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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