‘Do­mes­tic vi­o­lence is a man’s prob­lem’

Men such as Patrick Stewart, David Challen and the Hart broth­ers know the dev­as­ta­tion abuse can wreak. So why is it seen as a women’s is­sue? By Anna Moore

The Guardian - G2 - - Women -

Patrick Stewart was five years old when his fa­ther re­turned from the sec­ond world war to wage his own war on his wife. On week­end nights, Stewart would lie in bed, alert, await­ing his fa­ther’s re­turn from the pub, ready for his rage, braced to throw him­self be­tween his par­ents to pro­tect his mother.

Two years ago, Luke and Ryan Hart’s fa­ther shot dead their mother, Claire, and their 19-year-old sis­ter, Char­lotte, be­fore turn­ing his gun on him­self. This hap­pened days af­ter Char­lotte and Claire had left the fam­ily home in Lin­colnshire in a bid for free­dom. Un­til then, Lance Hart had ex­er­cised to­tal con­trol over his fam­ily.

These men have gath­ered for a panel event or­gan­ised by the do­mes­tic vi­o­lence char­ity Refuge. They are here for them­selves and for other men. “Be­cause do­mes­tic vi­o­lence is a man’s prob­lem,” Stewart tells me be­fore the event. “We are the ones who are com­mit­ting the of­fences, per­form­ing the cruel acts, con­trol­ling and deny­ing.

It’s the men.”

And yet – as al­ways – the peo­ple lis­ten­ing are al­most en­tirely women. Among the jour­nal­ists, ac­tivists and sup­port­ers in the packed au­di­ence, I count five men.

The Hart broth­ers, who have told their story in a book, Op­er­a­tion Light­house, and are now sea­soned pub­lic speak­ers, con­firm that this is the stan­dard gen­der ra­tio. “I’d like to talk to more men, but there isn’t that fo­rum,” says Luke. “Men still don’t un­der­stand the prob­lems well enough and they don’t come to hear.” Ryan adds, with a wry smile: “Re­cently, one man from the hand­ful in the au­di­ence had only come to say: ‘Yeah, but what about all the male vic­tims?” (Re­cent UN fig­ures showed that more than eight out of 10 vic­tims of homi­cides by in­ti­mate part­ners are fe­male.)

It is a prob­lem. Do­mes­tic vi­o­lence is still seen as a “woman’s is­sue”. For ob­vi­ous rea­sons, women run the char­i­ties and staff the refuges. The all-party par­lia­men­tary group on do­mes­tic vi­o­lence and abuse com­prises mainly fe­male MPs and peers. When vic­tims speak out, they tend to be women. (And here we are in the women’s sec­tion of the Guardian.) But this should not give men rea­son to look away.

The US ed­u­ca­tor and speaker Jack­son Katz has made this mes­sage his life’s work. The au­thor of The Ma­cho Para­dox, Katz teaches the “by­stander ap­proach”, in which com­mu­ni­ties are en­cour­aged to take own­er­ship of the prob­lem of re­la­tion­ship abuse and men are en­cour­aged to chal­lenge sex­ist com­ments and un­ac­cept­able be­hav­iour. His pro­gramme has been de­liv­ered in the mil­i­tary and at col­leges, sports teams and busi­nesses across the US.

Katz’s TED talk on the sub­ject in March 2013 went viral. It is weirdly pow­er­ful to watch an or­di­nary mid­dle-aged man with no per­sonal trauma ask a si­lent au­di­ence why so many men abuse women.

“Five years on, I still get emails about that talk, mainly from women, say­ing: ‘Oh my God, I’ve never heard a man say­ing this,’” says Katz, who be­gan study­ing do­mes­tic vi­o­lence as a 19-yearold stu­dent jour­nal­ist cov­er­ing a cam­paign for bet­ter light­ing on cam­pus. “Bet­ter light­ing – such a ba­sic safety in­ter­ven­tion,” he says. “I was im­pressed by the women’s cam­paign­ing – their lead­er­ship was in­cred­i­ble even back then – but I re­mem­ber think­ing: ‘Why is it only women here?’ Women were do­ing all the work, cre­at­ing the bat­tered­women’s move­ment, the rape-cri­sis move­ment. It seemed ob­vi­ous that the miss­ing piece was men’s ac­tivism, men’s ac­count­abil­ity.

“When peo­ple ask why I do this, they al­ways as­sume I must have some kind of per­sonal story,” Katz con­tin­ues. “My re­sponse is that if a per­sonal story was all it took for a man to speak out on do­mes­tic abuse, we’d have mil­lions of male voices – fathers, sons, friends and part­ners of women who’ve ex­pe­ri­enced abuse. But that hasn’t hap­pened. So, the big­ger ques­tion is: why haven’t more men come for­ward? What are the rea­sons, in 2018, that this hasn’t be­come a mass move­ment among men?”

One ob­sta­cle, Katz be­lieves, is men’s fear of judg­ment from other men. “They worry that they’ll be seen as soft or in­sin­cere or ‘not a real man’.” Another is a lack of role mod­els. “There haven’t been a whole lot of men in a pub­lic space who’ve spo­ken out,” he says.

Stewart’s jour­ney into this pub­lic space has not been easy. “For decades, I was si­lent,” he says. “I was ashamed and em­bar­rassed – and that em­bar­rass­ment went all the way back to be­ing seven or eight. At the time, our tightly knit com­mu­nity knew what my fa­ther did to my mother – they could hear it – but it was ab­so­lutely not talked about. Even with my broth­ers, we didn’t dis­cuss it. I think we tried to pre­tend it wasn’t there.”

Over the years, cer­tain act­ing roles brought it to the sur­face – Stewart re­mem­bers look­ing in the mir­ror be­fore go­ing on stage to play Mac­beth. “I had the uni­form, the cap, the AK47, and I’d grown a mous­tache, although I didn’t know why,” he says. “Then I saw my fa­ther’s face star­ing straight back at me. I re­mem­ber feel­ing that night that I couldn’t give the per­for­mance.”

Dur­ing his Star Trek years, Stewart lived in Cal­i­for­nia, which is where he dis­cov­ered ther­apy. “I be­gan un­rav­el­ling this and fi­nally ac­knowl­edg­ing it had been part of my life. We would do re­gres­sion ther­apy ...” His eyes fill with tears and his voice fal­ters. “It would be my mother and fa­ther sit­ting in the room of my child­hood home. And I would be given per­mis­sion to say what­ever I wanted to say.”

In a 2006 in­ter­view, Stewart made a small men­tion of his fa­ther’s vi­o­lence, which was spot­ted by the CEO of Refuge, San­dra Hor­ley. She in­vited him to speak at a fundrais­ing event at Che­quers. “I’d never spo­ken

‘Our tightly knit com­mu­nity knew what my fa­ther did to my mother, but it was ab­so­lutely not talked about’

about it in pub­lic and I re­mem­ber it vividly,” says Stewart. He opened with a read­ing, then said: ‘Now I’m go­ing to tell you why I’m re­ally here.’” The room was packed with pow­er­ful men. Hor­ley says you could hear a pin drop.

“Talk­ing about this has been so con­struc­tive for me,” says Stewart, who is now a pa­tron of the char­ity. “It’s made me a more con­tented per­son – and if there’s a value to oth­ers, I’m ex­tremely grate­ful.”

For the Harts, pub­lic speak­ing has been equally trans­for­ma­tive. “For the first year af­ter it hap­pened, it was Ground­hog Day,” says Ryan, an en­gi­neer who took a year off work af­ter the mur­ders. “Wake up, walk the dog, eat some food, go to bed. We were wait­ing for time to heal – and it doesn’t.

“Then Sur­rey po­lice asked us to speak to them about co­er­cive con­trol. We were quite ner­vous, but found that speak­ing gave us a pur­pose. For our en­tire lives, Mum and Char­lotte had been our pur­pose – free­ing them from our fa­ther, mov­ing them away and giv­ing them a good life was all we wanted. When we lost them, each day be­came mean­ing­less. Now we’re cre­at­ing some­thing in their name, liv­ing a life that would make them proud.”

Be­fore long, the broth­ers moved be­yond re­count­ing their per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ences to ad­dress­ing its causes. “To tackle do­mes­tic abuse, you need to look at mas­culin­ity,” says Luke. “Our fa­ther’s need for con­trol came from his be­liefs on what it means to be a man. I think most men – like me, be­fore this hap­pened – don’t re­alise how dan­ger­ous it is.”

Another cam­paign­ing voice is David Challen, the son of Sally Challen, who killed her con­trol­ling hus­band in Sur­rey in 2010 and is serv­ing a life sen­tence for mur­der. (She won leave to ap­peal in March; her case will be heard in Fe­bru­ary.) “I felt very alone un­til I met Luke and Ryan,” says Challen, who has no in­ten­tion of stop­ping cam­paign­ing what­ever the out­come of his mother’s case. “It’s a sense of duty to do as much as I can. You can’t just care about one woman – oth­er­wise who would have helped her?

“I’ve been called a snowflake and a man hater,” he con­tin­ues. “It riles a lot of men, as they think they’ll have to realign what’s right and wrong. I don’t want to bash men, be­cause they’ll just switch off – but I would like to get them think­ing and speak­ing about how we treat women in our so­ci­ety.” Katz be­lieves end­ing men’s “col­lec­tive si­lence” is the only long-term so­lu­tion to do­mes­tic vi­o­lence. “We need men to speak out,” he says. “We need men to say to other men when they cross a line, when they say or do some­thing un­ac­cept­able: ‘That’s not OK.’

“There are all these in­flu­en­tial men in pol­i­tics, ed­u­ca­tion, busi­ness, re­li­gions, sports, and men in men­tor­ing roles – fathers, un­cles, coaches. But, for what­ever rea­son, they stay si­lent,” says Katz. “To think to your­self: ‘I don’t beat women, so it’s not my is­sue,’ is just not enough. We need to raise the bar a lit­tle higher.”

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