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Rob Porter’s ex-wife: “Being strong” doesn’t protect you from abuse

Colbie Holderness speaks out in a Washington Post op-ed.

Colbie Holderness, the first wife of former White House staff secretary Rob Porter, is taking a stand against Kellyanne Conway’s assertion that strong women don’t get abused.

Conway, appearing on CNN’s State of the Union, said that she does not fear for White House communications director Hope Hicks — who has reportedly been dating Porter — because of Hicks’s “loyalty and smarts.” Holderness felt compelled to respond.

In an op-ed published Monday night by the Washington Post, Holderness wrote passionately about how domestic abuse can happen to anyone:

Being strong — with excellent instincts and loyalty and smarts — does not inoculate a person against abuse. It doesn’t prevent her from entering into a relationship with an abuser. Abuse often doesn’t manifest itself early on — only later, when you’re in deep and behind closed doors.

Holderness explained that she never imagined she would be in an abusive relationship, and that it took her years to regain the confidence she had lost over the course of her entanglement with Porter:

Victims are often with their abusers for long periods of time. They marry them, become financially intertwined with them, have children with them. There are many reasons people find it difficult to leave. The bottom line is, it takes strength to pull yourself away and start over.

She also spoke out in support of survivors of domestic abuse more generally, citing hardships she had experienced such as not being believed by many of the people she first told, including members of the clergy, and having to take an extended leave from graduate school.

Holderness’s accusations of abuse were first made public on February 6, when the Daily Mail reported allegations from both of Porter’s ex-wives (Holderness and Jennifer Willoughby). In response, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly sang Porter’s praises.

The next day, a photo of Holderness’s black eye that she said Porter gave her began circulating widely.

As Holderness notes in her piece, neither she nor Willoughby initially sought to expose Porter. Instead, the FBI came to them during a routine security clearance check (which Porter did not pass).

Meanwhile, President Trump sent Porter out the door with well wishes and tweets seeming to call into question the allegations against Porter and the #MeToo movement overall.

“Monday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders again declined to say whether the president believes Willoughby and me,” Holderness wrote. “While I cannot say I am surprised, I expected a woman to do better.”