Scott Shepherd hit my friend.
A successful actress with a career to protect, she’s been counseled not to speak about it publicly and I respect her decision.* I have no such concerns.
Scott Shepherd hit my friend - his long time, on again, off again girlfriend. He is a black belt in Tae Kwon Do and he shook her, then hit her. Hard. Giving her a black eye, among other injuries.
They were in rehearsals overseas with a prominent theater company. She was starring opposite him, as his lover. He was not disciplined by the company. The solution offered was to let her out of her contract.
Let’s take a fucking second with that, shall we?
Scott Shepherd assaulted his girlfriend and co-star and the solution proposed by their employer was to allow her to quit.
Chew on that, would you? Good luck swallowing.
In a foreign country, with no emotional safety net beyond her employers, co-workers, and the boyfriend who’d just assaulted her, she received no support for taking legal action against him. When his assault of her was made known to the entire company, he apologized but qualified it by claiming that he “didn’t hit her that hard.” You know, aside from the black eye. And the contusion. And the damage to her neck. But he “didn’t hit her that hard” so he’s suffered no consequences for his actions, continuing to be employed by the theater company for which they both worked at the time.
We are culturally fucked when it comes to dealing with violence against women. We think about it all wrong, talk about it all wrong. We treat it as a personal matter with two sides to the story. A story that’s not ours to affect. This approach perpetuates the problem. I say ‘we’ as I want to include women in this. Not all women, but more of us than we would care to admit. And most importantly, myself. I’m the only one I’m responsible for and I want to take this opportunity to admit that I have been part of the problem. And I vow to be better.
When I was a kid, I spent a lot of time hanging out with these two brothers who lived down the street from me. They were a bit younger so I baby sat them on occasion, but I thought of them as friends. We never talked about it, but it was obvious their dad beat the shit out of their mom. She was this frightened rabbit, wincing at every unexpected noise. In the moments when his temper would swell, he’d get red in the face and start to raise his voice, clench his fists, then he’d see me and swallow his rage. His wife would stand there, shaking like a leaf, bracing for impact. His kids, numb.
I spent as much time there as I could, feeling I was doing some service to the family. As long as I was around, he wouldn’t beat her. I hated him. I wanted him to die a horrible, slow, painful death, after I beat the shit out of him myself. I think back to those boys now and again. They were sweet boys. But I wonder where they are now, if they’re hitting their wives? Statistics suggest that’s exactly what’s happening. Today, I still feel a twinge of shame at how I processed it all. At the way I thought about their mom. I despised what I perceived as her weakness. I judged her harshly for staying. I didn’t understand how anyone could tolerate such treatment. This attitude is as pernicious as it is common place. It places the onus of responsibility on the recipient of violence, rather than the perpetrator.
And the responsibility belongs on the perpetrator. Squarely. Solidly. Immovably.
A few years back, two of my close friends ended up in a relationship that went south. I was close with them both before they met. Closer with him, at the time, than her. When things went wrong and she tried to tell me how he’d abused her. Shaken her, shoved her, scared the shit out her, stalked her. Made her feel powerless, worthless… I was not supportive. I did not hold him accountable. I did not have her back. He was one of my dearest friends at the time and to me he’d always seemed sweet and quiet. I didn’t want to believe he could be violent with someone he claimed to love - who I loved. I wouldn’t believe it. So I tried to ride the middle, remaining friends with them both, assuming the truth lay somewhere in the middle of the story she told me and the story I told myself. She and I have since discussed the hurt and betrayal she felt because of my actions (or lack there of). I’ve apologized and she’s forgiven me. I’ve almost forgiven myself.
I knew my friend had broken up with Scott Shepherd but she wouldn’t talk about the cause for months and months. Their relationship had been tumultuous, as relationships often are, so I figured it was more of the same and didn’t pressure her to expand. We were having coffee one day when she decided to open up. She wanted to share, she said, but needed me not to freak out.
I joked, “Only way I’m freaking out is if he hit you.”
She sat still, saying nothing. I had to turn away from her for a moment to gather myself, tears of rage welling in my eyes. I took a few deep breaths and turned back to her, determined to remain calm and loving as she told me the tale. It was all I could do to keep from sobbing. But in spite of my rage, despite my sympathy and concern for her, that culturally entrenched thought pattern reared it’s ugly head, “I wonder what she said to set him off?”
I hate myself when I have these thoughts. They’re not even mine. They’re habitual. They’re taught. They’re in the zeitgeist. It’s how we learn to process these events and a substantial part of why they keep happening, why they’re so ubiquitous. We have to be better. For our sisters, mothers, our wives and daughters. For ourselves. We have to support women who experience this madness. To be assaulted by someone you love, by someone who is supposed to provide you security and comfort… It is an emotionally unfathomable situation for those of us who haven’t experienced it. It creates a power dynamic that is incredibly difficult to break. If we are to help women out of these situations, we must keep our hearts open to them, with out judgment. With out blame. With out assumption that we would handle the situation differently.
I have no doubt that anytime Scott Shepherd is confronted about this incident he will put it on her. He will claim he was provoked, that he didn’t hit her that hard. That she slapped him first or some other such nonsense. None of that matters. He has been trained to use his fists as weapons and he used those weapons on someone he claimed to love. There is no justification for that. None.
We have to make it culturally unacceptable to get away with this shit, in thought, word and deed. Were it up to me, Scott Shepherd would be afraid for his career. Not my friend. Were it up to me, with every breath, he would feel the terror that’s made a home in her heart. Were up to me, he would have been fired and she would be sleeping soundly at night.
It is not up to me.
* * * *
My friend found counsel and support at Sanctuary for Families in downtown Manhattan. Resources for those in need can be found by calling The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−SAFE(7233).
*There has been some concern that I posted this with out my friend’s permission. That is not the case. I chose to write the essay after a number of conversations we had about the personal and societal implications of abuse and she approved it before it went up. Yes, this piece is about calling Scott out for his behavior. But even more so, it is about how we all contribute to a culture that allows men like him to avoid repercussions for these actions.