Violence By Any Other Name: 'Domestic' Violence

By Jamie Stiehm

February 16, 2018 5 min read

Let's not call it "domestic" violence anymore. Or, as police say, "a domestic" when they've been to the house before. It sounds second-class and female.

High time to take the "domestic" out of domestic violence. Violence is violence.

A Rhodes Scholar and a Harvard man, Rob Porter, the departed and disgraced White House staff secretary, shattered society's glass illusions about this very private topic.

We need to know this harm happens often, on both sides of the tracks. It's a raging, hidden epidemic that does lasting damage. It tears families apart, though they seem together.

Unlike other violent crimes, there's no sense that once the incident is over the healing can begin. The dread of repetition, even of escalation, stays firmly rooted. Home is not a safe place. It's the loneliest life, keeping secrets out of shame. This is not supposed to happen to you. Believe me.

Running deep in families, violence behind closed doors can be lethal. Yet "domestic violence" is the only kind of violence that comes categorized in two words in plain English. I wonder why. Almost always, the victim is a woman and the doer is a man.

It's the oldest crime in the book, the subject of tired jokes in our culture. Misogyny is a factor, but not a word found in police reports. Justice is a long time coming.

Fortunately, a major FBI investigation sheds light. We know Porter's two ex-wives feared his anger. One got an emergency restraining order. Colbie Holderness and Jennifer Willoughby were questioned by the FBI, the way relatives and friends are always checked out for a full security clearance. The bureau found their stories of serious violence credible, accounts backed up by photos that tell no lie.

Then the two women dared to give their names and faces to the wider world, the press and the public. We are indebted to them for courageously telling their truths.

They broke social silences, which is the core of the #MeToo movement. That's how progress moves forward, painfully. Women's voices must be heard in the public square as the path to empowerment and first-class status.

In fact, coming out into the open heals more scars than one's own. The ex-wives and an ex-girlfriend of Porter's compared notes and found stunningly similar tales of abuse. They were not alone. That helps.

So, patterns of hurting women are embedded in the abuser's psyche and history. Yet a charmer like Porter, who passes for Ned Nickerson, can always get another girlfriend. Next was Hope Hicks, 29, director of communications in the White House, who tried to shield him from the blow of leaving his post.

On the job, Porter, 40, presented a polished face and gave the Trump White House a touch of class. Chief of Staff John Kelly thought Porter was a cut above the motley crew: full of "integrity and honor." The comment came after Kelly learned of Porter's troubled background, according to the FBI timetable, sworn under oath.

From the FBI timeline, Kelly apparently shrugged off Porter's failure to get a full security clearance as just a "domestic" problem. The scowling Kelly was an old-school Marine general, not in a good way. The Marine Corps is the most ruggedly masculine of all armed services.

At home, a new side of Porter surfaced, his first wife wrote in The Washington Post. The college boyfriend she fell in love with and her young husband were like different people, Holderness said. A compulsion to control, mixed with blazing anger, created cruel scenes of force. It started on their honeymoon. As time went by, she said, he choked her. (Thank you, Daily Mail, for breaking this.)

One look at the bruised eyes and faces of Porter's ex-wives shows there's nothing soft, tame or second-class about what they suffered.

Keep in mind that a camera can't capture the psychological effects. Holderness, a Wellesley graduate, said that when she left Porter, her self-confidence was "destroyed."

Here we have a chance for simple truths to spark a larger conversation in the public square, that violence is violence. It's not just "domestic."

To find out more about Jamie Stiehm and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit

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