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Posted at 05:00 AM ET, 11/12/2012

What happens to the Other Woman? Donna Rice Hughes reflects on the Petraeus-Broadwell scandal

Donna Rice Hughes (Courtesy of Donna Rice Hughes )
There’s nothing like a political sex scandal to get Washington buzzing: While pundits debated the future of Gen. David Petraeus, few concerned themselves with the fate of Paula Broadwell .

No surprise there: Powerful men can sometimes bounce back from even the most lurid affairs, but the Other Woman rarely survives the firestorm intact. Call it sexism, bad luck or lousy PR — these modern Hester Prynnes live on in Google forever.

Bill Clinton has never been more popular; Monica Lewinsky, despite a degree from the London School of Economics, has never managed to hold down a job. John Edwards’s mistress, Rielle Hunter, is even more despised than the ruined politician after writing a tell-all memoir. Megan Marshack, the former radio reporter who was with Nelson Rockfeller the night he died in 1979, hasn’t worked on-air for more than 30 years.

Petraeus with Broadwell in Afghanistan. (AFP/GetttyImages)
A rare exception to the rule: Donna Rice Hughes, who rebounded from her liaison with Sen. Gary Hart into a happy and relatively public life. “I think it’s harder for the women,” she told us Sunday. “They’re not as well known and get sensationalized.”

Rice Hughes was 29 in 1987 when her brief relationship with Hart — then the leading Democratic prospect for the 1988 presidential nomination — exploded into public view. Within days, her name and picture were everywhere, and she remained in the headlines for the next 18 months. “It took on a life of its own,” she said.

Now it seems there’s a sex scandal every few months; back then, there was no role model, no map of how to navigate a storm like this. Rice lost her pharmaceutical and commercial acting jobs. “I knew I wanted to take the high road,” she said. “I prayed continually that I would make wise choices and tried to take the long view. I really wanted the pain to count for something good.”

Rielle Hunter’s interviews and tell-all did little to redeem her image. (Shawn Rocco/The News & Observer)
That meant not exploiting the situation for money (she passed on millions from Playboy and others), taking personal responsibility for her role in the affair, and asking for forgiveness from her family, friends and God. A “devastated” Rice went underground for seven years in which she renewed her Christian faith, married, moved to Washington and looked for a job.

“People told me I’d never been taken seriously,” she said. But she was hired by the anti-pornography group Enough Is Enough, where she’s now president and an acknowledged expert on Internet safety issues — she frequently testifies before Congress and has produced a film series on the subject.

While Rice Hughes has thrived professionally, upbeat endings for the Other Woman usually involved marriage. Argentine beauty Maria Belen Chapur is now engaged to former South Carolina governor Mark Sanford, despite the fact their affair effectively ended his political career. And remember Suzy Wetlaufer? The former Harvard Business Review editor had an affair with departing GE head Jack Welch while writing a profile of him — and lost her job, but went on to marry and co-author books with the multimillionaire corporate executive.

Suzy and Jack Welch in 2007. (Brad Barket/Getty Images)
And Broadwell? The ambitious first-time author is married with two small sons. She and her doctor husband celebrated her 40th birthday in Washington, Va. — they stayed at the Middleton Inn for two nights last week, had a birthday dinner at the famed Inn at Little Washington Friday and took long bike rides through the countryside.

But a party for friends over the weekend was canceled; she disabled her Facebook account just hours before her involvement in the affair went public Friday and has given no interviews . . . yet.

More on the Petraeus affair:

Lawmakers want probe of Petraeus investigation

Former aides wonder: Did Petraeus stumble in unfamiliar terrain?

With Paula Broadwell, Gen. David Petraeus let his guard down

David Petraeus and other political sex scandals: What does it take to kill a career?

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By  |  05:00 AM ET, 11/12/2012

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