will go away.  Nor can we presume that violence, as long as it doesn’t touch our own doorsteps or cross our line of vision, is someone else’s problem.

When a child beats up another in the playground, it is not just a childhood problem.  When a husband or wife abuses their spouse, it is not the spouse’s fault, nor is it their problem to solve.  When parents hurt their children, it is not just a family issue.  Domestic violence is not someone else’s problem; it’s ours! Let’s get our heads out of the sand and begin to combat that which is tearing so many people apart.   Violence is a human problem and a communal evil which we must all work against.  Whether we have or have not suffered violence ourselves, domestic violence is something that we all need to respond to.

Cain famously asked God “Am I my brother’s keeper?’  While the biblical witness does not record God’s answer to that particular question, I like to think that God would have responded ‘Darn right you are!”   I pray that we all have the boldness to live in such a way, and take up our communal stance against this evil.

Kyle Norman

About Kyle Norman

I am a Priest in the Diocese of Calgary, serving the wonderful people of Holy Cross, Calgary. I watch reality television, I drink Starbucks coffee, and I read celebrity gossip columns. I am also a magician and often use magic tricks to teach the children at church the lessons of the Bible. I believe that God is present in the intricacy of our lives, and thus I believe that Pop Culture can provide intriguing lessons, examples, and challenges for our lives of faith.

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6 Responses to Against Violence: An open letter to everyone.

  1. Thanks for talking about this, Kyle. I was shocked and completely disgusted when I saw those photos and thought, as you did, “Is getting a few dollars for that photo really worth your soul? Why won’t you help her?”
    It did remind me of a time when I stood by and watched violence – I saw a girl get mugged by four or five other girls and did nothing to stop it because I was afraid. My fear was not allayed when a bus driver walked over to stop it and was set upon by these same girls. They didn’t do much damage, but it was still scary to see them turn so easily on him – he was twice their size! I wish I had gone over and stopped things anyway, but I didn’t. I even saw other people walk by – including the friends of the girl herself – and heard them say, “I’m not going to get involved.”
    Although I didn’t stop them, I did walk over and help the girl to the police station, where I gave a statement on what I had seen. I just wish I had done more. In the meantime, I promised myself that I would never stand by again while witnessing violence. It’s far too easy to say, “It’s not my problem,” but as you say, it’s everyone’s problem, and as some other wise bird said, “You can’t just say, ‘That only happens to someone else.’ We’re all “someone else” to someone.”

  2. Yes, yes, yes. Violence, and especially domestic violence, is a horrible reality that has no place in society. And Kyle, I share in your emotional response. Thanks for being one of those willing to stand up against the use violence as a tool for control and self-validation. More men need to do this.

    However, your responses raise another question for me, and it’s one I don’t think there is an easy answer for: if the witness who “stood by” hadn’t captured these images and exposed the abuse to the world, how likely would it be that the situation would be changed, long term? It’s an imperfect solution, I know, but it’s the sort of question I remember asking during a stint as a news photographer: “how can anyone just stand by, capturing images of car crashes, burning buildings, war, famine, sorrow, etc…” The answer given to me then, which I’m still trying to wrap my mind around, was this: “how else will the world know? Who else will expose these events to society, so all of us can make the changes one person cannot?”

    And that being said, the sad truth remains: in the courts, this kind of evidence could draw the line between domestic dispute and assault. Was this standard paparazzi fare? Was this about making a few dollars? I don’t know… but before we pass judgement, I think we need to acknowledge that someone with a camera *did something*, and possibly at great personal and professional risk. They didn’t just stand by and let it happen. They exposed a violent and abusive man to the light of day.

  3. Kyle Norman

    Clarity, thanks for being willing to share your own story regarding this. I hope and pray that the event hasn’t produced shame in you, but a courage and willingness to step forward god forbid you witness an event like that in the future. And thanks for the quote, it sums everything up quite nicely. I hadn’t heard that before, but will definitely use it in the future.

    Jesse, yes I struggled with that to. On one hand I completely understand the point, that it is the photo’s of this that has brought this to light, and to my own attention. Rightly or wrongly, Paparazzi have a job to do, and part of that is recording and exposing behavior. Yet part of me is uncomfortable with people snapping pictures and not intervening. Isn’t one of the greatest stories of journalism known as ‘The Girl in the picture”. Yes a photo was taken, but the photographer put down the camera and ran to the girl to help her.

    I think the issue regarding this, like so many other things, is not a definitive ‘This is the right action’. I think the solution is found in the struggle between two equally murky decisions. However, I do think the challenge is to be lobbed that maybe ‘doing something’ entails more than the standard things we do. (if that makes sense)

    • Agreed. I wonder if this particular photographer stepped in after the shot? I guess we’ll never know. In any case, that photographer did something.

      As for me, I looked at the picture. That makes me a witness, and a witness who, until now, has done nothing.

  4. Kyle Norman

    Yea. I’m in the same boat. Most of the post is probably more directed at myself than anyone else. I have long rested on the fact that domestic violence has never been a part of my history, so I have never given it a lot of thought.

    Seeing the photo’s and wrestling with the notion of people witnessing the event but not really doing anything has made me see that I can no longer view domestic violence as I did before. As I wrote, it’s not someone else’s problem. It’s all of ours.

  5. Men reading this: there are a number of organizations that provide information and resources on these issues, as well as local groups across the country. These sites are a good place to start:

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