My name is Jennie Willoughby. I was married to former White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter from 2009 to 2013 during which time I endured regular emotional and physical abuse of which I rarely spoke until last year. In February, I agreed to talk to reporters about my marriage only after they came to me with tips on investigating Rob including my April 24, 2017 blog post and copies of police reports.
The story became a national headline when the White House effusively supported Rob and failed to immediately condemn abuse or to acknowledge the victims. The story escalated as it became clear Rob lacked the full security clearance needed to perform his job, primarily because of his abuse, and the White House knew about this in some measure. This week, we find out President Trump continues to allow Rob to influence policy decisions even after his resignation. While this is a PR nightmare for the administration, some are so focused on the political aspect of this story that they cannot see how it involves them personally.
The reason this story matters is not because of what job Rob held or who is in the Oval Office. It matters because it has called out how we rationalize what we are seeing and avoid accountability when abuse is involved.
Domestic violence of any kind is wrong. Everyone knows that. Yet, this is how we respond to it.
He had a messy divorce. But divorce is so common these days, who can blame him? It was suspected he was unfaithful, but she probably knows, right? What happens in someone’s marriage is none of my business. He sometimes had a temper at work, but it’s because he was so passionate. Besides, he never actually threatened anyone. I felt manipulated by him, but I was afraid to cross him because he held influence over my job. His family is highly connected. How can I question someone with that kind of clout?
He is respected, popular, and well liked. He looks clean-cut and comes from a good family. Others can’t say enough good things about him like how he is a man of true character and honor with the highest integrity. If he’s subject to embarrassing rumors about his private life, it’s hard to believe he’s at fault.
We find out about his home trouble but he dismisses it. We look away. The police are called to the house, but “Yes, I’m fine now officer. No one wants to press charges.” We look away. She moves out to a relative’s house, but she moves back in. We look away. They go on a family vacation together and are smiling in the photos. We look away. He continues to do well at work and impress people with his dedication. We look away. That incident was years ago. We look away. They still go out together in public. We look away. He’s only aggressive when he drinks too much. We look away. He’s never brought that side of himself to the workplace. We look away. They’re still together after all that. We look away. He’s esteemed in the community. We look away. He says he’s sorry. We look away. He’s a father. We look away. He’s active at church. We look away.
What are we looking away from and why are we doing it?
We can do better.
To make it clear that abuse of any kind is unacceptable, we need to be willing to have the uncomfortable conversation and face abuse head on. It is necessary to draw a line in the sand and vehemently condemn a person’s abusive actions. No equivocation. No rationalization.
If you still think this is a story about the White House, you are missing the point.
For generations, we have neglected to galvanize against abuse and this is our clarion call to action.
Will you still look away?