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For victims, president’s praise for aide accused of abuse has ‘chilling effect’

President Trump on Friday praised his former aide, Rob Porter, who resigned this week over domestic abuse allegations by his two ex-wives who say he physically and verbally assaulted them. What potential impact could the president’s words have on victims? Judy Woodruff talks to Beth Meeks of the National Network to End Domestic Violence.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Now back to the president's words of praise today for a top aide who resigned over accusations of domestic abuse.

    Seven million women are raped or physically assaulted by a current or former intimate partner each year. That's according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

    With me now is Beth Meeks. She is the director at the National Network to End Domestic Violence. It's a nonprofit group that works with survivors and their advocates.

    Beth Meeks, thank you very much for being here.

    So, we were just listening again to what the president said. Among other things, he complimented Rob Porter, said that he's done a fantastic job, said he wishes him well, and reminded everyone that Rob Porter says he's innocent.

    How are those words likely to be received, do you think?

  • Beth Meeks:

    Well, I think that it's very difficult to bring yourself to believe that someone that you like and respect is capable of very bad things.

    So, that's not necessarily uncommon, that people defend abusers. It does have a chilling effect on victims. It's very difficult for a person to come forward and talk about domestic abuse.

    And, in this case, you have women, multiple women, who corroborate each other's stories, who have court orders and photographs and are hearing from very powerful people, that's not enough, that's still not enough to make your voice as valuable or more valuable than what he has to say.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, what's coming through from what the president said is that there are two sides to this story, two ex-wives, and then there are also reports of a former girlfriend alleging that Rob Porter was abusive.

    And then you have the president saying, but he says he's innocent.

    There are often the two sides. Is that right? So, in the community that you work in, how do women, how do victims deal with that?

  • Beth Meeks:

    Well, again, it can be very difficult, especially if there aren't — you know, if there aren't pieces of evidence.

    So, it's very unusual to find a case where there are multiple victims who can share similar stories who have photographic evidence, who have court orders. That takes it beyond he said/she said. There is some volume of information that's not typically available in a domestic violence case.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    How often do women make up stories of being assaulted?

  • Beth Meeks:

    The FBI estimates that about 4 percent of all crime reports are falsified, and that that rate is no different in domestic violence cases than it is in any other type of crime.

    So, in the vast majority of cases, when women are telling us that these things have happened to them, they're telling us the truth.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, you — as we were saying, you work with these women all the time.

    How do they — how do they go about being believed? You were saying it isn't always the case that you have the physical evidence, that somebody has take an photograph right after something happened. So how hard is it to make the case?

  • Beth Meeks:

    It's pretty difficult.

    Many of the women aren't believed. We talk a lot about people encourage victims to come forward, but there's a lot of risk in doing that. The offender is further angered. You put yourself at more risk for physical violence. You put your children at risk.

    And so when a victim tells her story and someone says, there's not enough evidence to do anything or, you know, we will charge him and take him to court later, or maybe he's convicted and gets community service, but not substantial intervention, the risk that the woman took didn't pay off for the safety that she needed.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    One of the other aspects of this story about Rob Porter is that he was carrying on in a high-profile job in the White House and had significant jobs in Washington before this at the same time this alleged activity was taking — was happening at home.

    How common is it for men or others who are guilty of this to be carrying on that way with an intimate partner at the same time they seem normal at work?

  • Beth Meeks:

    Absolutely, totally normal. It's more common than not.

    Most domestic violence offenders know that their behavior is not approved of in society, by their spouse, by their employer, and so they're very invested in showing a different side of themselves at work, with their friends, with other people in their family.

    In fact, even when they're courting new wives and girlfriends, they're very careful to present a different image, because they know that some of the things in their history about how they treat women aren't welcome.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, it's such an important perspective to have.

    Beth Meeks with the National Network to End Domestic Violence, thank you very much.

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