OPINION – Cultural change can move at glacial speed.
Social standards do not evolve easily and there’s always this misplaced nonsense about life in the good old days.
But, these are somebody’s good old days and they don’t seem any better than ours.
We find that particularly distressing when it comes to the plight of women.
The current domestic violence scandals in Washington, D.C., revolving around former White House staff secretary Rob Porter and former speechwriter David Sorensen are really nothing new. Men have been knocking women around since the species crawled out of the mud and learned to walk upright.
There is a reprehensible aspect, of course, to the latest round of disclosures, reluctant drippings of information about a couple of White House aides who have been accused of domestic violence and abuse. We even got a close-up photo of a woman who says her husband hit her and abused her emotionally and verbally.
There is the sense of cover-up as it appears that White House Chief of Staff John Kelly has tried to keep the whole thing under wraps. And, of course, there has been deflection and defense in behalf of these guys, ranging from words from the president to solace from Sen. Orrin Hatch for Porter, who once served as his chief of staff.
The president said he was saddened by the claims, praised and wished his former aide the best of luck in life and career, then stole a page from his own playbook by reminding us, as he did when campaigning for Alabama politician Roy Moore, who was accused of improper behavior with underage girls, that Porter claims innocence in the matter, “and I think you have to remember that.”
Hatch was even more effusive.
He described Porter as being a “decent,” “kind and considerable,” “honest, principled” man. He also said that the claims of violent behavior and abuse by two of the man’s ex-wives were “a vile attack (by) politically motivated, morally bankrupt character assassins that would attempt to sully a man’s good name.”
In the realm of domestic abuse, this is the heart of the problem.
When a woman finally has the courage to step forward, she suddenly comes under suspicion.
It must have been her fault, right?
She must not have been a good wife, right?
She’s lying, right?
She’s only looking to tear down a “good man,” right?
Good men don’t punch their wives or girlfriends.
They don’t kick them.
They don’t abuse them verbally or emotionally.
One of the women involved in this episode posted pictures of her blackened eye several years ago. She was not silent. It only became a “thing” when her ex-husband came to a position of power and influence in the White House and his ability to acquire a security clearance as a result of the accusations was jeopardized.
The fact that another of the man’s ex-wives came forward with similar claims lends a lot more credibility to the accusations.
But, as we have seen, not only in this instance but most others, they are called liars.
We’ve seen a lot of courageous women come forward recently in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein investigations.
We have also seen a certain level of weariness set in among some, who are becoming critical of the attention garnered by the #MeToo movement.
After all, it is argued, why bring up something that happened 10 or 20 years ago?
The reason is clear.
They bring it up because they were violated.
They bring it up because they have seen their sisters step forward and feel a certain support and comfort.
They bring it up because the wounds have healed enough to actually utter the words in public: “I am a victim.”
This is a particularly serious problem in Utah where, putting aside the political helter-skelter, one in three women will experience domestic violence during their lifetime, according to the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition. The group reports that more than 40 percent of all Utah homicides since 2000 have been related to domestic violence.
It’s a problem not handled well and one severely under-reported.
As we have seen, the example from the top down is not a good one.
Why come forward if you will be reviled, ridiculed or rejected?
So, many suffer in silence, which is why we can look at domestic violence statistics with a skeptical eye.
How many women are actually strong enough to pick up the phone and dial 911 after being punched out by their husband or boyfriend? How many are actually courageous enough to come forward and report sexual abuse? How many have the strength to overcome the steady cycle of abuse which, researchers have found, only escalates?
In the case of the White House aide who also worked for Hatch, the women say they went to their Mormon bishop for help, but received none.
The same result could come from other religious leaders who simply are not trained enough to handle such life-threatening events.
Family is often unable to help because domestic violence seems to be something handed down from one generation to another.
Perpetrators see their fathers attack their mothers. It becomes part of their world, something they often repeat as they enter relationships.
Women, who witness their mothers being abused, watch them suffer in silence and follow the pattern, continuing the cycle.
And, these people – the predator and the prey – somehow find each other.
We have plenty of services available for those who find themselves in a violent relationship.
There are laws on the books to prosecute and punish offenders.
But, we have a couple of mindsets to uncouple.
First, we must let these victims know that something can be done, that they not only can, but should call the police to intervene, get a court ordered restraining order, seek a protected shelter.
But, most importantly, we must learn that we also must listen and react and not be judgmental.
Instead of asking, “What did you do wrong?” when a woman tells you of her situation, ask, “Have you sought help?”
It takes tremendous strength to admit that abuse has occurred because once that door is opened, the fingers get misdirected and pointed squarely at the victim instead of the perpetrator.
And, do not defend or write off the actions of the predator.
They are culpable, they are responsible and no matter how they will try to turn the blame, it lies squarely in their laps.
In the immediate aftermath of the current scandal, the president doubled down in his defense of his former staffers with the following Tweet: “Peoples (sic) lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation. Some are true and some are false. Some are old and some are new. There is no recovery for someone falsely accused – life and career are gone. Is there no such thing any longer as Due Process?”
Mr. President, by word and deed, you are part of the problem.
Mr. President, it is an insult to shrug these off as “mere” allegations.
Mr. President, if you are admitting that some of the allegations are true, then you are condoning domestic violence by putting these men in positions of prominence and power.
Mr. President, it doesn’t matter if these incidents occurred 10 minutes ago or 10 years ago. They were dangerous, violent acts perpetrated by thugs.
Most importantly, Mr. President, there is no recovery for the victims of domestic violence, who were betrayed by people they loved, embraced as partners, committed themselves to in spirit and deed.
Mr. President, it is time you and all of the other apologists stopped defending and making excuses for these violent attacks on women.
No bad days!
Ed Kociela is an opinion columnist for St. George News. The opinions stated in this article are his own and may not be representative of St. George News.
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