In the past week, two senior members of the Trump Administration left their positions due to allegations of domestic violence. First, Rob Porter, President Trump’s staff secretary either was fired or resigned after it became public that he had allegedly physically and emotionally abused two of his ex-wives. The FBI and senior staff had knowledge of this abuse, including pictures of the injuries suffered by his first wife, and a copy of the restraining order obtained against him by his second wife. And an ex girlfriend Mr. Porter’s contacted White House Counsel directly to warn him of Mr. Porter’s history of abuse. Second, David Sorenson, a member of President Trump’s speechwriting team, resigned after it was revealed that his ex-wife accused him of domestic violence.
While these two incidents involve people connected to President Trump, domestic violence can be committed by and happen to anyone of any political persuasion, race, religion, economic status, sexual orientation or gender identity. However, these particular situations raised an important issue that often occurs when one person accuses another of domestic violence — others defending the alleged abuser based on their personal experience of him or her.
The case of Rob Porter illustrates this point. After the allegations against him became public, high ranking politicians rushed to defend him and his character — despite the compelling evidence of his pattern of physically and emotionally abusing his romantic partners. When the news first broke, Chief of Staff General John F. Kelly released a statement defending Porter, saying that he is “…a man of true integrity and honor and I can’t say enough good things about him. He is a friend, a confidant and a trusted professional.” General Kelly allegedly knew about the allegations against Porter since at least fall 2017. Senator Orrin Hatch, Porter’s former employer, also released a statement. Initially, Senator Hatch stated that it was “incredibly discouraging to see such a vile attack on such a decent man.” After seeing the pictures, Senator Hatch then stated that in his interactions with Porter, he had been “…courteous, professional, and respectful.” President Trump’s own statements about the situation included comments about how hard-working Porter is, how sad Porter is, and that Porter says that he is innocent.
Domestic violence is a specific type of abuse that involves an abuser attempting to exert power and control over his or her victim. Although there is a common misconception that abusers are “out of control,” the reality is that most abusers are in complete control, from their choice of victim to how and when they harm their victim. Domestic abusers are often able to compartmentalize their lives, so that they may appear charming, likable and successful to the outside world — while simultaneously terrorizing their victims. Abusers are often successful at camouflaging their behavior, so that they can draw upon this good will to not only preserve their reputation, but to discredit their victims. For example, Johnny Depp has a well-documented history of domestic abuse, but because he is well-liked as an actor, many people readily believed that his claims that his ex-wife Amber Heard was a gold digger — instead of her statements (backed up by witnesses) that he abused her. Or consider news stories about intimate partner violence. How many of these articles or news clips include interviews with friends, family members and neighbors who state that they had no idea that the killer was abusing his victim(s)? This gives you an idea of just how common it is for abusers to successfully trick others into believing that they are “good guys” — until it is too late.
Recognizing that abusers often can hide in plain sight is critical to understanding why it is a mistake to speak out in defense of a person who has been accused of domestic violence (unless you personally witnessed the event in question). No matter what your personal experience may be, the simple truth is that a person can be a fantastic friend, a great co-worker, or a respected community leader and still be violent and abusive in his or her personal life. Even if you were previously in a romantic relationship with this person and did not experience abuse, it does not mean that he or she was not or is not abusive in other relationships. Remember that domestic violence is about power and control, and is specific to a particular victim or victims, such as a romantic partner or family members. Simply because you have not seen any indications of violence does not mean that this person is not an abuser — it only means that you have not been a witness.
So what should you do if you someone that you know is accused of domestic violence? Rather than assuming that the victim must be lying because the person you know is nice, take a moment to remember the dynamics of domestic violence. Then choose to not speak out in support of the abuser. It is far better to remain silent than to publicly defend a person who may actually be hurting his or her loved ones. Remember that speaking out in favor of the abuser makes it harder for victims to come forward or to seek help, as it can reinforce the notion that no one will believe them because their abusers have been so successful at convincing everyone that they are not violent. Instead, you can offer support to victims of domestic violence, which can be as easy as making a donation to your local nonprofit organization that provides services to victims and survivors of domestic violence, such as Blackburn Center.
This past week’s events show that as a country, we do not take domestic violence seriously. Two men with a history of domestic violence were able to work at the highest levels of government, and only left once the Washington Post exposed them. Even after it was revealed that they each had a lengthy history of abuse, multiple high-ranking politicians defended them. While these situations are specific to the Trump Administration, they are not uncommon across the United States. If we want to end domestic violence, we have to start taking it more seriously, which includes making an active choice to stand up for victims instead of abusers.
At Blackburn Center, we are committed to providing services for all victims of violence, including domestic violence. We offer a number of services for victims of intimate partner violence, including an emergency shelter, counseling and therapy, support groups, legal advocacy, medical accompaniment, and a 24 hour hotline (1-888-832-2272 or 724-836-1122). We also offer services for the community, such as training and education programs for businesses and organizations that are designed to teach Westmoreland County residents about important issues like domestic violence, and awareness programs for area schools. Contact us if you would like to learn more about our services, or click to donate to support our mission.