President Trump's words of support for former White House staff secretary Rob Porter, who resigned his post over accusations of domestic violence, have advocacy groups worried that Trump is sending the message to the nation that abusers are protected, while victims face questions and doubts.
“There are photos. There is literally a legal document that exists that says this man has a history of abuse. To say, ‘He tells me he’s innocent, and we’re going to go with it,’ is disheartening and is further what perpetuates abuse,” Gretchen Shaw, associate director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, told the Washington Examiner.
“Abusers get away with it, and they are protected and they are given a pass continually," she said.
Two of Porter's ex-wives accused the former White House staffer of domestic abuse, and a photo surfaced showing one of his wives, Colbie Holderness, with a black eye.
Porter resigned after the allegations surfaced this week, and White House principal deputy press secretary Raj Shah conceded the White House “could have done better” in addressing the controversy.
But the scandal has roiled the White House’s top officials — including White House chief of staff John Kelly, communications director Hope Hicks, who is believed to have been romantically involved with Porter, and White House counsel Don McGahn — and questions have arisen as to when the White House became aware of the allegations against Porter.
On Friday, Trump said, "We wish him well," and stressed that Porter had denied the allegations against him.
“Now he also, as you probably know, he says he’s innocent, and I think you have to remember that. He said very strongly yesterday that he’s innocent. So you’ll have to talk to him about that. But we absolutely wish him well.”
Shaw said she found the president’s comments “disappointing,” and said Trump missed a “big opportunity.”
“Regardless of what our opinion may be about whoever is in the White House, they have a huge responsibility to be role models in this nation,” she said. “Rather than coming out and supporting zero tolerance for abuse, he’s taking the side of the abuser. That sends a message, and it gives permission. … It further silences victims, and the consequences of that are people die. Many people die. They’re tortured and killed at the hands of their abusers.”
Kiersten Stewart, director of public policy and advocacy at Futures Without Violence, agreed that Trump’s comments were disappointing.
“It was incredibly frustrating and really sad to see the White House circle the wagons around [Porter] and seem to care not at all for the women,” Stewart told the Washington Examiner.
Stewart said the president’s comments could affect women who find themselves in abusive relationships, and make them less likely to come forward. But she said she's optimistic about the direction of the country in the wake of the “Me Too” movement, which has seen a chorus of women speak out about experiences with sexual harassment, sexual assault and abuse.
“I hope that can overcome the wrong message from the White House,” she said.
But while hopeful given the uprising of support for women who have experienced sexual misconduct, Stewart noted that one out of every four women will be a victim of domestic violence during their lifetime.
“While I’ve had optimism recently, hearing the president’s comments and seeing the reactions of everyone around him — everyone’s immediate reaction was to defend the abuser and call the women liars — when I see that, I worry that maybe we haven’t come as far as I have hoped,” she said.
Both Shaw and Stewart said praise should be given to Porter's ex-wives, who were willing to share their experiences with domestic violence with the public.
“I want to highlight how brave they must be to come out and take this on,” Shaw said, “because they really are taking on the White House and they are doing what they can to hold Mr. Porter accountable for his abuse and the White House for allowing him to get away with it.”
“We believe them,” she continued. “We absolutely believe them.”