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Rob Porter: A cautionary tale

Rob Porter, the White House aide who resigned last month, after he was publicly accused of abusing his two former wives, was an upwardly mobile Harvard-educated Rhodes scholar with a well-connected family, and a Mormon.

It’s no wonder the allegations against him remained secret for so many years. Both women knew the impact these accusations would have.

As Porter’s second wife Jennifer Willoughby wrote in a blog post in April last year, “When I tried to get help, I was counselled to consider carefully how what I said might affect his career. And so I kept my mouth shut and stayed.”

White House staff did the same, it appears. Comments by FBI Director Christopher Wray suggest that Porter remained in his position long after officials were told about the accusations. According to Wray, the FBI updated the White House on Porter’s background check three times during 2017.

Yet, when a photo of Porter’s first wife with a black eye went public, the White House defended him against the allegations. President Trump told reporters the situation had been “tough” for Porter.

While entertainers have been outed for sexual abuse against women in droves in recent times, powerful, connected men like Porter are doubly protected by their reputations – not just because their accusers are disbelieved but also because women are taught to look after their men. In Willoughby’s case, that meant putting her ex-husband’s career before her own safety.

For women that come from cultural or religious backgrounds where men have more power and divorce is shameful, such as the Church of the Latter Day Saints, to which Porter and his former wives belong, it may be even harder to break the silence.

“I was told, yes, he was deeply flawed, but then again so was I,” wrote Jennifer Willoughby. “And so I worked on myself and stayed.”

It took four years of “constant terror” for her to leave Porter and another five to go public about him. But she did.

Porter’s is a cautionary tale for men who think their power keeps them safe from scrutiny. He may be at the pointy end of an iceberg but the thaw is coming.

Written by guest blogger Kate




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