The situation we are seeing play out with Rob Porter, White House staff secretary, (as well as with other high profile cases over the years) is consistent with the dynamics of domestic violence. It is not uncommon for abusers to be respected, competent, successful and well liked in their communities while at the same time being verbally, emotionally, and even physically abusive behind closed doors with their partner. This is one of the biggest challenges in breaking through the cover of domestic violence because friends, colleagues and family cannot believe that such a kind and decent person could also be manipulative, controlling, threatening, and violent.
Victims are not believed, fear they will not be believed, or are told by their abuser that they will not be believed – all adding to their feelings of isolation and insecurity. It is extremely rare that victims lie about the fear and abuse they are experiencing at home. Until our society begins to believe these stories and take accusations seriously, abusers will continue to find safety and permission to continue their behavior. Taking accusations seriously does not mean an automatic assumption of guilt, it does mean an automatic serious inquiry into the evidence and patterns that emerge. All accusations, with or without a photo, should be considered credible; the investigation should be of the abuser not the victim.
When high profile cases emerge, there is a brief spotlight on this devastating dynamic that plays out mostly in the shadows. For every high profile case we see, there are millions suffering in silence. The CDC estimates that more than 10 Million women and men in the U.S. are physically assaulted by a current or former intimate partner each year.
This is going to take a community response. It isn’t just about letting victims know how they can come forward. For a victim of domestic violence, speaking up or leaving can bring perilous consequences. As a community we need continued training for courts and police to understand the dynamics at play; we need to be vigilant for indicators that friends and colleagues could be experiencing abuse, and we all need to be willing to speak out against any words or actions that dismiss or excuse violence.
Domestic Violence & Child Advocacy Center (DVCAC) is a community-based organization that offers many services to people who find themselves in abusive relationships as well as for the community who is trying to understand and identify the unsettling dynamics of family violence. Services at DVCAC include a lifesaving Helpline, emergency shelter, individual therapy, support groups, advocacy for victims engaged in the court process, and community education and prevention programs to stop cycles of abuse.
Visit www.dvcac.org to learn more about domestic violence and give our 24-hour Helpline to someone who may be in need. (216) 391-HELP (4357)