Patrick Stewart On Domestic Violence

(ht2 Earwicga & Feministing)

Amnesty International Stop Violence Against Women

Many of the same points are reiterated in the Guardian article by Stewart (see below) but the video is worth it for the humanity it communicates. The video is also interesting in what it reveals of class and the military, also the term ‘weekend alcoholic’ rang some bells with regard to people I have known. And also although at first he refers to ‘losing control’ he later makes clear that violence is a choice and in his story shows how that choice was condoned by much of the community and the police, I would also make the wider connection that it was sanctioned through the war and military culture. So (although we had to defend against the Nazis) after conflict we should acknowledge that violence will come home and without an unlearning process and dealing with PTSD and class issues it is women in their homes who will become part of the next wave of casualties. And yet we surge on.

Patrick Stewart: the legacy of domestic violence. My father was, in many ways, a man of discipline, organisation and charisma – a regimental sergeant major no less. One of the very last men to be evacuated from Dunkirk, his third stripe was chalked on to his uniform by an officer when no more senior NCOs were left alive. Parachuted into Crete and Italy, both times under fire, he fought at Monte Casino and was twice mentioned in dispatches. A fellow soldier once told me, “When your father marches on to the parade ground, the birds in the trees stop singing.”

In civilian life it was a different story. He was an angry, unhappy and frustrated man who was not able to control his emotions or his hands. As a child I witnessed his repeated violence against my mother, and the terror and misery he caused was such that, if I felt I could have succeeded, I would have killed him. If my mother had attempted it, I would have held him down. For those who struggle to comprehend these feelings in a child, imagine living in an environment of emotional unpredictability, danger and humiliation week after week, year after year, from the age of seven. My childish instinct was to protect my mother, but the man hurting her was my father, whom I respected, admired and feared.

From Monday morning to Friday tea time he worked as a semi-skilled labourer, and was diligent and sober. Often funny and charming, he was always rich in the personal stories of warfare and adventure that thrilled me. But come Friday night, after the pubs closed, we awaited his return with trepidation. I would be in bed but not asleep. I could never sleep until he did; while he was awake we were all at risk. Instead, I would listen for his voice, singing, as he walked home. Certain songs were reassuring: I’ll Take You Home Again, Kathleen; I’ll Walk Beside You . . . But army songs were not a good sign. And worst of all was silence. When I could only hear footsteps it was the signal to be super-alert.

Our house was small, and when you grow up with domestic violence in a confined space you learn to gauge, very precisely, the temperature of situations. I knew exactly when the shouting was done and a hand was about to be raised – I also knew exactly when to insert a small body between the fist and her face, a skill no child should ever have to learn. Curiously, I never felt fear for myself and he never struck me, an odd moral imposition that would not allow him to strike a child. The situation was barely tolerable: I witnessed terrible things, which I knew were wrong, but there was nowhere to go for help. Worse, there were those who condoned the abuse. I heard police or ambulancemen, standing in our house, say, “She must have provoked him,” or, “Mrs Stewart, it takes two to make a fight.” They had no idea. The truth is my mother did nothing to deserve the violence she endured. She did not provoke my father, and even if she had, violence is an unacceptable way of dealing with conflict. Violence is a choice a man makes and he alone is responsible for it.

No one came to help. No adult stepped in and took charge. I needed someone else to take over and tell me everything was going to be all right and that it wasn’t my fault. I wanted the anger to go away and, while it stayed, I felt responsible. The sense of guilt and loneliness provoked by domestic violence is tainting – and lasting. No one came, but everyone knew. Our small houses were close together. Every Monday morning I walked to school with my head down, praying that I would not encounter a neighbour or school friend who had heard the weekend’s rows. I felt ashamed.

Very occasionally one person would come to our aid – Mrs Dixon, our next-door neighbour, the only person who would stand up to my father. She would throw open the door and stand before him, bosom bursting and her mighty weaver’s forearm raised in his face. “Come on, Alf Stewart,” she would say, “have a go at me.” He never did. He calmed down and went to bed. Now I wish I could take Lizzie Dixon’s big hand in mine and thank her.

Such experiences are destructive. In my adult life I have struggled to overcome the bad lessons of my father’s behaviour, this corrosive example of male irresponsibility. But the most oppressive aspect of these experiences was the loneliness. Very recently, during a falling-out with my girlfriend, I felt again as though I were shut out and alone, not heard or understood. I was neither, but it was such a familiar isolation that it was almost a comfort and consolation.

I managed to find my own refuge in acting. The stage was a far safer place for me than anything I had to live through at home – it offered escape. I could be someone else, in another place, in another time. However, whenever the role called for anger, fury, or the expression of murderous impulses, I was always afraid of what I might unleash if I surrendered myself to those feelings. It was not until 1981, when the director Ronald Eyre asked me to play the psychotic Leontes in The Winter’s Tale, that the breakthrough came.

He quietly told me that the play would only work if I gave myself over, completely and totally, to the delusions, madness and murderousness of this man. “If you do that,” Ron said, “I will be at your side. I will be available to you 24 hours a day.” From that time forward I was never again afraid of my feelings on stage.

The truth is that domestic violence touches many of us. It is very possible that someone you know – a friend, sister, daughter or colleague – is experiencing abuse. One in four women will experience domestic violence at some point in her lifetime. And every week two women are killed by a current or former partner in England and Wales, and 10 women take their own lives as the only way they know how to escape a violent partner. You are almost certainly paying for it. Domestic violence costs around £26bn a year in medical, legal and housing costs.

This violence is not a private matter. Behind closed doors it is shielded and hidden and it only intensifies. It is protected by silence – everyone’s silence. Which is why, in 2007, I became patron of Refuge, the national domestic violence charity. Every day the organisation supports more than 1,000 women and children through its national network of refuges and services. At Refuge, women and children are given psychological support to help them overcome the trauma of abuse. A team of independent legal advocates are on hand to protect women at high risk of violence through the legal process.

Thanks to Refuge’s tireless campaigning, attitudes have changed. Police tactics have improved and most men are no longer able to get away with beating women. Yet the statistics still make for grim reading. More than two thirds of the residents in Refuge’s network of refuges are children. I cannot express how sad – and angry – it makes me to think that we still cannot ensure the safety of women and children in their own homes.

Most people find the idea of violence against women – and sometimes, though rarely, against men – abhorrent, but do nothing to challenge it. More women and children, just like my mother and me, will continue to experience domestic violence unless we all speak out against it. You can do this by supporting Refuge’s latest campaign, Four Ways To Speak Out.


29 Responses to “Patrick Stewart On Domestic Violence”

  1. earwicga Says:

    Weekend alcoholic refers to Friday payday. Simples.

  2. earwicga Says:

    It’s not just women who ‘become part of the next wave of casualties’ – it is every member of the family.

    And yes, it is easy to understand a connection between millitary service and domestic violence, but it is it is a very small part of the whole. The major reason is an abuser believes s/he is entitled to behave in an abusive way and society explictly allows violence against women thus reinforcing the entitlement.

  3. RickB Says:

    Yes, that is true, a sin of omission on my behalf.

    And again yes that is true but I would say the entitlement of males to violence finds it apex in the military, and war is a national exultation of violence so as it relates to his story and our ongoing wars it is of interest.

  4. earwicga Says:

    Is domestic violence actually related to social class? I had thought it was universal to all women irrespective of income but a quick google search shows mixed results.

  5. RickB Says:

    I think the class angle is that lack of control of work and poverty will create frustration and need for control at home and the lower your job rank less control, in contrast with more money people have more options, I don’t think it’s because of class, but class creates the conditions that exacerbate it. If anything upper class abuse is even more hidden but it is protected by social conventions and power.

    • earwicga Says:

      I understand about work and personal autonomy, and it’s link to violent behaviour. But that is only one factor in domestic violence. I shall have to have a look at the reported numbers later.

  6. jim Says:

    Men or women who abuse either sexes should be put in stocks and have rotten vegetables thrown at them and then paraded through the streets, then incarcerated for whatever appropriate time. Of course, the rough option will not continue because `outreach workers,`awareness officers,` and the like, have a vested interest in keeping it all going. Money to be made in mouth wind.

    • earwicga Says:

      As usual Jim, I find your comment to be moronic. If you have no understanding of the issues being discussed but feel a need to comment I kindly suggest you fuck off to CIF where you will feel right at home.

      • RickB Says:

        Whoa there, CiF have got enough commenters already. If we can all debate together we can all learn things.

        • earwicga Says:

          Learn things like “`outreach workers,`awareness officers,` and the like, have a vested interest in keeping it [domestic violence] all going”? Ha de ha ha!!!!!!!!!!

      • jim Says:

        A wish to curtail my freedom of speech again. It seems to be a common trait. Please bear in mind that I have never hurt anyone. I drink, but do not beat my wife, verbally or physically. Brown has created a million town hall jobs. Are they all doing something productive, I seriously think not. All power grabbers build up numbers in the civil service. You need trusted followers. Invective and bad language seems to flow from you as certainly as night follows day. And its not lack of vocabulary.

  7. RickB Says:

    Hang on ran out of reply space-
    ‘Bit of a red herring really in the debate, as it is in rape discussions.’

    ACPO did their idiotic don’t drink thing victim blaming nonsense, I was not referring to booze on the victim’s part in DV, that is irrelevant I’m sorry if you inferred that.
    I’m not saying booze removes responsibility from the attacker, as Stewart’s story related the booze and attacks went hand in hand so my take is the boozing was done in order to facilitate attacks, that the perpetrator could excuse to themselves as the acts of a drunk or not even be remembered and society totally colludes in that shit. And that applies to a lot of drunk behaviour, I think most people know the kinds of things they do when drunk from experience, so to keep doing them blows the whole ‘I had no idea, I was drunk’ bit out of the water. If the person keeps hitting a partner when they are drunk, then the getting inebriated is part of the knowing ritual.

    • earwicga Says:

      I didn’t take it as that – in fact victims are almost always sober. But rapists also excuse their behaviour on alcohol.

      Alcohol and violence are two seperate things, not all violence is caused by drinking and not all drinking causes violence. It is wise to seperate these two things out and very little research has been done on this.

      The alcohol myth
      It is commonly assumed that domestic violence is caused by alcohol abuse. This isn’t true. The perpetrator is sober in about half of domestic violence cases where the police are called. Also, not all alcoholics or binge drinkers resort to violence when angered or frustrated.

      It is how the perpetrator sees himself and his rights that lead to the violence. If a man abuses his family and also tends to have difficulty with controlling his alcohol consumption, he needs to recognise that he has two separate problems.

      • RickB Says:

        Ah right, but I didn’t say it was caused by, I said it was another factor. But yes I don’t want to go off on a red herring, the focus is the person doing it and the culture that condones it.
        That info is good.

      • Walker Says:

        Agreed, earwicga. There’s a lady named Marala Scott who put out a memoir of her own history with domestic violence last year, and the remarkable thing about her story is that her father was an incredibly successful businessman at IBM (an achievement made even more remarkable given that he was a black man in the sixties), was never dependent on any substance, and yet still beat his wife and six children mercilessly. Pretty frightening stuff.

        I guess that’s why, now, she’s focusing on something lots of people aren’t: domestic violence prevention.

        The Indicators of an Abuser

        • earwicga Says:

          Walker – Thanks for the link, but I don’t really see anything about prevention there. Prevention should begin with focus on the abusers, not the victims. And also a willingness for everybody to get involved everywhere so their behaviour is not tolerated by anybody.

  8. ralfast Says:

    My grandfather was a police officer and a drunkard too boot. The way he treated my aunts, grandmother and father, well I only heard stories about it, but you can still see the impact today. It least to recursive behavior where the victims seek or accept similar situations. My dad took on one of hi sister’s boyfriends (who later became her husband). I don’t know if it stopped the violence, but certainly did nothing for the drinking.

    I am ashamed to admit, but my former downstairs neighbor was also a violent thug. We heard every word he said to his wife and kids and could see the boys simply melt away.

    Somebody called social services on them and that drove him to sell the apartment and move away. I would call him a coward, but I was no braver than him, as I did nothing to stop it.

    • earwicga Says:

      I’m sorry to hear domestic violence affected your family. Tbh, I think it affects almost all people.

      I did a quick google search to see what the recommended advice is if you hear domestic violence and the main thing seems to be to call the police (UK/US). Obviously wouldn’t have helped your grandmother though would it! Some more advice on this webpage.

      Main thing really is to counter the silence and shame surrounding domestic violence. And obviously change the structures of society – dream on earwicga!!!

      • ralfast Says:

        That is the least one can do. Of course my grandfather was well known in the community, and the fact that he was a police officer shielded him from any real criticism, let alone action. Then again these where the days when if a teacher spanked you in school and your parents found about it, you would get a second spanking the moment you got home (as in whole sale beat down). The law has changed to protect women, but social conservative groups (mostly evangelical churches) oppose the law and want it overturned.

        Push and pull, push and pull……

  9. RickB Says:

    And likewise Rafael I am sorry your family had this happen. I’d also like to thank you for such an open and honest comment that has shared your experience. We can’t change the past but we can change how we let it affect us and how we act in the future, I think that’s all our challenge in many endeavours and its hard work for me and everyone. But reading, thinking and talking about this puts one foot in front of the other on a different path, everyone who does that is courageous.

    • earwicga Says:

      “We can’t change the past but we can change how we let it affect us and how we act in the future”

      That is a little glib if I may say so. I know this post isn’t a treaty on mental ill health and the provision of mental health services, but even so!

  10. otto Says:

    Good post and pretty admirable of Patrick Stewart to stand up in front of people and lay it all bare. The mark of a real man.

  11. RickB Says:

    Yep, great actor, great man.

  12. aclamont Says:

    Earwicga: Marala Scotts efforts are most definitely focused on the prevention of Domestic Violence. The “Indicators of an Abuser” specifically focuses on just that, “abusers.” In order to prevent … you must identify where the problem exists. Why should we separate the abusers from the victims and focus on one over the other? As you stated, if everyone needs to be involved, then everyone should have an understanding of how the problem begins. Just my thoughts …

  13. Marvia Says:

    Violence breeds violence so i believe its best to stop it before it starts.

    An author by the name of Marala Scott went through some horrific experiences with abuse which she depicts in her memoir call In Our House. From her experiences she created a flyer listing the indicators of an abuser. Google “Indicators of and abuse” and it should pop up but this is an awesome tool for prevention.

  14. Debbie Says:

    Earwicga, Marala Scott has done so much more than publish a memoir depicting the domestic violence she endured as a child. She is taking her experiences and sharing them with others. She has created the ‘Indicators of an Abuser’ and is distributing them when she speaks across the country to high school & college students, women’s groups, and at domestic violence shelters. She is using her experience to HEAL (Help Educate & Alter Lives). Now Oprah has saluted Marala Scott as an Ambassador of Hope. Tyrese Gibson, actor and R&B singer, is supporting Marala’s effort to share her message. She’s had men come up to her at speaking engagements & admit they recognized behaviors in themselves in the Indicators of an Abuser. To Patrick Stewart & Marala Scott, keep up the good work!

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