David Sorensen, a former aide to Republican Gov. Paul LePage and a speechwriter for President Donald Trump, was forced to resign last week after allegations by his ex-wife that he abused her during their two-and-a half-year marriage.
The backlash against Jessica Corbett, who first told her story to the FBI in October and in a report in the Washington Post last week, shows why it is so hard for women to talk about domestic abuse – and ultimately to escape it.
Corbett told NBC News: “[Sorensen] yelled at me nearly every day we were married. He has thrown me into a wall. He has put a cigarette out on my hand. He has left me stranded in countless airports, cut off my credit cards in the middle of the night, drained my bank account, told me that I can’t come home or that I would be homeless.”
She describes fearing for her safety while on boat of the Maine coast, and has provided reporters with some documentation.
There are contemporaneous accounts supporting her allegations of abuse, text messages and at least one recording of Sorensen that includes a vulgar tirade.
Sorensen is well-known in Maine political circles as an aggressive operative, and among some powerful conservatives he’s well-liked. More than a few members of the media in the state have been on the receiving end of his hard-charging approach to politics.
He and his wife were part of a social network of young Republican up-and-comers that includes Lauren LePage, the governor’s daughter and now a political consultant in her own right, in Augusta during his time with the governor.
Since the allegations against Sorensen have become public, many of those voices have rallied to defend their friend. Others, like Lauren LePage have offered only vague denials of what they knew or didn’t know.
Sorensen for his part has denied that he ever acted violently and, in fact, claims that he’s the actual victim of abuse at the hand of Corbett.
But Sorensen and a number of his supporters have gone much further than just denying Corbett’s allegations. They are attacking her publicly: She’s been called a “liar” and “crazy.”
Susan Dench, a former Bangor Daily News columnist and prominent conservative activist, called Corbett a “professional publicity seeking ‘victim.’”
Twitter accounts attributed to the Androscoggin and Waterville GOP have joined the chorus attacking Corbett, promoting the hashtag #StandwithSorensen. State lawmakers and staff for high-ranking Republican elected officials have made clear their support for Sorensen on social media.
He has claimed that his former wife is mentally ill and that she has been fired from several high-profile political jobs. He says he’s considering suing her for defamation.
During his interview on WGAN, Sorensen made clear exactly what he’s doing: Unable to prove a negative, his intention is to discredit, attack and undermine his accuser. He believes that he’s more credible than she is. And he’s used his media savvy to make his case.
Corbett describes her reluctance to tell her story. She rightly predicted that she would be attacked and knew that going public would put her at risk of humiliation and retribution. She says she was afraid for her safety.
Sorensen and Corbett’s relationship is no fairy tale, and there’s no happy ending. It’s complicated and messy, by both of their accounts.
But Corbett’s fears – the fears of a powerful husband whose influence and friends could be brought to bear against her – have panned out.
My prediction is that Sorensen will find his way back into politics before Corbett, riding a Republican-generated reverberation against #MeToo and the scores of women who are challenging the status quo by speaking out about abuse.
I’ve never met Corbett or talked to her and know Sorensen from the wide path he’s cut through Maine politics and our work on opposing political and issue campaigns, where he’s peddled major garbage, lies and baseless attacks (my bias acknowledged). Both are Republicans who have supported candidates and issues I can’t stomach. But I am truly sorry that their lives have come to this.
As the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence describes it, domestic violence includes coercive behavior such as emotional and psychological intimidation, verbal abuse and threats, isolation and economic control.
Sorensen’s behavior – the way he’s gone about attacking Corbett – appears to check those boxes to me.
I fear that the lesson beamed through the airwaves and bannered on the front page of newspapers confirm the worst fears of victims of abuse, and particularly women who are in abusive relationships. If they tell their story, they may be attacked, shamed and called names. They may be doubted. Some of their friends may abandon them. The power that their partners wield over them might be turned on them again in a very public way. Those fears are real.
If they are so brave to step forward, we should listen and believe them. I believe them.
I believe Jessica Corbett.
If you or someone you know is being abused, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233. They will believe you, too.