Turning the tide
by Patrick Stewart
Actor Patrick Stewart talks to Amnesty about his own painful childhood experiences of domestic violence.
I experienced first-hand violence against my mother from an angry and unhappy man who was not able to control his emotions or his hands. Great harm was done by those events - and of course I mean the physical harm, the physical scars that were left, the blood that was spilled, the wounds that were exposed - but there were also other aspects of violence which have a lasting impact physiologically on family members. It is so destructive and tainting.
It's taken me a long time to be able to speak about what happened. Then, two years ago, around the time of the launch of the Amnesty International campaign to Stop Violence Against Women, all that changed. After consultation with my brothers, we all felt that it was time for me to speak out about what had happened in our childhood, and to show people that domestic violence is protected by others peoples' silence.
As a child witnessing these events, one cannot help somehow feeling responsible for the pain and screaming and the misery. It is deeply confusing, and these confusions are not things which are easily disposed of in adult life. They stay with you. A child is given a very bad lesson in male responsibility and self-control, and I know that in my own life I have had issues in relationships with women in the past which are rooted in the experiences that I had as a child in my own home.
Domestic violence is a world-wide phenomenon, one which in some countries is much more severe and destructive then anything I experienced. This is the reason why Amnesty International's campaign to bring people's attention to the issue is so important, because it is here among us and it is continuing in the world at large. As far as the authorities are concerned there have been great advances - and there needed to be, because as a child I heard police officers in my own home saying 'well, she must have provoked him', and doctors saying 'well, Mrs Stewart, it takes two to make a fight'. Well, they had no idea.
Today we are more sensitive than that, but we are still not sensitive enough. Still these things are hushed up, still the violence is allowed to continue, still violence against women is normalised and glamourised by its constant depiction in films - and in particular, Hollywood films. I myself have been involved in sequences, both in the theatre and in film, which, with hindsight, I realised were offensive because they were perpetuating a stereotype. It's so irresponsible to perpetuate the violent attitudes of men to women.
One way this deeply troubling element in modern life can be opposed is through government intervention. Here in the UK, 50 per cent of women claim they have been the victims of violence, sexual abuse or stalking. That's why I would like to see these issues being taken as seriously by the government as - quite properly - they take the issues of drunk driving, or violence against children, or the anti-smoking lobby. Violence against women diminishes us all. If you fail to raise your hand in protest, then you make yourself part of the problem.
Amnesty Magazine, May/June 2006