When a wealthy women experiences domestic violence

Elizabeth Taylor, Rihanna and Nigella Lawson.

Elizabeth Taylor, Rihanna, Ulrika Jonsson, Nigella Lawson — these women may be quite different, but they share one thing in common. All have experienced abusive relationships, and as successful public figures have had this detail of their private lives exposed to the media.  

According to Women’s Aid, one in four women in the UK will experience violence in their lifetime. We know the rich aren’t immune and yet women like Nigella Lawson don’t fit into our quite narrow stereotype of the "victim" of domestic violence. I’ve spent the past few weeks speaking to confident, high-flying, professional women, including an investment banker and a lawyer, who have experienced abuse at home, to try and develop a broader picture of domestic violence in the UK.

One important discovery was the extent to which wealthy, successful women (and men) experiencing domestic violence at home are treated differently by support services. This can sometimes be advantageous — the police may be more sympathetic to a woman they’re less likely to see as a troublemaker, and wealthy families have ready access to expensive private clinics offering anger management courses, counselling and medical assistance. 

Yet at other times popular stereotyping can put abuse survivors at risk: private schools are sometimes reluctant to report suspected cases of violence or negligence to social services for fear of reputational damage, while policemen sometimes labour under the misguided belief that wealthy women can "just leave" if they want to. 

The myth that wealthy abused wives have the means to walk out the door if they want too is very attractive, but it is a myth. Ostensibly wealthy women in abusive relationships are often robbed of their financial independence, and the decision to leave an abusive relationship is rarely based on finances alone. 

It’s also a dangerous myth — because it makes it harder for confident, professional, high-flying abuse survivors to speak out. And if we’re serious about reducing the UK’s alarming rates of domestic violence we need to understand that it’s something that can take place in any home, in any postcode, in any part of the country and in many different forms.

This article first appeared on Spear's.

Rhianna and Chris Brown. Photograph: Getty Images

Sophie McBain is a freelance writer based in Cairo. She was previously an assistant editor at the New Statesman.

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The problems with ending encryption to fight terrorism

Forcing tech firms to create a "backdoor" to access messages would be a gift to cyber-hackers.

The UK has endured its worst terrorist atrocity since 7 July 2005 and the threat level has been raised to "critical" for the first time in a decade. Though election campaigning has been suspended, the debate over potential new powers has already begun.

Today's Sun reports that the Conservatives will seek to force technology companies to hand over encrypted messages to the police and security services. The new Technical Capability Notices were proposed by Amber Rudd following the Westminster terrorist attack and a month-long consultation closed last week. A Tory minister told the Sun: "We will do this as soon as we can after the election, as long as we get back in. The level of threat clearly proves there is no more time to waste now. The social media companies have been laughing in our faces for too long."

Put that way, the plan sounds reasonable (orders would be approved by the home secretary and a senior judge). But there are irrefutable problems. Encryption means tech firms such as WhatsApp and Apple can't simply "hand over" suspect messages - they can't access them at all. The technology is designed precisely so that conversations are genuinely private (unless a suspect's device is obtained or hacked into). Were companies to create an encryption "backdoor", as the government proposes, they would also create new opportunities for criminals and cyberhackers (as in the case of the recent NHS attack).

Ian Levy, the technical director of the National Cyber Security, told the New Statesman's Will Dunn earlier this year: "Nobody in this organisation or our parent organisation will ever ask for a 'back door' in a large-scale encryption system, because it's dumb."

But there is a more profound problem: once created, a technology cannot be uninvented. Should large tech firms end encryption, terrorists will merely turn to other, lesser-known platforms. The only means of barring UK citizens from using the service would be a Chinese-style "great firewall", cutting Britain off from the rest of the internet. In 2015, before entering the cabinet, Brexit Secretary David Davis warned of ending encryption: "Such a move would have had devastating consequences for all financial transactions and online commerce, not to mention the security of all personal data. Its consequences for the City do not bear thinking about."

Labour's manifesto pledged to "provide our security agencies with the resources and the powers they need to protect our country and keep us all safe." But added: "We will also ensure that such powers do not weaken our individual rights or civil liberties". The Liberal Democrats have vowed to "oppose Conservative attempts to undermine encryption."

But with a large Conservative majority inevitable, according to polls, ministers will be confident of winning parliamentary support for the plan. Only a rebellion led by Davis-esque liberals is likely to stop them.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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