My cousin Yolanda is one of the strongest women I know. She’s the owner/operator of Pimanolyi’s, a Baton Rouge restaurant popular with fans and foodies. Loyal customers — some eat there every day — come from nearby towns to enjoy her specialties: all homemade, all delicious. Hard to believe it almost never happened.
The restaurant had only been open a few months when epic hurricanes Katrina and Rita crashed through, destroying all the shiny new kitchen equipment and café furniture. There was more to lose than gain at that point, but Yolanda gathered her strength, took an even greater risk and rebuilt. Life has tested her strength time and again, no more so than when she lost her beloved second husband and restaurant partner to cancer four years ago. That nearly took her under, but she fought back against the undertow of unspeakable grief. No one would call her weak. And it’s not how they would have described her younger self, either. She, just like the two ex-wives and former girlfriend of former White House aide Rob Porter, was a silent victim of domestic abuse.
My very strong cousin was traumatized on the night of her first wedding when the man she thought loved her knocked her across the room for the first time. For many years after, she lived a double life, keeping her abuse secret from friends and family. Just exactly what Rob Porter’s ex-wives did until they told the FBI about their personal pain and provided proof. So, I know from Yolanda that strength has nothing to do with it. And I deeply resent the victim blaming, even as I am no longer surprised when a woman embraces it.
In the nearly two weeks since Porter’s firing and his alleged abuse made headlines, Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway implied domestic abuse doesn’t happen to strong women. And she dismissed expressed concerns for White House Communications Director Hope Hicks, who is currently dating Rob Porter.
It took President Trump a week after Porter’s firing and a lot of vocal prodding from critics and supporters before he said he was “totally opposed to domestic violence and everybody knows that.” That’s not how I will remember his response to this shameful cover-up of Rob Porter’s history. Or the response of Chief of Staff Gen. John Kelly, who seemed to downplay the allegations, or the still too many who wondered aloud if domestic abuse was enough of a reason to dismiss a valued employee.
When my cousin Yolanda finally escaped her abuser, she went back to school to become a domestic violence counselor and, for years, headed a safe house for battered women. Those scared women would arrive on her doorstep in the middle of the night after desperately figuring out a way to flee. Weak, I don’t think so.
I’m tired of explaining to the willfully clueless who the real victims of domestic violence are. And I’m angry because I know that if more men were victims of this kind of violence, it might get the attention it deserves. And not just when a guy some people like is in trouble.