NY Daily News
By Ariel Zwang
February 8, 2018
Yesterday, news broke that Rob Porter, a top aide to President Donald Trump, was resigning after allegations surfaced of domestic violence against two ex-wives. The episode is heartbreaking and reminds us that this can happen to anyone. Love, children, family, community and money pressures mean extricating oneself from an abusive relationship is never as easy as “just leaving.”
Colbie Holderness, Porter’s first wife, describing violence that started on her honeymoon, reports thinking, “What am I to do? I just married this man.” She also was pursuing her own career in public service during the marriage, and reportedly feared that disclosing her abuse would prevent her from progressing at work if in fact she would be believed at all.
As commentators understandably aim criticism at the Trump administration for hiring and supporting Porter despite this history, we must not lose sight of the other side of the equation: how Porter’s wives experienced his abuse and all the factors that kept them in the abusive marriage for an extended period of time.
New York City is focusing on the difficult reality of living as a domestic violence victim with the launch of a new campaign that is popping up in bus shelters, the subway, LinkNYC kiosks, social media, and Taxi TV. The campaign shows just how complicated domestic violence can be, the valid reasons survivors may stay, and that survivors need options for their unique situations.
With the best of intentions, people urge them to pick up and go. We need to understand that’s not always feasible.
Until recent years, society’s focus on addressing domestic violence was on providing ways to help survivors escape — through local shelters, for example — but offered less help for those who couldn’t flee. While we would do our best to help all survivors, too often, the unintended message was: We’re here for you when you’re ready to leave.
We now better understand the many compelling reasons survivors remain in abusive relationships.
They may depend on the abuser financially or have become socially isolated due to the abuse. They may be reluctant to separate children from their other parent. Undocumented immigrant victims may fear deportation. LGBTQ survivors may believe there are no services or supports for them.
It’s also important to remember that many survivors still love the person they fell in love with before the abuse started. They just want the abuse to stop. Or, as Holderness has said, they may fear that they won’t be believed.
For those victims who do decide to go, leaving can be incredibly dangerous. In order to reestablish control, abusers may respond in violent, unpredictable and even lethal ways. In fact, a recent separation is an indicator of increased risk of homicide, according to researchers who have studied domestic violence homicides.
While the overall homicide rate in New York City has declined steadily in recent years, domestic violence homicides haven’t made as much progress. That’s why in November of 2016, Mayor de Blasio launched the NYC Task Force on Domestic Violence, which was charged with developing a comprehensive citywide strategy to address this crisis. In 2017, the city allocated $11 million in new funding to support 32 initiatives that were recommended by the Task Force.
There is no “one size fits all” approach when it comes to supporting survivors. Many people think that a domestic violence survivor’s main need is shelter. But most survivors never enter shelter at all. That’s why the city works with organizations like Safe Horizon, which I oversee, to offer a wide variety of help, including safety planning, expert legal assistance, immigration support, child care, counseling, lock changes and guidance navigating the criminal justice system.
As service providers, our job is to recognize survivors as experts in their own lives. Ultimately, the decision-making power belongs in their hands, but as the new city campaign says, “We can help.” We offer options, without judgment. Victims can reach out to the New York City Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-621-HOPE, operated by Safe Horizon, or access services through a new online resource guide, NYCHope at www.nyc.gov/nychope.
In the wake of Rob Porter’s resignation and the allegations against him, this campaign and its message are more relevant than ever. Most importantly? Our commitment to supporting all survivors of domestic violence only strengthens.