Rob Porter, a White House staff secretary, is in the news this week. All White House staff are subject to a background check before being granted security clearance. The FBI knew of Porter’s domestic assault after interviewing his ex-wives and having access to police reports and a 2010 Order of Protection. The FBI passed this information to John Kelly who allowed Porter access to classified information in spite of this knowledge. This poses a risk of blackmail to the office.
He resigned after domestic violence charges toward his two ex-wives came under scrutiny after months on the job. Porter called the allegations “outrageous” and “simply false.” President Trump wanted to believe him. Trump made a statement “remember Rob Porter says he’s innocent and I think you have to remember that. He said very strongly yesterday that he’s innocent so you have to talk to him about that.”
Chief of staff, John Kelly, initially made a statement describing Porter as “a man of true integrity.” But after viewing photographs of Porter’s assault Kelly said he was shocked by the allegations. Why wasn’t he shocked when he first learned of the assaults? Porter was described as having kicked, choked and punched his first wife. He would throw her down on a soft surface, shake her, and rub an elbow or knee into her. His second wife stated that Porter dragged her naked and wet from the shower to yell at her. He dismissed these women’s words but was “shocked” upon seeing a photograph of one of the women with a black eye. Seeing is believing, but a testimony and criminal records are not believed?
Trump has a history of defending men who are alleged to have abused women, including himself. For example, Corey Lewandowski, his election campaign manager, who faced a misdemeanor battery charge after an altercation with a female reporter. And he defended Roger Ailes, Fox news producer amid sexual harassment allegations. And Fox news host Bill O’Reilly was described as “a good person. I don’t think Bill did anything wrong.” And Roy Moore, a candidate for the US Senate who lost the election after numerous allegations of sexual misconduct with underaged girls was supported by Trump. “He said he didn’t do it.” What he has not done is defend the victims of sexual or physical assault.
Trump and Kelly believe every individual deserves the right to defend their reputation. True enough. But they don’t have a right to ignore or deny facts of history. When Trump asked “Is there no such thing any longer as Due Process?” he is referring to the presumption of innocence. In the case of Porter, he had due process in 2010 and was deemed dangerous when a judge granted an Order of Protection to his first wife.
There are not two sides to the issue of domestic assault. Domestic assault, whether it is physical, sexual, emotional, or economic, is a crime and should be treated as such. The White House sent the message that domestic violence should be covered up, perpetrators should be shielded and protected from accountability, and victims are not to be believed.
But he’s a good employee. Trump defended Porter saying “He did a very good job. We wish him well, he worked very hard. It’s a tough time for him. We hope he has a wonderful career and he will have a great career ahead of him.” As a perpetrator of domestic assault, he should not have a job that is risk sensitive. I also wish Porter well. It is my hope that he participates in a batterers education program and changes his thinking and behavior. I hope he addresses his need for power and control over women. As in his case, the cycle of abuse continues from one victim to another without intervention and treatment.
The stakes are high. Domestic assault is an epidemic. Three women are murdered every day by a current or formal partner in the US. Seventy percent of women worldwide will experience physical and/or sexual abuse by an intimate partner during their lifetimes. One in seven men have been victims of severe physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime. It is not to be denied or minimized just because you want to believe in the accused’s innocence.
Strongly stating that you are innocent, does not necessarily make it so.