Sir Patrick Stewart has opened up about his own experiences of violent domestic abuse in a powerful new interview.
Domestic violence is a serious problem in the UK. In England and Wales alone, an estimated 1.9 million adults – including 1.2 million women – were abused by a partner in the year ending March 2017. Women make up 70% of domestic homicide victims, and two women are killed each week by a current or former partner. And there’s a growing awareness around the signs of coercive control, too, with the likes of Fearne Cotton and Reese Witherspoon speaking publicly about their emotionally-abusive partners.
Yet, with so many long-lasting misconceptions around the realities of manipulative, controlling relationships (underlined by the thoughtless “why didn’t she just leave him?” question), many victims feel ashamed of their experiences.
As a result, it is believed that the estimated number of victims is much higher than the number of incidents and crimes recorded to police.
It is a subject which Sir Patrick Stewart touched upon during his recent Loose Women appearance, opening up about his father’s violent behaviour towards his mother.
“My brother and I lived with my mother and her sister across the road,” he recalled, “and we were treated so well.”
When his father came back from the war, though, things changed dramatically.
“Suddenly there was this big, hairy man in the house,” said Stewart. “Increasingly things became more and more difficult.”
Acknowledging his father was battling his own demons at the time, the Star Trek actor said: “What I only learned about a few years ago was that he had suffered what the newspapers described as severe shell shock – what we now call PTSD.
“Of course he was never treated for it… he was a weekend alcoholic and it was partly brought about because of his transformation from Regimental Sergeant Major to basically a semi-skilled labourer with no authority at all.
“Monday through Friday he was dedicated to his work, he brought in a modest income. On Friday nights he would bath in front of the fire, he would get himself dressed up and he would drink for most of the weekend.
“He would come home from the pub or the working men’s club. We would hear him singing. He loved to sing. The kind of songs he was singing would give us an advance warning of the mood he was in.
“Very often it was bad. He would initiate arguments and then those arguments advanced into something more extreme – violence.”
Stewart went on to explain how the abuse took its toll on him and his brother, leaving them terrified whenever their father came through the door.
“We became experts in something children should never, ever have to deal with, which was listening to the argument and judging when the argument would transform into violence.
“At those moments we would go in, we would just try and put our bodies between our mother and our father.”
Admitting that they were affected by the stigma around domestic abuse, Stewart added: “[We didn’t seek help] at that time no. One of the problems of domestic violence is that shame attached to it – for everybody, for the victim and the abuser and the children, too.
“He never abused his children. It was all directed at my poor mum. If we could have done, yes [we would have taken the blows]. Standing between them would stop it, he [his father] would stand back.”
Stewart had been invited on to the show to discuss a forthcoming domestic violence bill, which is expected to introduce much tougher domestic violence legislation in the UK.
Prime Minister Theresa May has said that she wants it to “deliver more convictions” for domestic violence, and last year’s Queen’s speech outlined some of its aims, including defining domestic abuse in law and allowing courts to impose harsher sentences on people whose abuse affects children.
However, critics say the bill fails to address the impact of funding cuts to domestic violence services (more than 75% of local authorities in England have had to slash spending on domestic violence refuges as a result of government cuts since 2010) and risks criminalising survivors.
In a statement after the BAFTAs, Sisters Uncut described it as “a dangerous distraction from the austerity cuts that have decimated the domestic violence sector since 2010”. The group also noted that similar policies to the domestic violence bill have led to an increase in the number of survivors being arrested in the US, particularly black and minority ethnic and poorer survivors.
Addressing these complaints, Stewart – who is a patron of Refuge – said: “At last and there are many good things in this bill. However, the concern of all groups, like the one I’m attached to, Refuge, is the way they’re going to be financing this is problematic.
“They’re disbanding the welfare programme, which meant that victims of domestic violence could use housing aid to pay for their time inside a hostel, inside a safe house.
“That’s how it would be used. That’s no longer going to be available. So financing all the details of this bill, particularly how to make women and children safe.”
Encouraging those who need help to speak out, he added: “Unlike my time, there is aid available now. There are 24-hour helplines. Women’s Aid has a helpline. Call the helpline, you need not be alone.”
It can be difficult for many people trapped in toxic and abusive relationships to spot the warning signs.
These can include (but are not limited to) the following:
- Your partner constantly criticises, humiliates or belittles you
- Your partner checks up on you or follows you
- Your partner tries to keep you from seeing your friends or family
- Your partner has prevented you or made it hard for you to continue studying or going to work
- Your partner unjustly accuses you of flirting or having affairs with others
- Your partner has forced you to do something that you really did not want to do
- Your partner has deliberately destroyed any of your possessions
- You have changed your behaviour because you are afraid of what your partner might do or say to you
- Your partner controls your finances
- Your partner talks down to you
- Your partner has strong opinions on what you should wear and your appearance
- Your partner has tried to prevent you from leaving your house
- Your partner has forced you or harassed you into performing a sexual act
- Your partner has threatened to reveal or publish private information
- Your partner threatens to hurt him or herself if you leave them
- Your partner witholds medication from you
- Your partner makes you feel guilty all the time
- Your partner blames you for their bad moods and outbursts
- You are afraid of your partner
If you are experiencing domestic abuse yourself, you may find this article helpful: ‘A lawyer explains how to safely escape an abusive relationship’. Otherwise, you can find advice and support at Women’s Aid, Refuge and the National Centre for Domestic Violence.
For advice on how to support a friend who is experiencing domestic abuse, click here.