When William Hurt died on March 13, the 71-year-old actor bequeathed roles in films such as “Broadcast News”, “The Big Chill” and “Kiss of the Spiderwoman,” for which he won an Oscar. He also left a legacy of being accused of abuse.
The mother of one of her children and ex-girlfriend Sandra Jennings claimed in court that Hurt subjected her to “physical and verbal violent” abuse, including beating her in the face while holding their infant son. Another ex-girlfriend of Hurt, actor Marlee Matlin, accused of abuse in Hurt during their two-year relationship, which began when she was only 19 and he was 35, including physical abuse, psychological abuse and rape.
While both women have faced denial and contempt over the years, with fans refusing to believe that Hurt could be violent towards women – and the actor suffered no career consequences – the allegations of abuse by Matlin, who is deaf, lift the veil on an unknown epidemic: the abuse of disabled women.
Related: In HBO’s Furious “Phoenix Rising,” Evan Rachel Wood Shows How Her Abuse Was Painted As A Rock Love Story
Disabled women are 40% more likely to be victims of partner violence than non-disabled women, as reported by the American Psychological Association. In just one year, 27% of domestic violence crimes were committed against disabled women.
According to the Justice Department, those who are disabled are also three times more likely to be sexually assaulted than those who are not disabled.
Disabled women are more abused than non-disabled women for a variety of reasons. As a half deaf person, I lack spatial awareness. I can’t tell where the sound is coming from, and it’s very easy for someone to sneak up on me. My disability also sparked anger in strangers who found themselves unable to communicate with me. Skillful partners have become frustrated with my inability to follow their spoken conversations or understand them.
People with disabilities were more likely to be isolated before the pandemic, particularly those of us without communities of disabilities or people we can communicate with easily. But after the pandemic, immunocompromised, high-risk and disabled people were more confined to their homes, unable to reach safely or call for help. Domestic violence has increased across the board since the pandemic as more victims are trapped at home with their abusers. Disabled women can be abused by caregivers, including family members, close partners, and people living with them.
Since disabled women sometimes have no access to the outside world, their abuses can take different forms, forms not always familiar to the non-disabled population. This may include refusing to eat, refusing or destroying devices such as hearing aids or wheelchairs, refusing or forcing medications, or forcing a disabled person to stay with soiled clothing or bedding.
In the case of Matlin, who lost most of her hearing when she was a child, she claimed that Hurt emotionally abused her the night she won an Oscar for their film “Children of a Lesser God,” for which he was also nominated and did not win. After the ceremony she claims to have scolded her: “Do you really think you deserve it?” She said she was afraid of winning for this reason, fearing a violent response from her. The two had met on the set of that movie when Matlin was still a teenager (and a fan of her work). Along with her beating, Matlin claimed that Hurt also raped her when she was drunk. Injured went to treatment for substance abuse multiple times.
Matlin made these allegations in his memoir “I’ll Scream Later”, published in 2009. But decades earlier, allegations of abuse had been raised in the court case involving Hurt’s ex-girlfriend Jennings. from Matlin. As the Chicago Tribune reported at the time, “Jennings says she has learned of this [abuse] by her son, who indicated that he saw Hurt kick Matlin during his visits with his father. ”
Jennings is said to have had two miscarriages during her relationship with Hurt – the second, as People reported, because Hurt “was beating her so badly.”
Why hasn’t anyone done anything? In “Children of a Lesser God”, the bruises can be clearly seen on Matlin’s leg, bruises that have nothing to do with the character or the story, but which were likely inflicted on the actor in real life. While Matlin says the emotional abuse continued on set, he wrote that the film’s director “came to believe that it was all just a part of Bill’s trial, that he needed a conflict.”
Talented men being given a pass for abuse is nothing new. Neither is blaming the victim. People’s cover story on the accusations against Hurt is called “Crimes of the Heart”. Matlin’s editor described the relationship in his memoirs as “passionate and tumultuous”. When Matlin went to CNN, interviewer Joy Behar asked the actor, “Was it love? Was it lust?” and she brought up “spectacular” sex with Hurt.
(In HBO’s two-part documentary “Phoenix Rising,” Evan Rachel Wood also points out how the headlines glorified her relationship with Marilyn Manson, who was 18 years her senior, as a “other woman” rock star. love.)
Upon Hurt’s death, a memoir in the Washington Post, which makes no mention of the allegations, was entitled: “William Hurt was a serious actor, with all the baggage that the term entails.”
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Even when your offender isn’t a famous, rich, and beloved actor, it’s very hard to walk away. A harasser can cut a victim out financially as well as emotionally; isolating a victim from support is an important part of the abuse. Someone in an abusive situation may not have access to their money, phone, or transportation. They may have nowhere to go or the means to get there. Friends and family often don’t believe the victims. Psychological abuse, including gaslighting, causes victims to question their own reality as well. And not all abuse leaves visible bruises.
Forcing a victim to depend on the abuser is a form of manipulative control. But for women with disabilities, leaving is even more tense. Disabled women may need a wheelchair, accessible van, or other assistive device to leave. Due to the high rates of unemployment, underemployment and low income, people with disabilities are much more likely to live in poverty, deprived of the resources to escape.
In the CNN interview, Behar asked Matlin point blank why she hadn’t left. Matlin replied that he didn’t know how to do it: “I didn’t have any friends in New York. I didn’t know you could ask for help. I didn’t know you could call 911.” Behar insists, wondering why she then she would be “nice” to Hurt in the book, she Behar perhaps doesn’t understand the reality of being a disabled woman who clashes with a much older and more powerful man. “How else will I live?” Matlin replied. “How else will I live?”
It was 2009.
The day Hurt died, Entertainment Tonight questioned Matlin about him on the red carpet for the Critics’ Choice Awards. His measured response of him – “We lost a great actor … he taught me a lot as an actor” – was defined as positive by many media outlets. “Marlee Matlin pays homage to ex William Hurt” was a title.
It was 2022.
It doesn’t seem like we’ve learned a lot about the dance that women sometimes have to do to stay alive, to work. We believed women even less 13 years ago, when Matlin’s memoir was published, than we believe now. But a disabled woman talking about her experience of her is still too uncomfortable a truth for most people to hear, especially for able-bodied people. Like Julia Métraux, a disabled journalist, he wrote: “We should think about what happens when abuse is a footnote.” Disabled women die when no one listens.
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