My ex-husband, Rob Porter, was the White House Staff Secretary under Donald Trump who, more than 5 years ago, was abusive toward me and his previous wife. As a result, his security clearance was delayed. The White House knew of our claims for months, yet they actively defended his character and integrity once the story became public in February of this year.
It is surreal to emerge from being the center of a national scandal where details of your life are being debated daily by strangers. I gave interviews and wrote op-eds for the sole purpose of controlling the narrative being put forth about me and my motives. But even still, there were times when I didn’t recognize myself or Rob in the stories being told. There is no clear victim in the court of public opinion. Those with fear and sympathy toward the accused lash out. Those with empathy or recognition of the accuser strike back. And with the recent allegations of sexual assault looming over Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, it is more important than ever to address this dangerous, black-and-white thinking.
The disputes being raised surrounding Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s accusations are like those made against me back in February. That the timing is suspicious for her to come forward. That she is politically motivated. That she somehow has an axe to grind and has been waiting for the right moment to come forward and destroy his career. – These types of arguments are not only insulting, they convey a shocking level of ignorance when it comes to abuse, trauma, and shame.
There is no “right” time to come forward with your story. Though I had called the police no less than twice during our marriage, spoken to countless friends and clergy, attended church sponsored as well as private counseling, and participated with Rob in a marital workshop aimed at angry and abusive men, I was not compelled to come forward until an anonymous source leaked my blog post to the press and told them to look into Rob’s past.
Similarly, I have no doubt Dr. Ford has a history of sharing parts of her story with trusted others. She was compelled to come forward only because her perpetrator was nominated for the highest judicial appointment in the land. An appointment which carries with it a life-long term and the ability to influence the rights of the public in a way that no other position can. That she is coming to the public’s attention now is a result of great sacrifice, and patriotism, on her part.
That people see my or Dr. Ford’s speaking out as a personal attack on them is immature and self-important. The point is not to punish powerful men or carry out some long-standing revenge. It is to draw attention to the fact that abuse and assault are a systemic problem in virtually every institution in the United States, if not the world. Where there is an imbalance of power, there is likely abuse. And to focus on the individual man while ignoring the societal patterns which allowed him to behave in such a way is irresponsible. Speaking up about abuse is not personal, it is imperative.
One of the most insidious forms of abuse is that of gas-lighting. Belittling someone and questioning their reality so that they doubt themselves or retreat. Using a position of power or influence to invalidate, undermine, or discredit someone. In other words, bullying.
What we see playing out in Washington, D.C. this week is an egregious example of this type of behavior. Born of ignorance, fear, or entitlement, the attacks are the same: “She is vindictive.” “She is crazy.” “She is mistaken.” “She is politically motivated.” “She is lying.”
Men in power are attempting to belittle and control someone to protect their own or another’s status and influence. And here-in lies the problem. Just as the entire White House, including the president, rushed to the defense of my ex-husband’s career, so has the Republican boys club come to Kavanaugh’s defense. So many congressmen and senators are willing to overlook the upsetting nature of the allegations in favor of securing the work and reputation of the accused, or worse, preserving their own political agenda. As if a woman’s experience, fear, trauma, and mental wellbeing are insignificant and would only be used as political tools to attack a man’s reputation and position.
That anyone could still think someone would willingly subject their life to such hatred and scrutiny for unsubstantiated or false accusations is unbelievable to me. If you believe this is possible, you do not understand abuse.
I did not “come forward” with my story until compelled to do so because I feared what would happen to me. Rob had more money, more influence, more worldly accolades, and higher status. I had everything to lose in this metaphorical battle of reputation. For Dr. Ford to come forward knowing she is up against a career super star with an impeccable record speaks to me of her bravery, not of her calculations. She has none of the power, but all of the courage. And watch carefully. The abuse she is fighting against – the systemic imbalance of power being used to manipulate an outcome or control an individual – is playing out on our national stage.