Portrait of Sir Patrick Stewart, actor. Photo by Robert Ascroft



Violence against women and girls is at crisis levels, everywhere. So it’s no surprise that one of the Global Fund’s top priorities is zero violence against women and girls. But we can’t do it alone. We must enlist men to break the silence and make such violence intolerable. One leading voice calling upon men to end violence against women is Sir Patrick Stewart, the distinguished film, television and stage actor most widely known for his role as Captain Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation.

When I was a child I witnessed repeated violence against my mother. My father was a soldier, a superstar, Sergeant Major of his regiment. He was a man of huge discipline, character and charisma. He was brilliant at his job. But at home, behind our closed front doors was another story. At home, my father was an angry and unhappy man who was unable to control his emotions, or his hands.

I was five years old when this began, and I witnessed a lot of harm. Our house was very small. When you live with violence in a confined space, you learn to gauge the temperature of situations very quickly. I became an expert. I knew exactly the moment when the shouting was done and when a hand was about to be raised. I knew exactly when to throw open a door and to insert myself between my father’s fist and my mothers body. That’s a skill no child should ever have to learn.

“Let’s be absolutely clear: violence is a choice a man makes and he is responsible for it. It is not a women’s issue. It is humanity’s issue. It is your issue. It is my issue.”Sir Patrick Stewart

As a child, I recall so vividly hearing police officers in my home saying things like, “She must have provoked him,” or “Well, Mrs. Stewart it takes two to make an argument.” They had no idea. As a child, I didn’t have the words to explain. As an adult, I can tell the truth. The truth is, my mother did nothing to deserve the violence she endured. She did not provoke my father, and even if she had, responding with violence is not an acceptable way of dealing with conflict.

Last year I learned things about my father that I didn’t know. In 1940 due to his experiences in France with the British Expeditionary Force, my father was suffering from what was then called severe shellshock. That’s what I read in his notes at the Imperial War Museum in England. We now know it as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). We also know that there are soldiers all over the world who are returning from combat zones with a serious condition of PTSD. Now we know what it is and how to deal with it. In 1940, it was just shellshock. Basically soldiers were being told, “Pull yourself together, get a grip on yourself, and get out there and be a man.” An expert in this condition who works with a charity called Combat Stress told me, “What your father had in 1940, because he was never treated, never left him. And all the conditions of your childhood that you have described are classic symptoms of veterans who are suffering from this serious psychological and physical illness.”

For my mother, I work for Refuge, a safe house for women and children, and for my father, and I work for Combat Stress.

Let’s be absolutely clear: violence is a choice a man makes and he is responsible for it. It is not a women’s issue. It is humanity’s issue. It is your issue. It is my issue. And it is not something that is always hidden away in a bad neighborhood, in a remote town, in a developing county. It is in our homes, our streets and in our places of work and at every level of society. Places where we are supposed to feel safe, and protected. A change in society’s attitude to domestic violence is needed and men have to lead that change.

A few months ago, I joined the Ring the Bell campaign and pledged with one million men to end violence against women. It is in our hands.

*Excerpted from talk at the launch of Global Fund grantee partner Breakthrough’s global campaign – Ring the Bell: One million men, One million promises, March 8th, 2013

Photo by Robert Ascroft

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