You may have heard by now that Rob Porter, the White House staff secretary, has resigned after his ex-wives went public with claims about how he allegedly abused them. (He denies all charges.) Colbie Holderness and Jennifer Willoughby told the Daily Mail, in graphic detail, how Porter was abusive. Holderness said Porter once “dragged her wet and naked out of the shower.” Another time, he punched her in the face. (She produced a picture of her black eye for the publication.)
But the most telling detail, from a religion perspective, is how Holderness finally realized her situation wasn’t acceptable.
In short, she stopped talking to Mormon bishops.
‘It was scary but it wasn’t like it was life-threatening. For years, I would go to Mormon bishops and I would try to find the words to explain what was going on but I was at a loss beyond the explanation that he got physical with me.’
The violence escalated to where Porter was choking his wife.
‘It was not hard enough for me to pass out but it was scary, humiliating and dehumanizing,’ she said.
‘It wasn’t until I went to a secular counsellor at my work place one summer and told him what was going on that he was the first person, and not a male religious leader, who told me that what was happening was not okay.’
Porter was a Mormon who spent two years on his missionary trip. He met Holderness (nee Paulson), who was also a Mormon, after he returned. She naturally spoke with bishops about her relationship, but it’s clear they wanted her to stick with her husband no matter how abusive he was. Divorce wasn’t an option.
His first wife experienced something similar.
In her blog post, Willoughby wrote, “When I tried to get help, I was counseled to consider carefully how what I said might affect his career.” She told The Intercept that she had described Porter’s anger issues to a lay official in the Mormon church. She said the official had told her to think carefully about what she said publicly about Porter’s behavior. “Keep in mind, Rob has career ambitions,” she recalled the official saying. (The press office at the Mormon church’s headquarters in Salt Lake City, Utah, declined to comment for this story.)
Of course they’re not going to comment. There are countless Mormon women who have similar stories and who were given bad advice by people who have no formal counseling training.
It’s a good thing Holderness had access to a non-religious counselor who gave her the advice she needed and let her know she didn’t have to remain in that relationship. And it’s a good thing Willoughby eventually chose to ignore the Church’s advice.
Rob Porter is the villain in this story, but don’t forget that the Mormon Church was complicit in allowing the abuse to happen for as long as it did. They could have stepped in, offered better advice, or reported Portman to authorities. They did nothing except tell the women to keep their mouths shut and deal with it.
Porter is reportedly dating White House Communications Director Hope Hicks. Let’s hope, for her sake, she doesn’t have the same experience the other women did.
(Screenshot via YouTube. Thanks to Clive for the link)