Colbie Holderness Responds to Kellyanne Conway: 'Being Strong Does Not Inoculate a Person Against Abuse'

Image via Getty.
Image via Getty.

Colbie Holdnerness, an ex-wife of former White House aide Rob Porter, wrote in a Monday Washington Post piece that she was “dismayed” by Kellyanne Conway’s weekend appearance on CNN.


In an interview with Jake Tapper, Conway said that she wasn’t worried about Hope Hicks, the White House communications director who is reportedly dating Porter. “I’ve rarely met somebody so strong with such excellent instincts and loyalty and smarts,” Conway told Tapper. Tapper’s question was prompted by the statements of another of Porter’s ex-wives, Jennifer Willoughby who, last week expressed concern over Hicks’s safety.

In her op-ed, Holderness wrote that Conway’s “statement implies that those who have been in abusive relationships are not strong.” “I beg to differ,” Holderness continued.

“Being strong—with excellent instincts and loyalty and smarts—does not inoculate a person against abuse,” Holderness wrote, in direct response to Conway’s interview. “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 expressed appreciation for Conway saying that she did “not not
believe” Holderness and Willoughby, but contrasted Conway’s apathetic statement of belief with Sarah Sanders’s Monday press briefing. During the briefing, Sanders evaded questions on whether or not the president believed Holderness and Willoughby and why the White House had grossly mishandled the Porter response. Sanders instead repeated a ready-made statement: “The president and the entire administration take domestic violence very seriously, and believe all allegations need to be investigated thoroughly. Above all the president supports victims of domestic violence, and believes everyone should be treated fairly and with due process.”

Holderness’s op-ed came hours before a Politico report that details the White House’s response to the intimate partner abuse allegations against Porter initially reported by the Daily Mail. Though the White House, and Chief of Staff John Kelly, have publicly condemned domestic violence (as though that were difficult), the Politico report shows a White House desperately scrambling to keep Porter, even after he was accused of physical and emotional abuse and denied security clearance from the FBI.

Politico reports:

In the hours immediately after the Daily Mail published a photograph of Porter’s first ex-wife with a black eye, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders hastily arranged an off-the-record meeting in the West Wing with Porter and four reporters: the New York Times’ Maggie Haberman, the Washington Post’s Josh Dawsey, Axios’ Jonathan Swan, and the Wall Street Journal’s Michael Bender. In that meeting, which hasn’t previously been reported, Porter relayed his version of events and fielded questions from the group.


These details yet again contradict the White House’s increasingly hard-to-follow official timeline. Again, on Monday Sanders told reporters that the White House acted within 24 hours of learning the “extent of the situation” to “accept and announce” Porter’s resignation.

But it appears that the White House was grasping to contain the story while retaining Porter, regardless of the allegations leveled against him by two ex-wives, as well as an ex-girlfriend who works at the White House. This tracks with previous reports which indicated that Kelly and other White House aides had been made aware of the intimate partner violence allegations months prior to the Daily Mail’s story.


Though the White House may say they “support victims of domestic violence,” their actions claim otherwise.


Update: According to FBI Director Christopher Wray, the FBI closed Porter’s file in January. Wray said that the FBI submitted a partial report on Porter’s background check to the White House in March and a completed report in July. The FBI shared a follow-up report in November. Wray’s timeline contradicts the White House’s assertation that Porter’s background investigation was “ongoing” when the allegations of intimate partner violence were made public.


Adrastra, patron saint of not giving a fuck

In the way women are socially conditioned, there is often an emphasis on remaining and enduring when relationships are difficult. Commitment and self-sacrifice are often something women are expected to have in relationships more than men. This conditioning often causes the line of thought that a ‘strong’ women should stay in an abusive relationship simply because she is strong enough to bear it, and that running away would be the choice made only by a weaker woman.

We need to encourage more women to act when they first feel the instinct to run—self-preservation isn’t a value we’re often taught as girls, and it should be. Oftentimes running from someone is the best choice you can make, and unfortunately it’s incredibly difficult to do after decades of being taught that self-reliance and self-preservation are selfish values that only ‘weak’ women prioritize. Your safety should never be secondary to your relationship.

(I say this not to admonish women for not leaving their abusers sooner, but to explain part of why it is so difficult to even allow yourself to want to make that decision in the first place. That’s hard enough to do, and then you still have to get through the enormous trial of actually extracting yourself from a terrible situation after that.)