Sir Patrick Stewart isn’t awesome only because he has been Captain Picard, Professor Xavier and a knight, but also because he has worked passionately against domestic violence.
For Sir Pat, this is a very personal issue, because as a child he witnessed his father physically abuse his mother. By working with different organizations, speaking publicly about domestic violence and going viral with his powerful message, he’s shown that this is an issue that concerns everyone. As part of Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, I spoke with Sir Pat about his work against domestic violence, organizations he loves and how to be in a healthy relationship.
MTV ACT: In an Amnesty International video, you said, “Still these things are hushed up, still people don’t talk about them” about domestic abuse. How can we change this so it’s no longer a secret?
PATRICK STEWART: The shame of domestic abuse and violence has to be removed. It is only the shame that prevents people from sharing their experience or seeking help. I know that from my own experience. After there had been a fight in my house, I knew the next morning when I left to walk to school, neighbors and even some of my school friends would have been aware of what had been going on. I was 8, 9, 10 years old and horribly embarrassed by that. And so I said nothing. If anybody referred to it, I would pretend I didn’t know what they were talking about.
It’s the same, I believe, in all walks of life. The idea that a husband is beating up his wife or partner is an unmentionable act. Of course, the perpetrator says nothing because a certain amount of shame goes with the act of being a perpetrator. But the victim is the one most reluctant to talk about it because it implies so many things: the failure of a relationship, the inability of the victim to be able to handle the situation, the fact that society portrays marriage and relationships as being the “ideal.” Always, for me, it has to be understood that domestic violence is not an issue found only in the “bad areas” of the city or in the back streets or in third world countries. It’s also in the gated communities and done by public figures in business and the arts.
I’m currently appearing in two plays on Broadway, and we attract a very big and very wide audience. And every night there are between 40 and 80 people, 100 people maybe, waiting at the stage door to see Ian McKellen, Billy Crudup, Shuler Hensley and myself. And not a week goes by but that someone in the crowd says very quietly [whispers], “Thank you for the work you do with domestic violence.” And I try to find that person. They are always women, and mostly, though not always, they are young women, and some of them are teenagers. When I see the faces, I find I can pretty quickly tell whether they are speaking to me because of what they are presently experiencing or a friend is experiencing or what they knew as a child with the violence between their parents. I always try to find a moment to have with these women.
It happens every single week, and sometimes several times. You might also describe that as being something of epidemic proportions.
ACT: What words of advice and hope do you have for someone who is a survivor of domestic violence or someone who still needs to get out of an abusive relationship?
STEWART: Well, the one thing I always tell them is that help is at hand. There are organizations and bodies very experienced in what they are experiencing who are sympathetic and ready to talk and who will provide you with confidentiality, and, if it’s necessary, security. The organization of which I’m a patron in London, Refuge, has safe houses all over the country. A lot of domestic violence works on the impact of intimidation and threat: “If you do anything about this … If you tell anybody, you’ll be sorry for it. I’ll punish you.”
You must understand, I’m not a professional, but being an actor, part of the job is quickly trying to connect with a person’s experience and emotion. If I feel there is any sort of urgency about this woman’s comment, then I will tell her, “Help is immediately at hand at the other end of a telephone.”
ACT: You’ve worked with a lot of campaigns and organizations to fight violence against women. What are some of your favorite campaigns and orgs that readers can get involved with?
STEWART: My work in this area is with the organization Refuge, which is a U.K.-based organization, but we are presently beginning to look at ways of expanding the ways of influence of our campaign. We are incorporating into activities like female transportation, slavery, female genital mutilation — any violent offenses against women and girls.
I’m also a patron of an organization in the U.K. called Unique Voice. What’s different and marvelous about this organization is that they’re a theater company and they specialize in taking performances into schools. I’ve sat in a school auditorium and watched them work with teenagers. They present, as drama, all kinds of situations boys and girls can find themselves in, which are potentially dangerous or restricting to them. They act out these scenes very vividly and powerfully, and then discuss what has been shown with the students in the audience. And that is a way of giving them tools to recognize bad situations when they arise and also tools that can effectively remove them from that situation, such as a situation of a boyfriend you’ve had for six months who is gradually shutting down your life. That’s one of the things that happens, where an over-controlling aspect of one person is a form of violence.
ACT: Domestic violence is an issue that affects everyone, yet it’s often seen as a women’s issue. Why do you think that is, and what can be done to change that to a humanity issue?
STEWART: Whenever we talk about domestic violence or the pressures put on teenage girls by boyfriends or partners and even, sadly, parents, we are always ready to give advice and counsel women on how to respond and what options are available to them. But the fact is the solution to these problems lies not in the hands of the women, but in the hands of men. They are the perpetrators. They are the ones who invariably initiate and create a conspiracy with their partners about what is going on. It is in the hands of males to take responsibility for their behavior.
ACT: What advice do you have for teens about how to have a healthy relationship with a partner? What are important things to keep in mind?
STEWART: Trust your instincts about how something feels. Sometimes it’s awkward or embarrassing to say, “No,” or “Thank you very much for your offer, but I don’t need a lift in the car. I don’t need you to carry my bags. I don’t need you to help me to my front door.” But don’t give people the benefit of the doubt. If you’re wrong, well, then, not much harm is done. If you’re right about your feelings, you might save yourself from a horrible situation.
[Editor’s Note: If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, you can get immediate help from Love Is Respect by texting “loveis” to 22522 or calling 1-866-331-9474. Please don’t be afraid to reach out — help is there.]
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