Over the weekend, the president of the United States made it clear he doesn’t really believe.
“Peoples lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation,” President Trump tweeted, after White House staffer Rob Porter resigned when two of his ex-wives detailed the physical and emotional abuse they said they endured.
“There it is again,” Jennie Willoughby, Porter’s second ex-wife, wrote in an essay in Time magazine. “The words ‘mere allegation’ and ‘falsely accused’ meant to imply that I am a liar. That Colbie Holderness is a liar.”
Holderness released a photo of her yellow and purple swollen face — the result, she said, of Porter’s blows.
And what did that yield?
It got us the actor and former White House speechwriter Ben Stein saying that “there are all kinds of ways of getting a black eye, and I’d like to know more specifics.”
Lots of people don’t want to believe. Despite an average of three killings a day and 20,000 daily calls to domestic violence hotlines in this country, despite pictures of bruises and cuts, despite videos of punches and visits to the hospital, belief is elusive. No wonder so many victims don’t report being beaten or change their minds about pressing charges.
“If the most powerful people in the nation do not believe my story of abuse in the face of overwhelming evidence,” Willoughby wrote, “then what hope do others have of being heard?”
We’ve been here before so many times.
Rihanna had the photos of the black eye she said Chris Brown gave her — then she went back to him for a time. Everyone saw the video of former NFL star Ray Rice punching his then-fiancee, Janay Palmer, now his wife. The photo of domestic goddess Nigella Lawson being violently choked by her then-husband, Charles Saatchi, went viral. (After police gave him a “caution,” not a criminal charge, Saatchi called the incident a “playful tiff.”) Actress Amber Heard had photos of the bruises she said ex-husband Johnny Depp gave her. Gossip sites quoted sources who said Heard was lying and in it for the money. After her divorce, Heard donated every cent of her $7 million settlement from Depp to the American Civil Liberties Union domestic violence unit and the Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles.
Believe them now?
It takes real courage for domestic violence victims to shake free of their abusers.
"When I was going to court . . . I couldn’t get the sheriff to [give me] an escort,” said Tali Elitzur, a domestic abuse survivor who now runs the nonprofit Aha! Moment in the nation’s capital, helping other victims.
Her ex was stalking her at home and at work. And when she got to the courthouse, she was so terrified that she drove around until she found a police officer who would escort her from the garage to the building.
Her ex had described, in detail, how he nearly hurt another woman. When Elitzur fled and went to a crisis center, they turned her away because they didn’t believe she was in danger. “They said the threat was to someone else, not directly to me,” she said.
Our culture is geared to believe the confident, strong abuser. And that is often the person who prevails when these cases make it to court.
Very few abusers face punishment. In New Jersey, 80 percent of municipal domestic violence cases are dismissed, according to a report on state court data.
This came to light after the Rice incident in Atlantic City. Charges against him were dropped after he took anger management classes.
Convictions in domestic violence cases are rare for many reasons. One of the best explanations of this phenomenon is a study done by Sherry Hamby, a psychology professor at Sewanee: The University of the South in Tennessee.
She examined 517 cases of domestic violence identified in a survey. Here’s what happened:
●Only 130 of those were called in to police because victims often decide not to call or are pressured not to report.
●Of those cases, police didn’t even show up 27 times.
●The 103 cases that were investigated resulted in 61 arrests.
●Those arrests resulted in 43 people charged. How many of those 43 people received jail time?
Still think the American legal system, the “due process” Trump was talking about, works for women?
Trump’s “tweets regarding ‘due process,’ criticizing the #MeToo movement and making abusers seem like victims are scary,” Elitzur said.
Leaving an abuser and reporting abuse “is terrifying,” she said, and it’s when abusers feel the most power. “Validation from the White House serves to make abusers’ power differential even more difficult to overcome,” she said.
When is it that people usually believe the victim?
At the funeral.
“This was an evil act,” one of the speakers at Stephanie Goodloe’s funeral said, after Goodloe’s abusive boyfriend ignored a restraining order, defied her careful calls to police and her log of his attacks, and barged into her home in Southeast Washington, shooting her in the head, waking up the 11-year-old who then called 911.
Did people believe Nicole Brown Simpson, who was allegedly beaten by O.J. Simpson, before her murder?
The good news? The message from the White House mess may have intimidated some. But the domestic violence hotlines I talked to were buzzing off the hook all weekend.
Former White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon, talking to Bloomberg News over the weekend, said it best.
“It’s not ‘Me Too.’ It’s not just sexual harassment. It’s an anti-patriarchy movement,” Bannon said. “Time’s up on 10,000 years of recorded history. This is coming. This is real.”
And it is long overdue.
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