Hope Hicks has now resigned from her position as Communications Director for the WH. About a month ago, there was intense focus on her relationship with Rob Porter following the public disclosure by two of Porter’s former partners. According to the Daily Mail, about a week later she was no longer dating Rob Porter.
Considering that Porter has been accused by multiple women of abuse, it is very likely Porter would have abused Hicks, if he had not already. Unsurprisingly, the White House’s response to Porter’s exes’ accusations was toxic. Kellyanne Conway’s comments on their relationship were perhaps most dangerous of all (no, wait the comments by our sitting president who has himself been accused by multiple women of either DV or sexual assault/misconduct are most dangerous – let’s not let a woman, however egregiously entitled, take the fall for men’s violence against women). That said, there were also comments from people with good intentions that were dangerous.
The one that stood out most to me was a post on the site Daily Kos entitled “Dear Hope Hicks.” It was written by someone who was was, understandably, concerned for her safety. The open letter urges her to leave him asap. I appreciate that the writer is herself a survivor and deserves recognition for sharing her story, which she is certainly under no obligation to do. I also could make an educated guess that these public disclosures of domestic violence were a trigger for her. I was in one, perhaps two, abusive relationships as a teen and then did DV work for almost a decade and I found myself avoiding these stories because they were too much. I also appreciate that the writer expressed compassion for Hope Hicks despite her clear political differences (this is more than some supposed progressives can claim). That said, telling a survivor to leave an abusive relationship is one of the most unsafe things a concerned bystander can do.
Why? Because leaving an abusive relationship is one of the most dangerous times for a survivor. If someone could walk out of an abusive relationship without fearing repercussions, don’t you think they would? Don’t you think there would be a whole lot less domestic violence in the world if it were that easy?
It’s not that easy. In fact, it’s very difficult to leave an abusive relationship. People who control (read: abuse) their partners are adept at trapping them in relationships. They do this by threatening or carrying out physical violence (including murder), financial ruin, or any of the many other ways they successfully entrap their partners.
Leaving is (usually) possible but it takes time, thought and planning. Most survivors need to connect with a DV Advocate to think through their options and develop a safety plan that takes into account their (and should they have them, their children’s) various basic needs. To be successful, the survivor often needs time to build an adequate support network, which usually has to be done from scratch because of the isolation the survivor experienced in the relationship. To be successful, the survivor may need to save money in a secret bank account. The survivor may need to seek legal counsel.
There is a lot more to leaving an abusive relationship than telling your partner, “It’s over.” I don’t know the circumstances surrounding Hope Hicks’ breakup with Rob Porter. Maybe she did develop a safety plan. Maybe their relationship was so brief that he had not sunk his hooks deep into her enough and she could exit (relatively) safely. Then again maybe not as a dear friend of mine once dated someone for three months but his abuse of her lasted well over a year. And as a white, privileged woman Hicks faces fewer barriers and dangers than less privileged survivors do (though it is never easy no matter who you are to exit an abusive relationship – please, please remember that). We don’t know how it all went down in the end between Hicks and Porter. We don’t know if this is the end. But that’s the thing with all these uncertainties, they are just that; unknowns. So we can’t make blanket statements urging her to leave. Certainly for her sake, we can wish her well and hope he is not abusing her despite the relationship’s end or reeling her back in.
Please don’t ever tell a survivor “You should leave.” I know you mean well. I know you’re worried. I know you’re scared for the survivor’s safety. But your advice is going to come off as judgmental, lacking in understanding and pressuring. Saying to survivors, “just leave” is more likely to cause them to feel they can no longer go to you or to cause them to exit prematurely and end up in more peril than they were in to begin with.
And please don’t write an open letter to a survivor on the internet imploring her, and any other survivor reading it, to just leave.